Cradled in a baby sling amidst more than 15,000 enthusiastic festival-goers, the one-year-old son of Jenna Arpita and founder Jimmy Bundschuh stood witness to the revelry—though once the music started he was listening from a safe distance with his grandmother.
Now 19-years-old, the annual bacchanal at the Salmo River Ranch featured work from over 300 artists and over 400 hours of live entertainment.
“I can’t believe this is the real world,” one party-goer told the Star, during a performance by Nelson DJ Mooves at the Living Room Stage — one of the six venues scattered across the farm. The DJs responsible for the audio assault included Mat the Alien, Chali 2na, Truth, Om Unit, Emancipator and Questlove.
They performed glitch hop, funk, house, drum and bass and pretty much any other musical genre you could name. Sean Rodman, Erica Dee, Adham Shaikh, Intersect and Val Kilmer and the New Coke were only a few of the Kootenay area acts who took the stage.
The festival celebrated artistry of all kinds. Paintings, crafts, jewelry and elaborate garments of all kinds were for sale or trade, while meditation workshops, yoga classes and impromptu art activities kept festival-goers busy.
Some of the Kootenay area artists who contributed to the creative infrastructure of the weekend included visual artist Joe Nillo, painter Avrell Fox, poet Zaynab Mohammed and puppetry enthusiast Rhandi Sanford. The gallery for their work, surrounded by the six stages on all sides, was curated by Blue Night organizer Brian Kalbfleisch.
Drone cameras hovered overhead, capturing the chaos, while local filmmakers such as Anandi Brownstein roved taking everything in. Kootenay residents began flooding their social media feeds with photos and footage from all the stages — though press were forbidden to take photos or video in the Fractal Forest to keep the experience as exclusive as possible.
Over the course of the weekend a number of short films celebrating the culture of Shambhala were released on social media, as part of a project that includes local comedian and writer Mitchell Scott.
One of them, which features the song “Mantra” by TroyBoi, included the following caption on Facebook: “The moments in between. Often they’re the most important. The Farm has so many secret places to explore or to just be. Nature is good like that. It’s where we’re from. It’s where we draw strength. Reconnect. Immerse yourself. Breathe. Tonight we dance.”
The opening ceremonies on Friday featured an opening prayer, with elaborate dance performances, and was centred around a carefully sand-sculpted sacred space. Local musician Soniko Waira participated in a blessing, waving feathers solemnly in front of the cross-legged audience.
During the night rave enthusiasts were treated to visual spectacle of all sorts, with Narnian set designs adorned with idiosyncratic decorations — everything from spiritual-themed dragon murals to glowing cut-outs of familiar characters such as Yoda (making his “bass face”) and C-3PO from the Star Wars franchise.
“Art wakes us up,” read one welcome sign, posted along the road leading into the festival. Another encouraged people to “be in the moment.” Even the graffiti scrawled in the Port-Potties captured the ethos of the experience: “Love everyone and love yourself,” “You are Beautiful,” “I’ve never been happier.”
People hiking to the stages from their campsites were greeted by the owl-like Shambhala symbol overhead and a welcoming message that was this year’s theme: “Welcome Home.”
The festival has been a source of controversy in the past and has gone through extensive rebranding in the past few years. It now features a six-pronged harm reduction strategy and a large force of local personnel who volunteer to make it possible.
Reached on Monday and Tuesday by the Star, Inspector Tom Roy of the Nelson RCMP said he was in attendance for three nights and is satisfied the festival was keeping its temporary residents safe.
“Nothing serious came out of Shambhala. I worked three nights there and of course there was the typical crap: misbehaving, some drug overdoses and people being stupid. But we didn’t have anything serious.”
That being said, traffic forces have impounded approximately 100 cars and are preparing a list of statistics for drug and alcohol-related incidents that will be distributed later this week.
On Monday, Arpita posted a thank you to everyone who made the experience possible.
“There are so many lovely beings on this farm. My heart is so open wide. I love each and every person who has been part of the magic here. Pure loving magic.”