Occidental Square during Upstream Music Fest 2018. 

Image: Victoria Holt

If you are particularly surprised that Upstream Music Fest and Summit announced today it wouldn't put on a festival this year, you likely haven't attended the festival. The Seattle Times reported that Upstream—which was Paul Allen and Vulcan's attempt to create a local festival in Pioneer Square, akin to Austin's SXSW—says it is "taking a break" in 2019. That leaves things open if organizers do want to bring it back, but since the fest only ran for two years and never felt fully actualized, that seems unlikely. 

In 2018, Upstream claimed 30,000 attendees, but for anyone wandering its various small venues, that number sounds, at best, inflated. Crowds at many shows were sparse, and halfway through sets, when the droves of music photographers cleared out, became even sparser. Even for closing main-stage act, The Flaming Lips, I was able to walk up and get a fine view of band only moments before they went on. 

Attendance likely wasn't helped by the festival's interface. The mandatory Upstream app asked you totally relevant questions like what your yearly household income was. And you were beeped in and beeped out of venues via a wristband, so they knew your every move. A festival presenting tons of unsigned local bands in intimate venues sounds like a great idea. I saw some great artists for the first time, like Parisalexa and Tres Leches. But when the festival itself treats you like a walking data-stream jittering across its vast neo-Orwellian system, well, that intimate local feel is a tad mitigated. 

Show Comments