It was a pretty smooth first day of the second annual Upstream Music Fest + Summit, which takes over Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood June 1-3.
It should have been a cakewalk into the endzone.
As the still-gathering crowd continued filing into the Upstream Music Fest main stages outside CenturyLink Field Friday, “iSpy” rapper Kyle launched into his bubbly 2 Chainz-assisted “Ikuyo,” which name-drops a certain Skittles-gobbling Seattle sports hero.
“I put the team on my back like I’m Marshawn,” he rap-crooned to crickets. Even the next time around, when his playful DJ, Brick, drove the reference home, adding “Marshawn Lynch, y’all!” the young crowd was unmoved.
But if that was the most awkward moment Friday, as Upstream brings 200-plus artists to more than 15 Pioneer Square venues this weekend, it was a pretty good first day for the second-year urban festival. Save for one of the stages starting the night a half-hour late, there seemed to be fewer day-one hiccups for the sprawling three-day event than there were in its inaugural year.
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In the smartest change this year, organizers ditched the CenturyLink Field-style restrictions on bags and purses in the main stage area, which irked fans in 2017. Now, small bags (13 by 17 inches) are allowed, though they’ll be searched at each venue. (Some venues, like the backpack-banning Trinity Nightclub and Comedy Underground, may have their own policies.) In other mainstage moves, this year a second stage for the headliners was added in the stadium’s north plaza, reducing the layover between the bigger-name sets.
Despite the bag searches — and stopping as staffers scan attendees’ electronic bracelets while entering and leaving venues — jumping between the locations around Pioneer Square was relatively painless. Though Saturday, when event traffic tends to be heavier, should be the real test, a few venues hit capacity after the main stages shut down at 11 p.m. The line stretched down the block outside the Axis event space as Seattle favorite Sol kicked into a joyful set for a packed, increasingly steamy crowd.
“I swear, we were about to break the stage in the middle,” proclaimed the smiley rapper after an especially bouncy spin through his classic “This (expletive).”
Between the crowd’s rarely-lowered hands and Sol’s tight backing band, which included local superproducer team Elan Wright and Nima Skeemz, the hometown kid made the tight quarters feel like the party of the night, even following the weekend’s biggest headliner.
One of the splashier lands in Upstream’s young history, R&B star Miguel closed out the main stage area (dubbed the Sound Lot) with an ace backing band of his own that added reggae breakdowns, roaring power chords and even ’80s rock dramatics to his starry jams. The Grammy-winning singer might be the only guy capable of making the query “Do you like drugs?” almost feel like one that could spark a long, nurturing (or at least sexually mollifying) relationship, and his druggy smooth-guy routine during his peak alt-R&B era single “Do You …” had fans enamored.
While Upstream brass beefed up the main stage offerings a tick, much of the fun is hopping through the smaller venues littered with lesser-known and midlevel indie bands like Portland’s glossy garage-pop troupe Genders — who fuzzed up the Central Saloon with dreamy boy-girl harmonies — or indie rocker Kyle Craft.
With an emphasis on showcasing Northwest musicians, organizers say about 65 percent of Upstream’s acts are regional and much of the booking is turned over to guest curators, including Seattle’s soon-to-be-30-something label Sub Pop, who programmed the Embassy Suites ballroom stage — backed by a serious light display vindicating those rocking sunglasses at night — on Friday with artists like Craft from its roster. Even among the showcase laced with notables, including Northwest vets the Helio Sequence, Craft’s blustery performance was a standout — his spunky voice running wild over his classic rock-indebted tunes and a blazing cover of Patsy Cline’s “She’s Got You.”
The club-hopping festival continues Saturday with headliners Jawbreaker, post-hardcore kings Hot Snakes, local darlings Tacocat; and Sunday with headliners The Flaming Lips and Cut Copy, and local vets The True Loves; plus roughly a gazillion more bands.
Upstream Music Fest + Summit, through June 3, locations throughout Pioneer Square, $70-$675, upstreammusicfest.com