At this time last year, Paul Runnals sat down to make one heck of a wish list: If he and his colleague Erik Hoffman could book nearly any touring music act – well, maybe minus the Madonnas and the Paul McCartneys – which would they choose to perform in the wilds of Squamish, B.C.?
Topping that list was elusive hip-hop veteran Eminem, pop superstar Bruno Mars and favourite Canadian indie outfit Arcade Fire – and amazingly, within a matter of weeks, they had landed all three.
"That almost never happens. Normally you've got a wish list and you start at the top, but somebody isn't available or the dates don't work and you have to move in other directions," says Mr. Runnals, executive producer of the Squamish Valley Music Festival, which this year doubled its capacity from 18,500 to a whopping 35,000.
In addition to having an instant audience – fans are travelling from around the globe to see Eminem, who has only a handful of North American dates this year – the big-name headliners also meant that other high-level artists wanted in.
"All of a sudden people were like, 'Look at what's happening here. We want to get involved in this,'" Mr. Runnals says. "So instead of us having to make calls looking for available artists, we had agents coming to us."
Now the lineup boasts international acts including Arctic Monkeys, Foster the People, Nas, the Roots and Lykke Li, as well as favourite homegrown bands, among them Serena Ryder, Tokyo Police Club, Kevin Drew, Shad, Mounties and A Tribe Called Red.
But festival goers won't be the only ones to benefit from the heavy-hitting musical presence in the picturesque town, which will balloon from a population of 15,000 to more than 45,000 people this weekend: Organizers have also arranged for unannounced pop-up performances in the campsites, around the town, and even up the new Sea to Sky Gondola.
Mr. Runnals expects that, like with any good festival, people may come to see one act, but will leave fans of several others. So while indie or hip-hop stalwarts may roll their eyes at the idea of a pop act like Bruno Mars, come the next day they'll likely be singing a different tune.
"Bruno Mars is a fascinating character, and one of the most exciting live performers out there. But some people are like, 'I don't like pop. I don't want to see that stuff,'" he says. "But I guarantee that we are going to convert a whole bunch of people. They don't know they're Bruno Mars fans yet, but come Friday night they will be."
The Squamish Valley Music Festival runs Friday through Sunday.