Local soul singer SassyBlack at Upstream 2017. This year she plays at Zócalo on Friday at 11:15pm. 

Image: Victoria Holt

Upstream Music Fest and Summit—aka Paul Allen's attempt to recreate Austin's SXSW in Pioneer Square—is all about diffusion. Yes, this year there are a couple major headliners—Miguel on Friday, Jawbreaker on Saturday, the Flaming Lips on Sunday—on the main stage. But the vast majority of acts are small, usually local bands scattered across small brickwalled venues (see last year's photo recap here). 

With many festivals you end up lodged at one show at least throughout a set, but Upstream has lots of venues (18 this year) in close proximity with lots of small bands (around 200) so bouncing around is easy and really the best way to approach things. The full lineup spans punk, indie, electronica, hip-hop, and pretty much anything else played around here. Maybe you're not digging Sol's sunny hip-hop at 11pm on Sunday at Axis, so you float over to Zócalo to watch SassyBlack sing soul, a whopping 400 feet away. Or drift to J&M Cafe and catch local punks Blood Drugs

Unsurprisingly for a festival that was conceived by a Microsoft founder, and that is partnered with Amazon and Verizon, Upstream has an interface: "I think one of the best ways to approach this is to first download the app," said producer Becca Camarda. "I say this as an organizer... and as an attendee.” The app is a good way to get a list of bands going, with reminders about where they are. You can also tip artists and listen to radio put together by Upstream's guest curators like Sub Pop and Tender Loving Empire. (Though I had problems with its recommendation function. What could be a great way to find new artists instead just really wants me to go see Hot Snakes on Friday.)

Camarda also recommends people check out some of the oddities sprinkled through the more standard acts. Saturday the Can Can puts on a cabaret, Femme Fatale: The Future is Femme, while SIFF brings a live soundtrack to the film Torrey Pines on Friday

Upstream Music Fest and Summit 2018
June 1–3, Pioneer Square, $65–$160

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