After a year of hype, immense amounts of money spent, and the announcement of an obscenely large lineup, Upstream Music Fest + Summit is finally here. Paul Allen’s bloated brainchild will light up Pioneer Square from Thursday till Saturday with a host of shows, panels, and lectures.

Maybe you, like me, have mixed feelings about Paul Allen producing a music festival featuring artists who can’t actually afford to live in the city because of real estate development. Maybe you, like me, have some trepidation about how such a massive undertaking will be executed. And maybe you, like me, looked at the monstrous lineup and thought to yourself, “Jesus Christ Paul Allen. What have you done?”


I have spent a few hours digging through the list of performers and I’ve returned to you with my picks for the shows to see. Obviously, this list is condensed, so fill in the gaps by getting out there and listening to new artists you may not have heard before. Flying Lotus is cool, but supporting your local queer (and not queer) artists is cooler.

Thurs, May 11

Dream Journal
Thu, May 11 / 9:00PM

As a general rule, I do not love watching producer-DJs perform. Call me old-fashioned. But for Dream Journal I’ll make an exception. Crafting expansive, slow-burning soundscapes, Dream Journal nods towards other hometown-heroes-turned-big-tent-electronic-pop acts like Odesza and Manatee Commune, but with a slightly more underground bent.

Kraken Congee
Thu, May 11 / 7:00PM

I will tell you to go see Guayaba until the day I leave this earth. Go read my review of their newest project, White House, Black Trash, then get yourself to her set. I don’t want to have to tell you again.

The Fabulous Downy Brothers
Buttnick Building 1st Ave
Thu, May 11 / 10:30PM

Nothing is quite as refreshing in this town as a band who are unafraid of unadulterated wackiness, and that’s just what The Fabulous Downy Brothers are. Their music is a blooping punk mish-mash delivered by the uniformed members in a fashion that recalls Devo or Nation of Ulysses minus the politics. Their live sets also occur relatively infrequently, which means you really don’t want to miss whatever they’ve got in store.

Emma Lee Toyoda
Buttnick Building 1st Ave
Thu, May 11 / 9:00PM
Sat, May 13 / 8:15PM

Emma Lee Toyada describe their sound as “Seattle-based semi-nocturnal sadgirlrock.” While I appreciate the self-deprecation, that description doesn’t even come close to describing their first LP, sewn me anew. That record glitters with songs of remarkable restraint and sophistication, anchored by Toyoda’s (it’s both the name of the live band and the person behind the project) warm croon.

Friday, May 12

The Thermals
Comedy Underground
Fri, May 12 / 11:00PM

I have feared for my life at a concert only once, and that was while watching the Thermals. Having taken up a position at the front of the stage in order to see clearly without my glasses, I ended up being swallowed whole by the pit that erupted almost as soon as the band took the stage. If anything, it’s a testament to overwhelming force of The Thermals that more than fifteen years into their career they can still summon that kind of visceral reaction so immediately. That same force propels all of their songs, usually declaimed like sermons by front man Hutch Harris and played forcefully by bassist Kathy Foster and drummer Westin Glass. Go tell it on a mountain – the Thermals have still got it.

165 S Jackson St
Fri, May 12 / 12:00AM

All hail Sassyblack, Seattle’s high priestess of cosmically-inclined R&B. After a stint as one half of the under-sung but now defunct THEESatisfaction, SassyBlack struck out on her own for more astral pastures on last year’s No More Weak Dates. With a smoky alto and a sense of phrasing that swings elliptically around the beat, she excoriates weak-ass dates, sings a sensuous hymn to Comicon, and twirls on her haters. All aboard for a trip to planet SassyBlack

Wild Powwers
J&M Cafe
Fri, May 12 / 5:30 PM

One time, my friend sent me a video of Wild Powwers playing a generator show I was missing. The video was grainy and dark (the show was under an overpass) and it almost blew the speaker in my phone – an auspicious omen if there ever was one. That’s just how Wild Powwers roll. They play loud, layered garage punk replete with primo guitar riffs. In person, their performance are the kind of affairs that manage to feel like sweaty house shows even when they aren’t. Hold on tight kids.

Saturday, May 13

Kristin Kontrol
Fuel Sports Beer Garden
Sat, May 13 / 5:45PM

Ex-Dum Dum Girl Kristin Welchez debuted her solo synth-pop project last year on her Sub Pop debut, X-Communicate. Of course, the haters (I SEE YA’LL) will try to convince you that Kristin Kontrol is just another example of an indie artist selling their souls to the pop machine, but they. are. dead. wrong. Like Chairlift, the slickest of their contemporaries with whom they recently toured, Kristin Kontrol’s music is sticky and sharp, heavy on the synth and moody lyrics delivered as up-tempo hooks. No haters allowed!

Sat, May 13 / 10:30PM

Janet Weiss! Sam Coomes! JANET FUCKING WEISS! Go get your Honestly why are you even reading these words??? You should be at this show RIGHT NOW!

Sat, May 13 / 9:45PM

SISTERS make bubbly, off-kilter pop that sounds like if Sainthood-era Teagan and Sara smoked a responsible amount of weed with Merril Garbus of tUnE-yArDs and decided to jam out. The duo of Andrew Vait and Emily Westman recently released their first album, Drink Champagne, a collection of shiny pop tunes that are designed for maximum feel-good effect. I get it, you want to see the weirdest and wildest of Seattle’s avant-garde. But take a break. We could all use some good feelings right now.

Court in the Square
Sat, May 13 / 6:45PM

Last summer, Sloucher debuted at a show on the patio of Rancho Bravo on Capitol Hill. There, amidst garlands of balloons and a crowd of obviously intoxicated young adults, Seattle first beheld its future. Make no mistake, the kind of sunny, bleary-eyed garage rock songs Sloucher toss off have serious staying power. They’ve continued to refine themselves with a smattering of dates over the past year, which means that this show should be a real doozy.

Shabazz Palaces
Main Stage, presented by Amazon
Sat, May 13 / 10:00PM

Futurist hip-hop auteurs Shabazz Palaces have been perhaps Seattle’s greatest hip-hop export in recent memory (Macklemore can go kick rocks), releasing two great full-length albums on Sub Pop, 2011’s Black Up and 2014’s Lese Majesty. Recently, the duo – made up of Digable Planents’ Ishmael Butler and multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire – announced two new simultaneously releases, Quazarz: Born On a Gangster Star and its companion, Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines. The albums chronicle the travels of Quazarz, an extra-dimensional emissary sent to explore “Amurderca.” If that sounds crazy ambitious, it’s because it is, but surprisingly both of the tracks released from the albums thus far have proven to be some of the most accessible material Shabazz has ever produced. Their live show is sure to be an otherworldly spectacle.

Check out the Upstream Music Fest + Summit website or app for tickets and passes as well as a complete weekend schedule.