Element Music Festival
Element Music Festival
Snug Lake Amphitheatre
For music fans, deciding whether to attend a music festival involves a certain kind of calculus. On one side of the equation are must-see bands and musicians, combined with the allure of seeing them in one place, over the course of a weekend.
The other side of the equation, however, looks a little different.
That’s where the downsides of festival-going factor in, which can be everything from the challenges posed by navigating overly large crowds and sometimes inhospitable venues to the often abbreviated set times that are the result of the current festival ethos of trying to cram as many bands as possible into the schedule.
If you’re of the opinion that the festival experience should enhance, not detract from, the festival itself, Element Music Festival was created for you.
In just its second year, EMF is deliberately and significantly shifting the festival paradigm, making decisions based on audience and artist satisfaction first, instead of focusing solely on the bottom line. And theirs is a formula that seems destined for success.
Element Music Festival was dreamed up by four friends—Keither Duggan, Rob Christy, Bruce Macaulay, and Justin Picard, who all act as festival directors—all of whom have a good deal of event-production experience. The quartet had produced a handful of more moderately sized festivals in the past, but decided to make their first foray into larger-scale event production with EMF. They had the perfect site—the stunning and expansive Snug Lake Amphitheatre in British Columbia’s Okanagan-Similkameen Valley—and so they set out to create the exact kind of event they’d like to attend.
“Element was born out of a desire for us to create something of our own,” Duggan says, “to put all our years of experience together, to pool all our resources, to reach out to friends and associates in the event-production industry and to create something for live music fans, by live music fans.”
In their perfect world, the emphasis would be on quality rather than quantity. They’d book a select few artists, who, instead of playing a short set on a single night, would play longer sets on multiple nights, allowing them the time and space to create large landscapes of sound and to connect with and respond to the audience in a more meaningful, personal way. Fewer bands crammed into the schedule also meant performances could start later in the afternoon than is the festival norm, allowing folks time to explore the natural wonders of the site, which include hiking and biking trails, a mountain lake for swimming and other water activities, and all the beauty that comes from being nestled in the Cascades.
They tested their concept in 2016 for an intimate audience of just 400 attendees, and found that it would fly. So, they increased the capacity to 4,000 people for this year’s event—which takes place Aug. 3-6—which keeps EMF small and manageable, while making it large enough to draw top-tier talent.
Which brings us to the music.
“One of the things we’ve noticed about other festivals is their attempts to be so many things to so many people, as opposed to being very focused on who and what they are,” Duggan says. “Element does not have any sort of identity crisis. We are a pure and true jam-band festival and we embrace that. We designed EMF to appeal to hardcore jam-band enthusiasts with only the highest quality of bands, but less of them playing longer sets on multiple days.”
When it came time to pick a headliner for this year’s event, they wanted someone who would not only drive ticket sales and have talent and skill deep enough to play multiple sets on multiple nights, but would also exemplify their ethos and cater to a community of hardcore jam fans. Turns out, the festival directors knew exactly who to call: the heavy hitters of the String Cheese Incident.
“We’re pretty stoked that SCI are headlining and playing three nights and six sets for us,” Duggan says. “The band and management are old friends of ours that we’ve known since ’99. When we decided that 2017 was the year we wanted to really put ourselves on the map, they were our first call. What makes SCI such a good fit is that they are a pure jam band. They mix multiple genres into their sound and their improvisation stands with the best in the business. Their music and their audience is us, and we are them.”
But that wasn’t the only rabbit EMF’s festival directors had in their collective hat. They also worked some kind of magic on members of Garaj Mahal, getting that band to reunite and play for the first time in nearly a decade.
“There was no magic trick here,” Duggan insists. “The guys in Garaj Mahal are also old friends of ours that we’ve known since 2000. We’ve been pestering them to do a reunion for a few years now. When Element 2017’s lineup started to take shape and we secured String Cheese Incident to headline multiple nights, the Garaj Mahal guys could see that something special was coming together up here in British Columbia and they wanted to be a part of it. Simply put, the timing was right.”
The String Cheese Incident will play two sets per night on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (for a total of six sets of top-notch improvisational music), and Garaj Mahal will play two sets on Thursday and Friday, and one set Saturday. Rounding out the roster will be three sets from Steve Kimock & Friends and three sets from Genetics, while Five Alarm Funk, Brickhouse, and Big Easy Funk Ensemble will each play one longer-than-usual set. As with any event that prioritizes jam bands, the late-night scene is an important piece of this puzzle, and weekend passholders have the opportunity to buy into the after-hours action as well. And just in case that bounty of musical entertainment isn’t enough, EMF will also feature special guest musicians—steel guitar virtuoso Roosevelt Collier, Dead & Company master bassist Oteil Burbridge, and sitarist/multi-instrumantalist Naryan Padmanabha—that will act as artists at large, jumping onstage and collaborating with bands as the spirit and music moves them to do so.
“I can’t think of many other festivals in recent years that assembled this kind of improvisational talent on one lineup in a single year,” Duggan says. “The thing I’m most looking forward to is the opportunities for collaboration. We’ve got a plethora of phenomenal, world-class musicians all staying together with us for the weekend at Snug Lake Amphitheatre. I strongly believe there will be magic in the air and we are going to experience some of the most incredible collaborations any jam-band enthusiast could dream up or hope for.”
Along with setting themselves apart from other festivals in terms of structure, Duggan is quick to emphasize that Element Music Festival is a labor of love right down to its soul. In a world of big-money corporate sponsorships and festivals owned by giant companies, EMF is fiercely and truly independent, which festival directors believe to be key to their ability to build an event that puts artists and the audience first, and to promote jam-band culture in an authentic and organic way.
“For myself, jam-band culture represents the best in music and the best in people,” Duggan says. “It’s hard to put into words, but when the jam-band tribe gets together for a show or a festival, there is magic in the air. In my opinion, the fans are kind, compassionate, thoughtful, hilarious, creative and just looking to have a good time. No ego, no posturing, no fighting—everyone comes together for the same reason, and it’s the music! We wanted to create and share that experience with the people of the Pacific Northwest, as this is our home and always has been. We’re born and raised here in Southern British Columbia, and we’ve historically had to travel south to get our jam music fix every summer—so we decided to bring folks to us instead.”
Element Music Festival takes place Aug. 3-6 at Snug Lake Amphitheatre, Princeton, British Columbia (3.5 hours east of Vancouver). Tickets are $300 CAD, and info, including day-by-day show schedules, camping information, directions and more, can be found at http://www.elementfestival.info