Following the triumph of the second annual Seattle Art Fair, Paul Allen is announcing another massive arts event to be held in the heart of Pioneer Square next year. Upstream Music Fest + Summit, presented in partnership with KEXP and the Alliance for Pioneer Square, is conceived as three days of performances, exhibitions, and conference-style presentations dedicated to exposing and promoting the music and music economy of the Pacific NW, with special attention paid to the crossover between music and video games, tech, and film production. The event will be held May 11-13, 2017.
Though hard details about who will appear have yet to be announced, the event will showcase over 200 artists in more than 25 venues (including several non-traditional spaces), as well as " interactive keynotes, breakout sessions, cross-industry discussions and mentor-led workshops." Upstream's Executive Director Jeff Vetting told the Stranger that has a goal of booking 75% NW artists, with a strong emphasis on emerging talent. He also said Upstream will ensure that all artists who play will be paid. It seems clear enough that Upstream is an effort to create what many other organizations have tried and failed to establish in the past two decades: a South By Southwest for the Northwest.
The announcement of an event of this scale raises many questions. First among them: How are they going to succeed where past efforts (at least two iterations of NXNW, Music West, etc.) haven't—especially when we've all heard so much about the long, slow decline of the traditional music industry?
"I believe the time is right," Vetting said, "for a summit that focuses on colliding other industries such as tech, film, and video games with the music industry to spark new economic opportunities for our artists. Seattle is a natural hub for this because of our confluence of these industries and we feel there is a real need and opportunity for an artist-centric summit."
Are they concerned about the abundance of established regional music festivals (Sasquatch, Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot, not to mention smaller-scale fests like Timber and Doe Bay, among many others)? Are we not saturated? How will Upstream differentiate itself?
"We’re intentionally focused on providing a platform to discover emerging artists," Vetting said. "We are fans of the other festivals that take place in and around our city and want to find a way to work with them to add exposure to our local music scene. We have reached out to other promoters to discuss working together, as well as our local music industry leaders to highlight our artist community. Seattle has a vibrant music scene and history, and there’s a ton more we can be doing to support and foster it."
Not that we don't all want to support emerging artists, but are they a strong enough foundation for a high-volume event like Upstream looks to be?
"Emerging talent is the heart of any music scene," Vetting said. "And we want to put the spotlight on to the great artists here in the Northwest. We hope to give working bands more exposure and opportunities to make a living here and not have to move to another city to make it to the next level in the industry."
Given that Pioneer Square is typically beset by traffic and parking issues that are as bad as any neighborhood in town (and worse than most), how will Upstream encourage its audience to use alternate forms of transit to get there and back?
"Yes," he said. "We have been working closely with the City of Seattle and the Alliance for Pioneer Square to ensure it will be a great experience for both the neighborhood and attendees. Pioneer Square is a great neighborhood for this type of event. In addition to all the fantastic businesses that will serve as unique venue spaces, it’s a hub for public transportation making it easily accessible."
How can bands and performers interested in playing apply for consideration?
"We are really excited to have Meli Darby, formerly of the Crocodile, onboard as Upstream Curator," said Vetting. "She will be the point person for programming. Bands and artists should check out website (upstreammusicfest.com) regularly for additional details on how they can submit for consideration."
Lastly (for now): What are the odds Paul Allen is going to be strapping on a guitar during Upstream?
"I really hope so," Vetting said, "but cannot commit to anything at this point. Paul is very passionate about music and Seattle and is committed to seeing Upstream succeed as an event that supports local artists and finds new solutions for the music industry."
The Stranger will have more information about the development of Upstream, including a full schedule, in the months to come. In the meantime, you can follow Upstream on Twitter @UpstreamFest, on Facebook at facebook.com/UpstreamMusicFest, on Snapchat @upstreamfest and on Instagram at @UpstreamMusicFest.
Tickets will go on sale in the fall.