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Capitol Hill Block Party ready to welcome Paul Allen-backed Upstream to Seattle music festival scene

As Capitol Hill Block Party owner Jason Lajeunesse decompresses from the 20th edition of the annual E Pike music festival, it’s hard not to turn an eye to 2017. The CHBP crew have already started the process of booking bands for the 21st installment of the event, but planning this time around is coming with a little more urgency and trepidation than in years past.

Last week, Paul Allen announced Upstream, a large South by Southwest-style music and ideas festival that will takeover a massive footprint in Pioneer Square from May 11th-13th.

With a goal of booking 200 artists, primarily drawn from Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, the festival has the potential to lock-in bands with contracts that prevent them from playing other nearby festivals or venues during the summer.

“If they choose to have blackouts with 90% local artists, that will pose challenges,” Lajeunesse said. “I don’t see the upside for the (CHBP) entity, but I think it’s great that local artists continue to be exposed.”

Upstream describes itself as a “three-day fest and summit is designed to promote music discovery, spark transformative conversations and foster opportunities for emerging artists and the industry within the new entertainment economy.”

The Block Party attracts more than 30,000 attendees every year to the three-day festival (Image: CHS)

The Block Party attracts more than 30,000 attendees every year to the three-day festival (Image: CHS)

In recent years CHBP has had to contend with Carnation’s Timber Outdoor Music Festival and a steady flood of music industry cash into others. The unmatched purchasing power of Paul Allen puts the money competition into different stratosphere. Still, Lajeunesse is optimistic about the future of CHBP.

“We’ve had a pretty long history and things have come and gone,” he said. “We’ve always been able to sustain what we do.”

Lajeunesse said 2016 was his favorite block party yet, with no major crowd incidents or problems in surrounding venues. Programming on the main stage leaned more electronic in 2016, which Lajeunesse said he liked by would not necessarily try to replicate next year. “We will continue to play with all the genres that represent our neighborhood,” he said.

Mayor Ed Murray praised his home-neighborhood festival from the main stage this year, an especially meaningful endorsement for Lajeunesse, who said it shows the festival continues to be an asset for Capitol Hill and the city.

Streaming video was also a larger component of this year’s festival, something Lajeunesse wants to expand in 2017. Live streaming acts over WiFi will allow more screens to show bands inside CHBP, Lajeunesse said, and more online viewing opportunities.

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4 years ago

I’m kind of disappointed to hear that the artists will be primarily PNW based, though that might be an unpopular opinion. I didn’t notice this in the initial reports…I was picturing (and psyched) about something that sounded a little like CMJ. bummer.

4 years ago
Reply to  kat

It sets it apart from the Block Party, Sasquatch and Bumbershoot. The first question people asked was, “why do we need another music festival?”