Shambhala is a family, right down to its core. Whereas most major festivals in North America are run by entertainment conglomerates like Live Nation, Shambhala, the largest festival in Western Canada to feature electronic music, is run by the Bundschuh family on their Salmo River Ranch.
The Shambhala story began in the mid-’90s when Rick and Sue Bundschuh moved their family from Kelowna to B.C.’s Kootenay region to set up a cattle ranch and lumber milling operation. Shortly thereafter, their kids, Jimmy, Corrine, and Anna, organized the first Shambhala in 1998 as a 500-person party with two stages. Without corporate sponsorship, the festival has grown under the Bundschuh’s direction to include over 2,000 volunteers and performers, and 10,000 eager participants, spread out over six stages and four nights in the second week of each August.
Because the Bundschuhs own the land on which the festival takes place, they are able to reinvest profits into infrastructure and art, building upon their efforts with each passing year. Where, in its early years, porta-potties were hand-built out of wood and thoroughly demolished over the weekend, the festival now has plastic, vented units that only smell while they are being cleaned each morning. Stages like Fractal Forest, where the DJ booth is set on a massive old growth stump, have evolved into elaborate shrines to which regular “Shambhalites” pay homage. One of the festival’s sources of pride is a $100,000 independent water treatment facility, one that organizers alleges better than that used by the community of Salmo.
Some volunteers show up weeks or even months in advance to help prepare the grounds for the weekend. In creating six sprawling stages, each harnessing up to 100,000 watts of sound, the family of volunteers sets up art installations, organizes expansive lighting rigs (projectors, lasers, strobes), paints murals on all plausible surfaces, arranges mazes and creates little nooks and crannies in the woods for meditation, workshops, and crafts, culminating in a flow through the stages from one side of the grounds to the other that tantalizes all of the senses. The festival maintains an organic garden in the middle of the grounds, which the Bundschuhs plan to expand to the point of supplying their food vendors, who are vetted to ensure a focus on local, ethical and fair trade goods. Less in, less out means more green. Recycling is widely encouraged, and Shambhala even has ACTion stations for composting.
The festival experience for artists is incomparable. Of course, Shambhala proudly supports the creative scene in B.C., especially Nelson. Originally a mining town that was all but re-founded by draft dodgers during the Vietnam War, Nelson maintains its wonderfully liberal hippie leanings today, boasting local artists like Juno nominee Adham Shaikh and 11-time Shambhala veteran Yan Zombie. Import artists and accompanying agents arrive at the festival with a tent already set up for them in a private wooded area, and are given the option of staying for the whole festival. Most take Shambhala up on that offer, mingling and collaborating with other artists and professionals, while taking in the festival much like everyone else.
The headliners over the years make up the cream of electronic music worldwide: Adam Freeland, Nero, Noisia, the Freestylers, Benga, Spor, Skream, the Glitch Mob, Dieselboy and Shpongle. Big name Canadians like ill.Gates, Longwalkshortdock, Delhi 2 Dublin, and Mat the Alien have performed at Shambhala on multiple occasions, while Bassnectar plays the festival almost every year. In 2011 alone, the festival featured Skrillex, Siriusmo, Bonobo, Ed Rush & Optical and DJ Fresh, among dozens of other noteworthy names.
It's not just “electronic” music, though. Lots of notable hip-hop acts, bands and beatbox artists have come through, such as Skratch Bastid, Sweatshop Union, Beardyman, Mike Relm, Q-Bert, Maestro Fresh Wes, You Say Party!, Born Gold, MarchFourth Marching Band and the Chicharones. The Funginears beatbox puppet show and Sweet Soul Burlesque troupe are also regular guests. There is something for everyone, even those who don't know what they're looking for yet.
Of course, bad things happen in every family, and sometimes members of your family do things that are self-destructive. As such, Shambhala has psychiatrists, doctors and nurses on hand for the entire festival. There's a harm reduction centre, first aid station and a women's safe space. The Shambassador program releases teams of jovial volunteers in top hats to walk around and lend a hand to anyone in need. Importantly, there is no booze allowed anywhere, which minimizes the belligerent factor.
All of this – the infrastructure, the ambiance, the commitment to the environment, the fantastic diverse artists and the care that the festival shows to its volunteers and attendees – keeps Shambhala running as smoothly as possible, and moving forward together as a family.
Click on the Shambhala timeline below to view it full size.
A Little Driving Music: Shambhala 2011 Preview Mixed by Yan Zombie on the CBC Electronic Podcast
Life after rave: Taking the Pulse of Canadian Techno, House, and Bass Culture 20 Years On
Check out the Shambhala blog to see who's on the 2012 lineup
Shambhala photo gallery
Shambhala the Movie
Corrections and Clarifications: Rusko was scheduled to perform but canceled, and we clarrified the issue around the soundsystems. (Thanks to oneophone for the catch!)