Farm life gone funky
A look beyond the turntables, flashing lights and hordes of dancing music lovers, at the family who created Canada’s premier electronic music festival, Shambhala
The Salmo River Ranch is fairly quiet most of the year. There isn’t much noise from the nearby highway, just the sound of the Salmo River, the wind, maybe Rick Bundschuh milling wood or the cows grazing.
Rick and his wife Sue moved from Kelowna to the ranch with their three kids Corrine, James, and Anna.
“Kelowna sucks. We were in the fruit business there and it was just going downhill. It was getting harder to get people to work for you and it was hard to make a living,” said Rick.
He moved to Kelowna when he was six and his father had an orchard.
“I kind of fell into that,” he said.
Both Corrine and her dad joke that the family left Kelowna in search of peace and quiet.
“I know it’s kind of ironic now, we found this pristine piece of land in the middle of nowhere and we go and invite 10,000 people here,” Corrine laughed.
Those people come for what has become the most popular electronic music festival in Canada, Shambhala.
“I was always really involved in arts events. I was really involved in theatre in high school, and my brother was apprenticing to be a cook,” said Corrine.
“We started doing these little shows. We did one called Please Charleston Quietly, because the Charleston used to be an illegal dance. So, we were doing these little dinner theatres. Everyone just kept getting really into the idea of these projects.”
James eventually abandoned his apprenticeship and dove into helping to produce more events.
“We wrote a grant and we got a small business loan and we started renting [the property] out to small parties and shows. There was a festival going on in the Kootenays that couldn’t find a location and they came to us and asked if they could rent our farm,” said Corrine.
After the festival left, the Bundschuh kids decided they could do the same thing.
“Jimmy said, ‘We can do this, we have the sound system, we’re well connected with musicians, we have the people. Let’s do a festival.’”
Corrine was hesitant at first about the idea. She describes her brother as the visionary behind the festival, while she and her sister have stepped into management roles helping make their vision a reality.
“I thought it would be way too expensive to do a music festival. I said, ‘if you’re going overnight you’re tripling your budget. It’s not going to work.’ Jimmy had the vision to be like ‘If we do it well we’ll have 10,000 people out here one day.’”
The first year of Shambhala there was a crowd of 400 to 600 made up of mostly locals.
“It started as an incidental thing. They were up to about four parties a year,” said Rick.
He lives on the property with Sue, and Corrine and her husband Josh Zawaduk live in another house with their eight-year-old daughter.
The house Corrine lives in was being built for James, but he was so eager to have her work full time with Shambhala that he offered her his house.
Corrine said it was hard to turn down the offer, and she moved from Vancouver back to the ranch.
“I think we’re luckier than hell to have our kids and grandkids so close. I love it. We can keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t get into trouble,” said Rick.
Even though Rick keeps cows, grows hay and mills wood on the ranch, the festival has become an important part of life on the farm.
“One of the intentions of the festival was to create something where we could all work together and live off our land,” said Corrine.
Sue was involved in the payroll and human relations for the festival, but with Anna now involved in the finances and other fulltime staff stepping in to help with human relations, she has started making Shambhala quilts, which she plans to sell at the festival.
“We even wrangle aunts and uncles into working at the festival. My auntie was just down visiting and she’s one of our food vendors, and my uncle does pizza. My uncle who just died of brain cancer was our truck driver,” said Corrine.
She is one of 12 full time staff that work for Shambhala year round.
“Someone asked my daughter one day if she would want my job, and she said ‘No way, it’s too hard. I want to work with daddy,” said Corrine.
Corrine’s husband Josh is a musician and the stage director for the Rock Pit.
When I visited downtown Shambhala, the festival was “dressed down” as Corrine described it, the tent over the Rock Pit hadn’t been set up yet, and the pit itself where the crowds will dance was full of water, snakes, turtles and frogs.
“My daughter loves it. She loves going to work with daddy,” she said.
“I think it’s great when you can work with your kids. She can come and help out, and she has a lot of fun with it. When I was little my dad would take me out on the tractor in the orchards and I would help with irrigation, and I remember just having such a stellar childhood. It’s nice to be able to do that with our children as well.”
Anna’s son Arthur has also become very involved with Shambhala.
“A lot of the people actually thought that he was on the site team. Last year, he was nine-year-old delivering things on his little golf cart,” said Corrine.
One day when the crew was going around explaining what their roles were with the festival, Arthur declared himself the Prince of Shambhala.
Anna was doing her nursing training when Arthur was born and working part time with the family business.
“A lot of people, especially the creative types, find the finance part really challenging, but Anna makes it fun. When you go and get paid by Anna she’s wearing a feathered wig, a corset, a tutu and big black boots with her motorcycle helmet, ready to go anywhere,” said Corrine.
The success of the festival allowed the family to send Anna to school to help her take on the role of business manager.
But with the success of Shambhala comes a collection of rumours.
“The most common rumour is that it’s always the last year of Shambhala,” said Corrine.
Rick jokingly tells her he’s the one starting that rumour.
Shambhala also became connected to the disappearance of Owen Rooney, an Australian man who walked away from the hospital in Grand Forks after sustaining a brain injury.
Rooney reportedly attended Shambhala before disappearing.
“There’s a couple hidden graves,” Rick chuckles.
Corrine explains the rumour of the hidden graves at Shambhala emerged after a neighbour spoke to a reporter.
“She was going on to the reporter and said that people had died out here. The reporter asked why no one had ever heard about it, and she said ‘Well, they’re burying dead bodies out there.”
The reporter later approached the Shambhala crew and asked whether there was any weight to the story.
“We’re not that smart,” said Corrine. “I can’t imagine doing something like that.”
While the rumours make for entertaining stories, Corrine insists they are nothing more than rumours.
She and her siblings are preparing a five year plan to help them work toward future goals — and plan for the end, if it comes in the next five years.
“People say to me ‘one day you might want to sell this,’ but the thing is we’re all farming kids, and we’re really tied in with the land. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”