By Elise Olmstead

A new venue in Princeton, BC is ringing in their grand opening in a big way! The beautiful Snug Lake Amphitheatre will be open for Element Music Festival this August 3-6, 2017, headlined by an unheard of 6 sets of String Cheese Incident and rare performances from Garaj Mahal.  The organizers are ready to blow minds right out of the gate, and we love their approach to their festival schedule with no overlapping sets and music later in the day.  The land is truly a beauty to behold, just to make it more surreal.  We talked to organizer Keither Duggan about this special upcoming weekend.

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to work in the music industry?

I’ve been in the music industry since I was 15 years old, when I volunteered at both the Vancouver Folk Music Festival & the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.  I was a musician (drummer) and knew I wanted to work in the music industry from a very young age, so to have that career clarity was very beneficial as I charted out my future.  After graduating from high school, I got a job working tent & stage crews around Vancouver… setting up concerts, festivals, weddings, sporting events & other special events for about 5 years… then went back to school to get my degree in Entertainment Business Management, so I could climb the industry ladder with a little stronger foundation.  Upon post-secondary graduation, I got a job at Universal Music as their Street Marketing Coordinator where I worked from ’96 to 2001… when Napster happened & we all got downsized.   I then moved on to be the Promotions Coordinator at X-FM Radio in Vancouver before leaving the corporate world yet again & going back into special events as a contracted Production Manager, coordinating large teams of workers on various concert, festival & other special event sites.  I spent some time working at the Vancouver Convention Centre, helped with the 2010 Winter Olympics… kept busy with whatever work opportunities were available.  You know how this business is.  Where are we going next?


When did you start Element Music Festival and why did you want to start a fest?

My business partners & good friends (Robert Christy & Bruce Macaulay) & I had discussed for quite a few years how cool it would be to break out on our own & be our own bosses.  We figured the only feasible way to make this happen was to find a piece of property where we could build our own venue, so we could control all aspects of production & operations while keeping every revenue stream in-house.  We spent a few years searching for the right piece of property, then in 2015 Rob found the most beautiful piece of land just outside of Princeton, BC… about 3.5 hours East of Vancouver… so it was remote, but close enough to the city that it was a good location.  This is where Snug Lake Amphitheatre was born.  Rob bought the property, called Bruce & I to come check it out and within a few months we’d quit our jobs & moved up to the site.


Starting Element from that point was a no-brainer.  We owned a venue, we were experienced event producers and we’ve been huge jam fans since we were teenagers on Dead Tour.  Element was born as the obvious direction for us to take, given our experience & the amazing situation we now found ourselves in!  It was also of note that BC has never had a true jam band festival.  EDM festivals?  Oh yeah.  Country music festivals?  Yep.  Rock, hip-hop, folk, jazz… you name it.  Our favorite music was not represented in the BC festival circuit, so we set out to change that.

We added another partner in Justin Picard, a friend & another experienced jam band promoter/producer based out of Denver, CO… and our quartet was complete… not to mention all the friends & family who have helped us along the way!  It takes a village, right?


Do you live in BC? How did you find the venue?

Yes… Rob, Bruce & I are all born & raised in BC… and as I explained above, Rob found the venue.  He’d apparently had his eye on the Snug Lake property for awhile but didn’t share his little secret with Bruce & I till he’d already closed on it.  Greatest. Surprise. Ever!  What a total champ!


How did you choose the lineup this year?

Uh, we sat down & dreamed about who we would most want to play our festival? LOL. We didn’t think about money or anything like that, we just debated who would constitute our dream lineup.  Being that we’re jam fans who were first introduced to & sold on the scene in the late 80’s & the 90’s, who could we assemble that would represent that time period best?  Which bands were still playing & still crushing it!  We literally set out to book our favorite jam bands, all on our lineup for multiple days/sets, with killer artists-at-large to sit-in & collaborate.  We already had relationships with most of these bands from our years of booking shows in Vancouver & working concerts/festivals around North America, so they knew us well.  Once we started making calls & explaining to the acts that we now owned our own venue, and were planning to develop it into a mecca of sorts for jam bands & jam fans, they were all intrigued about the possibilities… and once they saw photos of the property, they wanted to be a part of our grand opening.  The rest then became the usual negotiations, scheduling & regular festival pre-production.  It came together pretty smoothly once we’d told them our story, painted the picture of our vision & got down to brass tacks.


What is different about Element?

There are a bunch of things we think are different about Element.  We decided to go for quality over quantity with our artists.  Fewer top-tier bands with longer sets & performances on multiple days, which was the formula at old school jam band festivals.  We also start our schedule a little later (3:00 pm), so folks have time to relax & enjoy our venue during the day… swim in Snug Lake, go for a hike, or a mountain bike, or play disc golf, or go fishing.  We’re located in an amazing outdoor adventure playground in the BC Interior, and it would be a shame if folks schedules were so packed they didn’t get to explore.  Let’s see… we also decided to go with a single main stage & a late-night stage/venue, and to not have them competing with one another.  We’ve always hated having to choose between two shows happening concurrently, so we got rid of that problem.  One stage at a time, so everyone can get down together… musicians included.   There will also be surprise sets, secret stages & all sorts of other amazing treats.  The kinds of things we know jam fans absolutely love!


If someone is on the fence about going, what would you tell them?

That’s easy… String Cheese Incident x 3 nights & 6 sets, the reunion of Garaj Mahal (playing together for the first time in a decade) for 3 nights & 5 sets, Steve Kimock & Friends (Jeff Chimenti – Dead & Co, Bobby Vega – Zero, John Morgan Kimock – Mike Gordon Band) for 3 sets, Genetics for multiple sets, Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Co, The Allman Brothers Band), Roosevelt Collier (Bokante, Lee Boys) & Naryan Padmanabha around as artists-at-large.


What I would tell them is that EMF may be the greatest collection of improvisational musicians ever assembled in Western Canada… and to see them all in a gorgeous venue in the Canadian Cascade Mountains with no curfews is likely to be one of the most magical weekends in a very long time!  Bring all these amazing musicians together for 4 days, encourage collaboration & let ’em go!


It’s gonna be epic!