From the artists to the organizers, everyone is holding their collective breath about whether the inaugural Upstream music festival, sponsored by Paul Allen and Vulcan, will succeed. And here are 10 acts to check out tonight.
“You know what?” a musician named Marcus said as he was standing with a beer in a Pioneer Square alley last night. “Paul Allen can spend his money however he wants. He should build more affordable housing, for sure, but this is cool.”
That was the first night of Upstream Music + Fest, Paul Allen’s (and Seattle’s) answer to South by Southwest, with hundreds of bands playing over three days around Pioneer Square and keynote speeches from Quincy Jones to Macklemore.
The crowds were sparse toward the beginning of the first day, but got crowded as the night went on, packing out basement restaurants, and little rooms in brick-and-mortar buildings that were never built for hip-hop, rock ‘n’ roll or R&B. The glitchy, pop-grind band Dead Rich howled that Seattle is “the city where the future is” at an outdoor stage by the bar Fuel. One of the singers said, from the stage, that they’d written the song especially for Upstream.
Here are a few good bets for tonight:
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SassyBlack at 165 Jackson St.
SassyBlack was one half of the now-defunct, Afro-futurist hip-hop duo THEESatisfaction. Her beats tend to be slow and mesmerizing, and she’s one of the guest curators for the whole festival — this will probably have long lines, so show up early.
Erik Blood at Court in the Square
Speaking of THEESatisfaction, producer and musician Erik Blood has collaborated with them, as well as psychedelic hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces. Blood is a modest man who’s been in the background of many successful Seattle musicians — but he’s a genius, with songs that alternate between dance-floor music, rock ‘n’ roll and soul.
The Thermals at Comedy Underground
“God reached His hand down from the sky/He flooded the land, then He set it on fire/He said: ‘Fear me again/Know I’m your father/Remember that no one can breathe underwater.’ ” Those are the opening lyrics to the Thermals’ song about Noah. If you care about the influence of Christianity on U.S. politics, The Thermals might make you cry. They’re melodic in a punk-rock way, both fun and passionate, but they have something serious to tell you: The world is a mess, and the Bible is partly to blame. They’re also a great band with intelligent lyrics and gorgeous instincts for writing catchy songs. See them and become a believer.
Brent Amaker and the Rodeo at Comedy Underground
Brent Amaker was reared in Oklahoma but has spent many years in the Northwest, playing his self-described “spaghetti Western meets Devo” music. He and his crew put on a heck of a live show, with matching cowboy outfits and the kind of country music that speaks to the progressive side of the Seattle spirit.
Sashay at Galvanize Basement
Queer-core punk band Sashay is a bundle of style, energy and porcupine quills. Come prepared to dance. And the band has, at times, gotten into the audience’s faces. Sashay might literally knock your socks off.
The Long Winters at Axis 1
The Long Winters, one of Seattle’s favorite melodic indie-rock bands, has reunited for Upstream. Lead singer John Roderick is also a writer, cultural critic, activist and former city council candidate. The Long Winters has also run through a marathon of former members including Sean Nelson (of The Stranger, Harvey Danger and KEXP), Ken Stringfellow (of the Posies), Chris Walla (of Death Cab for Cutie) and a ton of other folks who’ve had a massive influence on Seattle music culture.