The lure of Shambhala
What started as a family-run festival with 400 to 600 attendees has grown to an event that is making waves both nationally and internationally.
Shambhala Music Festival celebrated its 15th year on the weekend of August 9 at Salmo River Ranch with a sold out crowd and some of the most impressive acts to date.
This year while festival-goers were enjoying the music on the dancefloor, Wanda Daza, CEO of Strategic Event Initiatives Inc., was hard at work.
“Shambhala has invited me to do an assessment and analysis of their festival, of all of the components,” said Daza.
“It’s pretty well a festival audit of all the elements that make up a festival from the programing to the human resources to all of the different areas and I am going to help them develop a strategy and a growth plan for the festival. I am doing an assessment of all factors.”
Daza travels the world doing similar evaluations for festivals and events.
“I’ve done work for festivals for Dubai,” she said. “The government of Dubai has multi-festivals and I’ve worked with them on redevelopment of their organization and strategic recommendations to make it better.”
It was at the International Music Festival Conference in Austin, Texas that Daza met Shambhala executive producers Anna Bundschuh and Corrine Zawaduk at a workshop.
“It was a pleasure listening to their story,” said Daza. “I could tell they were innovative from the very beginning because the way they talk about their model — they don’t have sponsorship — the creativity was very evident. They won an award at this conference so they were internationally recognized for their creativity.”
Even though Shambhala is located on a farm in Salmo — which is considered to be fairly remote for a festival of its scale — Daza said it is a cutting edge event.
“I think this is the leading music festival in Canada. There are so many factors that aren’t traditional. A lot of festivals and events can learn from Shambhala. They don’t have the same model as other events.”
In addition to the individual stages’ overall programing, Daza said one thing that stands out about the festival is heart.
“The community should really be proud of Shambhala and what they have accomplished on the farm. I have had the opportunity to see world class festivals and they may be spectacular and beautiful. Shambhala not only has the innovation, creativity and the quality, but also the heart that a lot of festivals and events are missing,” she said.
HEADING TOWARDS THE MAINSTREAM
Unlike Daza who attended the festival for the first time, Jesse Leitner — electronica advisor for Canadian Music Week, an annual awards show and conference — attended Shambhala for the tenth time this year.
“I heard about it when my friends came in the door after Shambhala and said ‘You’re coming next year, you don’t have an option,’” he said.
“I came up and was blown away. Last year was the first year I’ve missed in 11 years.”
Leitner said as electronic music has gained more mainstream popularity, Canadian Music Week has expanded its interests to include the genre.
“Basically Canadian Music Week has never really gotten involved with the electronica genre,” he said. “They are really trying to branch out because electronica is going mainstream and they want to get on board. Canadian Music Week is one of the biggest music conferences in North America.”
Leitner admitted until he attended Shambhala he didn’t really listen to electronic music, but now he comes away each year with new music.
“They have definitely helped a lot of local artists break into the industry and get well known,” said Paulina Taylor, marketing assistant with Canadian Music Week.
“There are no major sponsors. It’s all word of mouth so it is more reputable than something more like a pop music festival marketed by Coca-Cola or large corporations.”
Both Leitner and Taylor said the influence of Shambhala expands far beyond the region and even the nation.
“Breakspoll named it the best outdoor music festival in the world and if you can take down something like Burning Man or even the European festivals and Bumbershoot and Coachella, that means something,” said Leitner.
“Now Shambhala is on the same level and they get the same attention and they do it without any corporate anything, which is incredible. I travel every winter and have been in Central America the last four years and people have heard about it from Denmark to London and Sweden. It is blowing up. I think in three or four years it will be known as the premier Canadian festival and it only holds 10,000 people.”
A MAGICAL PLACE
As Shambhala has evolved over the last 15 years, so has the music world that surrounds it and electronic music itself.
John Paolozzi of CBC Radio 3 attended Shambhala for the first time this year as a volunteer.
But even though Paolozzi was new to the festival, he is no stranger to the world of electronic music.
“The choice always came down to going to Burning Man or to Shambhala because both eat up a lot of resources, time and are a long way to get to,” he said.
“I always would choose Burning Man and I kind of regretted it because I missed it in the early years and then I had kids and it wasn’t an option.”
Paolozzi — like Leitner — heard about Shambhala through friends who attended the festival.
“I heard about it in 1998 or 1999,” he said.
“I had friends that went to the first Shambhala, but again I missed that because there were actually a lot of other really great parties going on in Vancouver at the time. But I always heard it was this magical place that everyone raved about.”
With world-renown acts like Bassnectar, Skrillex and Pretty Lights appearing on the line-ups for Shambhala over the years, Paolozzi said the artists are an obvious draw, but there is more to the festival than just the music.
“For one thing I would say that it has an international reputation. It certainly is not just a regional festival.
“I think it is just about the location. It has this magical draw that pulls people in. Festival-goers travel huge distances to get to this thing. It is really tied into the place and the infrastructure that goes in to the stages and the venue as a whole is outstanding. The valley is beautiful. There are probably very few places with that magnitude of physical beauty. That is kind of a BC thing. There isn’t this thing going on in Canada, but there is a certain spectacular BC quality to it.”
MAJOR ARTISTS WILLING TO MAKE THE TRIP
Even though electronic music has a long history of being connected to an underground movement and culture, the calibre of artists that Shambhala has been able to attract is also increasing its notoriety.
“It’s funny, last year they had Skrillex who is probably one of the biggest artists to perform at Shambhala in the event’s history,” said Paolozzi.
“He was big when they booked him but going on to win multiple Grammys a mere six or seven months later is a big deal. It is definitely booking some solid artists. It is incredible that they are able to convince an artist that they should fly in from the UK to an international airport like Calgary or Vancouver and then get out 10 hours into effectively the bush. It’s no small trip for anyone to make.”
As Shambhala has changed since it began, so has the genre it promotes.
Paolozzi said the electronic music world is experiencing a “resurgence” after the indie rock world took over in the early 2000s.
“There was a period at the beginning of the last decade where in the early 2000s electronic music was very much descendant,” he said. “Turntables were outselling guitars and then for a number of reasons, it all started to fall apart and that happened for various reasons. Part of it was because it didn’t get radio airplay, it didn’t have wide spread distribution, festivals were being cracked down upon everywhere in the world and Indie music was coming to the forefront again.”
But Paolozzi said there is now a turn around in the music world and electronic music is beginning to make appearances in Top 40 hits.
“We’re seeing a massive resurgence of electronic music and that is happening across the board, both in the underground and in the mainstream,” he said.
“The mainstream is adopting the world EDM (electronic dance music) and you’re seeing artists like Tiesto, Deadmau5 and Skrillex playing massive stadium shows, the kind that you used to just see Metallica and the Rolling Stones sell out, and now it’s electronic music. Rock is not filling those stadiums the same way and you are starting to see the instrumentation that is electronic music creep into the mainstream.”
While electronic music may be popular in night clubs from Nelson to Toronto and all over the world, Paolozzi said it is a festival like Shambhala where electronic music lovers are able to truly experince the music.
“That’s more than an underground party with 400 people showing up to it,” he said.
“When you have 10,000 people you may not be mainstream, but you certainly aren’t underground anymore. These parties form the backbone of the culture. They are aware that it is more than just going out to a club and experiencing the music. These festivals that are multi-day events and are frequently running music 24 hours a day, they are letting people experience the music the way it was always meant to be experienced which is for extremely long durations.
“This is going to sound kind of flakey, but you want to go and you want to dance for eight hours. A lot of people would describe it as a kind of religious experience where they are connecting with the music and the festival is really the place to do it.”