North by Northwest? Paul Allen’s Upstream music festival could be Seattle’s answer to Austin

Three days, 30 stages, over 300 acts and dozens of music-industry workshops. This week, Paul Allen launches his latest major civic initiative: Upstream Music Fest + Summit.

Does Seattle — or the world — really need another mammoth music festival?

We’re about to find out.

This week, the new, ambitious Upstream Music Fest + Summit, dreamed up and largely funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, promises to transform Pioneer Square into an eclectic “walkable mixtape” and music-industry conference.

Festival previews

Upstream Music Fest + Summit

May 11-13 in Pioneer Square, Seattle; four free venues with tickets ranging from $40 for Thursday to $425 for a three-day VIP pass (

Downstream Music Fest + Art Show

May 11-13 at Substation, 645 N.W. 45th St., Seattle; $10 per day (

The event will be geographically tight (roughly four by four city blocks) but conceptually sprawling, with 30 stages (four of them free), lineups by guest curators and around 300 acts that range from the famous (Flying Lotus, Dinosaur Jr., Shabazz Palaces) to bands that haven’t even released a record yet.

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At the conference, music icons will give keynote speeches, including jazz legend Quincy Jones, hip-hop star Macklemore, and Portia Sabin, a cultural anthropologist who now runs the well-known indie-rock and comedy label Kill Rock Stars.

The conference menu includes workshops about whether record labels are still relevant in the digital-streaming era, how bands can earn a paycheck by getting their music into video games, and how musicians can harvest and use data — who’s listening, how they’re listening and when — that music corporations have been leveraging to their own benefit for decades.

RELATED: 10 shows not to miss at Upstream music festival

Upstream is the latest civic initiative from Allen, who has earned a reputation as…

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