There is no easy way to plan a comeback in the middle of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. When Seattle concert promoter Upper Left targeted Aug. 15 for its one-day Higher Ground festival, the delta variant of the coronavirus was not yet on the rise.
“It’s really exciting to be back but we are definitely on our toes with the delta variant being a force right now,” said Michelle Nguyen, Upper Left’s director of operations. “Knowing that Seattle Center was an outdoor venue that we had worked with before, we felt it was the right time to [broach] the subject.”
Nguyen said they expect to sell out, getting 7,000 electronic dance music fans into the Fisher Pavilion lawn at Seattle Center to hear Diplo, Walker and Royce, VNSSA, LP Giobbi and Seattle DJ Subset.
Higher Ground is among a few notable electronic music standouts among a thin festival slate this season, with mainstays such as Bumbershoot and Capitol Hill Block Party having said earlier this year they wouldn’t be happening for the second year in a row. In addition to Higher Ground, other electronic music festivals on the docket include a number of events hosted at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Grant County, including Bass Canyon and Beyond Wonderland.
One thing all the upcoming events have in common is the ability to host them completely outside, whereas CHBP and Bumbershoot have historically featured some indoor venues. That was a factor when choosing Fisher Pavilion, Nguyen said.
“It’s an outdoor venue that we felt safe at,” Nguyen said. “It’s going to be open air. We’re definitely spearheading the safety factor because things are so ever-changing.”
Nguyen said Upper Left and partner Disco Donnie Presents are closely monitoring the situation and will update attendees on safety requirements through their social channels @UpperLeftLive and @DDPWorldwide.
Recent outdoor festivals such as Lollapalooza in Chicago and Watershed at the Gorge Amphitheatre have been largely mask-free, though Lollapalooza required proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test, in accordance with city regulations. Within the Seattle-Tacoma area, house music festival Fresh Pressed got the truncated festival season kicked off with around 3,000 fans coming out to see Claude VonStroke and Nora En Pure in Tacoma July 17-18.
It’s hard work but Nguyen said it’s worth it if it helps to build her community back up.
“I have been with Upper Left since its birth and I want to be a big part of being sure the right people are in place and our music scene is alive,” she said. “We really believe in the community and making sure the local artists have a platform.”
One major festival still on the docket is Live Nation’s Bass Canyon, which will take place Aug. 20-22 at the Gorge. Whereas Higher Ground is more a celebration of warehouse music, Bass Canyon focuses on bass music featuring artists such as Excision, 12th Planet, ATLiens and Black Tiger Sex Machine.
The pandemic has not reduced the scope of Bass Canyon. In addition to the main stage that promises the deafening, eye-searing level of sound and laser-light overstimulation that fans crave, for the first time, the event will introduce a second, smaller stage that will feature drum and bass, free-form and melodic bass music. More than 90% of tickets have been sold, according to Bass Canyon’s Twitter account.
Insomniac is hosting Beyond Wonderland at the Gorge Oct. 1-2. Instead of a party, Beyond Wonderland is more like a psychedelic carnival inspired by “Alice in Wonderland” and doesn’t focus as much on a single genre of electronic music throughout its six stages. AC Slater, The Chainsmokers and Steve Aoki are among the headliners of this more mainstream lineup.
Fans looking for less commitment than two or three days camping might check out Woodinville DJ Seven Lions, who will hold a one-day event on Sept. 11 at the Gorge. The minifestival Chronicles 3 will feature NGHTMRE, Jason Ross, Trivecta and Gem and Tauri and comes a year after Seven Lions streamed a show from an empty Gorge Amphitheatre.
That at least two of the larger festivals appear headed toward selling out indicates the massive thirst in the community for live music, something Nguyen said helps drive her.
“No one could have ever expected what a hit to the industry the pandemic was going to be,” she said. “It really touched the lives of everyone. It’s much more than just income at this point. The people that are involved in this, live music, that’s our mainstay of our lives, interwoven into the fabric of what composes us.”
This story has been updated with the correct host of Beyond Wonderland.