In more ways than one, Element Music Festival cofounder Keith Duggan is one those lucky enough to be living the dream.
On the affordability front, the events-industry veteran has been lucky enough to cash out of Vancouver and move up to Princeton. It’s there in the B.C. Interior that Duggan has been able to realize a lifelong goal.
Along with three partners (Robert Christy, Bruce Macaulay, and Justin Picard), the hard-core music fan was able to purchase a 160-acre piece of property with a natural amphitheatre that he likens to the famous Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington state.
“It’s a little bit smaller, but you can paint that picture,” Duggan says, speaking on his cellphone from Princeton.
“There’s a lake on-site and tons of camping. So we did it—we cashed out of Vancouver, we bought this property, and for the last two years we’ve been developing.”
A major part of that development has been the building of the Snug Lake Amphitheatre.
“We own the property outright, and because it’s our property we were like, ‘What do we want to do now? Hey, let’s build a venue,’” Duggan says. “That way we can pick and choose the events we do.”
Determined to do just that, Duggan and his partners bought the old Vancouver Folk Music Festival stage and a SaddleSpan tent, and then hooked up with an audio and light company (Skaha Sound) in Penticton. Last year saw them do a small dry-run festival at their new venue with acts—including Five Alarm Funk and Brickhouse—that they’ve become friends with over the years.
That event, which attracted around 300 fans, has set the table for a festival that Duggan and his business partners—who’ve incorporated as Element Music and Events Inc.—couldn’t be more excited about this summer. Imagine not only having your own concert venue, but also having the contacts to stage a festival with some of your favourite bands.
That’s what will happen from August 3 to 6 at the Snug Lake Amphitheatre, when the Element Music Festival will feature jam-band giants like the String Cheese Incident and Garaj Mahal. Also on the bill will be improv-guitar great Steve Kimock and Friends, Colorado prog-rockers Genetics, Vancouver’s Big Easy Funk Ensemble, and the return of both Five Alarm Funk and Brickhouse. Bands will end up doing multiple sets over the festival.
“Element is going to be our flagship, because this is the music that we love,” Duggan says gushingly. “That being said, we kind of shot for the moon this year. Getting String Cheese Incident for three days—that happened because they are old buddies of ours from like ’99. They are doing huge 50,000- to 60,000-people festivals in the States. And we’re doing like 4,000 this year. Getting Garaj Mahal back together after a decade—those guys, again, are friends of ours and they wanted to support the project, plus they wanted to play the venue, which was totally sweet. Same goes with Kimock.
"In terms of the improvisational-music world, we’ve put together some of the heaviest hitters in the world,” he continues. “Our plan was ‘Put them all together in one place, give them multiple days so they aren’t leaving right after their set, and support collaboration.’ We’re giving all these phenomenal musicians a nice palette where they can go paint.”
The Element Music Festival is, as noted, hoping to draw 4,000 people this year to the Snug Lake Amphitheatre, where there will be camping on-site as well as food trucks and craft vendors. The festival will be bringing in a stage, lighting, and sound system large enough to handle the demands of the event. Plans are to shoot for a crowd of 8,000 as Element gets more established.
“We’re two years in, and continue to develop daily,” Duggan says. “We went with a number we were comfortable with this year to make sure that everyone had a lot of space, and also so that we can deal with anything that comes up. You know the production business—you’re constantly having to deal with issues as they arise and problem-solve on the spot. Better to do that with manageable numbers than to go crazy and not be prepared to handle things.”
He adds that, like his partners, he’s had years of experience in the music and events business.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 15 years old in many different areas,” says Duggan, who is 45. “I was a kid with gloves at the [Vancouver] folk and jazz festivals. I worked at Universal Records and X-FM. Between myself and my three partners, there really isn’t much in this music- and event-production industry that we haven’t done.”
While Element will be the flagship event of the venue, plans including staging metal and folk-string-bluegrass festivals at the Snug Lake Amphitheatre.
“My roots are in metal,” Duggan says with a laugh. “Bands like Metallica and Black Sabbath and Slayer. My partner Bruce comes from the punk world—he loves the Clash. We all grew up on heavy music. And then we all went to a Grateful Dead concert and became jam fans.”
Duggan and his partners also hope to use the site as an all-purpose venue for individual concerts with big-name acts.
It’s not lost on Element Music and Events Inc. that the festival business has had a rough ride over the past couple of years with the high-profile cancellations of both the Squamish Valley Music Festival and the Pemberton Music Festival. Still, he argues that the appetite for live music is stronger than it’s been in years, with the positive thing about the Snug Lake Amphitheatre being that he and his partners control all aspects of the operation, from the festival ticketing to revenue from parking and camping.
“Things have kind of taken a full circle because everything has gone digital,” he says. “The model has changed in the record industry. What’s been a silver lining, at least in my line of work, is that people want to have experiences. They want to go and do live stuff.”
And what better place to do that, Duggan says, than in an area of the province fabled for both natural beauty and beautiful summer weather? Sometimes you get to live the dream.
“After all these years of doing what we’ve been doing, when we finally bite the bullet and say ‘Let’s do something for ourselves,’ we find this piece of property that actually had a concert amphitheatre and a lake and camping. The site planned itself when we first walked onto it. It was like ‘Well, this will go there, that will go there, and that will go there.’ It was literally easiest site plan we’d ever done—we did it in two days. It was almost like this piece of property was meant to be what it’s becoming now.”
For more info on the Element Music Festival, including ticket prices, camping, and lineup details, go here.