It’s Paul Allen’s ambitious new music venture to showcase local talent. All in all, the music was strong and events well-organized.
Walking toward Pioneer Square during the fest’s early hours on Thursday afternoon, however, one had to strain to notice there was a music festival going on at all. That is, until rounding the corner on First Avenue, hearing the guitars blaring from Occidental Square, and seeing several dozen people in various states of engagement with music.
Loud music aside, it looked like any other weekday rush-hour in downtown Seattle. SXSW, in contrast, essentially shuts down parts of Austin for a week each March as luminaries from all facets of music and tech industries descend on the city.
Of course, every festival has its growing pains — even Coachella lost close to $1 million its first year. And expecting Seattle’s own version of SXSW to emerge fully formed is a pipe dream.
Luckily for concertgoers, and perhaps even for local musicians, Upstream shows promise.
The festival is undoubtedly ambitious: more than 300 artists playing 30 stages across three days in Pioneer Square, plus a two-day summit filled with TED-style lectures that cover the intersection of technology and music.
There’s also a tension that undergirds the whole enterprise, which is often the case when moneyed interests give local arts a cash infusion. Artists — many of whom are unknowns even in Seattle — get a chance to network and gain exposure. (They’re also being paid well.) On the other hand, a three-day pass costs $135 for a festival where three-quarters of the lineup regularly plays local shows with a $10 cover.
This contradiction was made explicit at the summit Thursday morning. At a breakout…