SEATTLE — South By Southwest met North by Northwest this weekend through the Upstream Music Festival and Summit in Seattle’s Pioneer square. The musical portion took place in bars and various venues in Pioneer Square, including the 18 floor of the Smith Tower. With many free stages and cool hip bars to entertain music lovers this festival had a bit of something for everyone. The goal was to shine a spotlight on smaller local artists by giving them bigger stages and an audience that might not otherwise see them. This is a similar type of format that SXSW uses in Austin, Texas. But, did this work in Seattle?
The Upstream weekend started on a Thursday and ended on Saturday, presumably not to interfere with the U2 concert and Mother’s Day on Sunday. It was nice that so much was going on during the days on Thursday and Friday but since most of us had to work, we did not get to experience it. Through out the days the venues felt empty and the sidewalks were void of the customary drunk 20-somethings that help make a festival feel like a festival. Fortunately the event’s major sponsor was Amazon, thus I ran into many employees helping make the crowd numbers a success. I suppose you could have called the event “Amazon presents the revitalization of Pioneer Square Festival”. This created the sense that this festival was not organic nor did it feel like people were screaming for this to happen.
Why didn’t more people come out to support the local music you might ask. The rain probably deterred several people from coming to an outdoor music festival in Seattle. It’s early May in Seattle when sunshine is at a premium and the weather can feel like late fall, this might not be the best time to try to get people to the outdoors. My next theory is the price. At $65 a day to access all the venues may seem like a steal but did you really come here to see all the acts, probably not. With the focus being on local artists many of those bands can be seen for $10-$15. So, if you just want to see two acts is worth it for you to stand out in the rain and pay double to see the same bands you normally see? Between Sasquatch, Bumbershoot and Capitol Hill Block Party people from the Northwest are accustomed to seeing big and small acts and have no problem plunking down $65 a day to listen to live music but you need to hook me. I need that big name, I that fresh-new-new act doing that crazy thing with their music box to make me say ‘yeah, this could be a thing’. Granted Flying Lotus did put on a great show with amazing visuals projected through a double screen and back dropped by Seattle’s skyline but seriously how many of you have heard of Flying Lotus?
All this complaining aside I really do want this concept to take off. I do think this will help Seattle’s continual budding music scene. People love music and love to support a local. I did see many acts I would not have seen otherwise and did enjoy the atmosphere and do appreciate the local support. Don’t let my above salty words keep you from going next year (if there is one). Experience this for yourself, I know many of you didn’t.