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Upstream Summit: New Perspectives, Learning, and Community [Review]

Without a frame of reference, it’s hard to imagine how the first year of a festival will go. This years’ inaugural Upstream Music Festival and Summit more than met our expectations though, for the most part. Two days of learning and three of music were packed with idols, teachers, superstars, and locals alike. We attended the Summit with few expectations besides awareness of the opportunity to hear Macklemore, Portia Sabin, Quincy Jones, and Ron Jones.

Upon entering the WaMu Theater, there was a present thoughtfulness in the decorations and arrangements. There were partitioned areas for lectures to be going on simultaneously around the space. With each going on next to each other behind a curtain, we were happily surprised to find it easy to hear.

In the middle of the giant, airplane-hanger-like building was the keynote stage. A small problem caused by this setup was that the booming sound and attendance of the keynote stage lectures overpowered the ones happening directly after. Several of the keynote lectures went well over time, forcing others to get a slow start.

Despite this, we had a good time wandering from place to place to cram our heads with as much information and insight as possible. The Macklemore lecture was a surprising yet delightful highlight. He exposed his unwavering effort and struggles to get to where he is today. He was humble and we were humbled ourselves.

As far as the promised “gear expo,” in many ways it was lacking. There were opportunities to play with Ableton, VR, and other gear, but it didn’t quite provide enough. Understandably the focuses of the event were the speakers, but this area could use some more development in the years to come. We would’ve liked to see more booths from musical instrument companies, synthesizer manufacturers, and technology foundations. Our expectations were quite high, as we had recently experienced this year’s Superbooth. It also made us wonder why so little was available online for those who couldn’t attend.

Food and drinks were available for purchase in the Summit theatre but were incredibly expensive (in line with your typically expensive festival concessions). Right outside, several hotdog stands, food trucks, and restaurants were serving for half the price of inside. This is nothing new for events at Century Link/WaMu, but we were expecting better options and prices, with already such high ticket prices.

Aluna Francis of AlunaGeorge, performing at the Upstream mainstage (cred: Upstream)

Overall, we had a great time despite a few hiccups here and there. This is to be expected for a festival in it’s infancy, but we hope next year will go above and beyond the bar set by this one.

Did you go to the Upstream Summit this year? What did you think of it?

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