Seattle's Upstream Music Fest + Summit offers music fans an eclectic mix of artists and a unique festival experience.
For music fans, nothing beats the thrill and excitement of seeing a favorite artist perform live. But at music festivals like Upstream, one of the most exciting aspects is discovering new artists we might not otherwise have found. It’s the perfect opportunity to explore different genres and expand our horizons.
There’s no shortage of local and national music festivals, but Upstream Music Fest+Summit offers attendees a truly unique experience. Austin Santiago, a guest curator for Upstream, says the curated spaces, variety of venues, and intimacy of the shows sets it apart from other music festivals.
“Upstream for me is not only a chance to explore music I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to see; it’s about exploring my own city,” Santiago says. “The festival reads like a choose-your-own-adventure book with a new and interesting sonic experience around every brick-pathed corner.”
Michael Huang, another guest curator for the event, says that Upstream occupies a unique space in a landscape that’s filled with corporate, formulaic music festivals and events. “Upstream has the potential to be a champion of the people and the independent artist culture that thrives here in the Northwest,” Huang explains.
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Here’s a music genre guide, with a mix of established and emerging artists, to help you plan the perfect Upstream experience from three guest curators: Austin Santiago (Do206), Michael Huang (MILLI) and Kate Becker (25 Years of All Ages Shows).
One of the main draws is Friday’s Amazon Music Main Stage headliner Miguel, whose melodic, soulful work explores the tensions — and joys — of both darkness and light.
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Santiago’s showcase headliner, BJ The Chicago Kid, is best known for collaborations with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West.
“BJ The Chicago Kid is an incredible voice in modern soul,” Santiago says. While Miguel has a pop sentiment to his music, BJ The Chicago Kid maintains a more traditional gospel tone that sounds like it’s right “out of church.”
Santiago says fans also will likely enjoy the performance of Pacific Northwest crooner and soulstress Moorea Masa, who has toured extensively with acts such as KD Lang and Allen Stone.
Santiago also recommends Seattle-based soul singer-songwriter Otieno Terry. BJ The Chicago Kid’s national profile rose thanks to his collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. On a local level, Otieno Terry has gained recognition from features with other rappers and soul musicians. “Otieno has locally done with Sol (also performing at Upstream) what BJ has done in a national sense with Kendrick Lamar,” Santiago says.
To round out your perfect weekend of R&B and hip hop music be sure to also check out SUPERDUPERKYLE, Smino, Jean Deaux and Northwest artists Blakk Soul & NSB (Tacoma, WA), Jango (Spokane, WA), ParisAlexa (Seattle, WA), and Chanti Darling (Portland, OR).
Rock fans will surely be familiar with the unique sounds of Sunday’s headliner, The Flaming Lips, but their lush sound and elaborate stage show are just the starting point for rock fans at Upstream.
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Kate Becker, director of the City of Seattle Office of Film, Music + Special Events and a guest curator this year, has Murder City Devils headlining her showcase celebrating 25 years of all ages shows. Becker goes way back with the band, having booked them many times in her role as founding director of the Old Fire House in Redmond, the longest-running all-ages venue north of San Francisco.
“I’m thrilled that Murder City Devils are playing Upstream! They played many of their early shows at the Old Fire House, as well as the opening show of the Vera Project in 2001, which was a big deal,” Becker says. “So, the fact that they are playing the stage at Upstream that is celebrating 25 years of all-ages shows, is super special.”
Fans of Murder City Devils won’t want to miss Saturday’s headlining performance of newly reunited punk band, Jawbreaker. During the Old Fire House days, Becker says Murder City Devils and Jawbreaker were always crowd favorites.
Becker also suggests heading to the main stage when Hot Snakes perform on Saturday.
Other must-see rock acts performing include local favorites Tacocat (Seattle, WA) along with regional artists Yukon Blonde (Vancouver, BC), Strange Ranger (Portland, OR) and 2018 Upstream Guest Curator Krist Novoselic’s new band Giants in the Trees.
Australia’s Cut/Copy and Sweden’s Little Dragon have been wowing fans on the global stage for years. Now, they’re both bringing their pop/electronic sounds to Seattle. But don’t limit your electro/dream pop fun — there are plenty of regional artists creating music to move to.
When it was time to select his lineup, Huang focused on the idea of music discovery and how people connect with their most-beloved artists.
“We realized that a lot of people ‘experience’ through memorable moments and one of the most common threads in those moments is dance,” Huang explains. “Music can make you feel a lot of things but dancing feels like the crown jewel of its effect on us.”
With that in mind, he built a lineup of artists that will likely get people moving.
If you like Cut Copy and Little Dragon, you’ll also love…
Huang’s showcase is a must-see for any fans of electronic music with performances by Lakim, Pomo, and TEK.LUN, who are all significantly influencing the current electronic/dream pop genre. He notes that Lakim’s distinct uptempo sound is further galvanized by his being a part of the acclaimed music label and DJ group, Soulection. TEK.LUN is only 24 years old, and it will be exciting to have a prodigy beat maker like him at Upstream.
For those who only want to dance, there are plenty of options to choose from throughout the weekend including Walker & Royce, The Seshen, Nadus & MikeQ along with Northwest acts Wild Ones (Portland, OR), NAAVI (Seattle, WA), FKL (Seattle, WA) and Dear Rouge (Vancouver, BC).
Upstream Music Fest+Summit: Three days, 200+ national and regional artists, celebrating the sound of the Northwest and beyond.