West Kootenay authorities are grateful that the 18th annual Shambhala Music Festival ended without a single major incident. The festival reported five ambulance transfers to the Trail hospital, which is half the number of last year, and there were no major vehicle accidents.
“From a policing and general duty perspective Shambhala was fairly good for us this year,” said RCMP Insp. Tom Roy. “We had no major incidents that we’re aware of, and though traffic was as busy as expected we didn’t have any real problems.”
That sentiment was echoed by the Nelson Police Department. Sgt. Dino Falcone told the Star there have been some shoplifting incidents since the festival’s completion and they routinely remind visitors they’re not allowed to sleep overnight in local parks, but for the most part it’s been quiet.
“We beefed up our beats so that we had two members on call-out for the six days — last Wednesday, Thursday Friday and this Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, just to help out.”
And that was enough to deal with any issues that arose.
When he visited the Salmo River Ranch on Sunday, Falcone said he was impressed by the infrastructure and organization.
“As a civilian looking at it, I can say it’s incredibly well organized. We have a really good relationship with the Shambhala management. They’re being proactive and doing everything they can do to make sure everyone’s safe.”
A unique vibe
Shambhala’s Britz Robins said this year’s festival had a uniquely relaxing vibe compared to previous years.
“Overall, it went amazingly. I don’t know if it was the weather, or what, but there was definitely a more relaxed, chill vibe this year.”
There were 11,000 ticket sales and approximately 15,000 people in attendance — making it roughly the same size, or slightly bigger, than last year.
She said the concerts were memorable. In particular, she was moved by a tribute set by one member of Fort Knox Five in honour of their tenth anniversary playing there.
“Everyone says the same thing every year — ‘oh my God, best year ever’ — but this year we’ve been hearing it from veterans and quite a few people who have been coming out for years.”
This was her 13th time attending.
Robins said the harm reduction and medical infrastructure has improved significantly, which she credits for the improvement in safety.
“We only had five ambulance transfers where we handed off a patient to the Trail hospital. We had seven or eight people who left in private vehicles, but in general the incidents were way down. Our medical crew did an incredible job.”
She said on top of the regular programming — which included yoga, permaculture and music production workshops — many festival-goers created their own activities and events.
“There’s one guy who does a magical mystery train tour every year, and he takes people around to all the stages. There’s also themed costume events and meet-ups, potlucks and hoop jams.”
She said they’re already looking ahead.
“We’re incredibly excited to start work on 2016 in the fall.”
Impounds and seizures
Sgt. John Ferguson of West Kootenay Traffic Services was pleased to report no major crashes involving Shambhala in their area this year.
That being said, they did impound 61 cars for travelling in excess of 40 km/h over the speed limit, the majority of which were en route to or leaving the festival.
“In our patrols we also charged three people with being impaired by drugs, one by alcohol and impounded numerous vehicles in which the drivers were prohibited or the vehicle was unsafe on the road.”
Traffic authorities made 104 seizures, finding cannabis, MDMA, ketamine, LSD, mushrooms, hash oil, cocaine, shatter, steroid and crystal meth.
Twenty three people were charged with possession and two with trafficking.
“Our members spoke to each driver and most occupants of the vehicles admitted coming from Shambhala and readily confessed to having used illegal controlled substances during the week and weekend,” he said.
“We are very happy that everyone got home safe this year.”
Falcone said festival-goers who relied on the harm reduction teams at the festival may be once again vulnerable once removed from that environment.
He reiterated their stance that they’re not interested in prosecuting drug possession cases and are primarily concerned with the health and well-being of users.
“In light of the fentanyl scare on the coast—and we have no reason to believe it’s not here—we’re reminding people to be cautious and don’t hesitate to contact 911 if anything happens. Some of this stuff is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and they’re mixing it with other drugs.”
Rob Andrew of the BC SPCA said that though pets have been left behind at the shelter by festival-goers in the past, this year it wasn’t a problem.
RCMP praised the festival’s security teams, who worked closely with their officers.
The security team, equipped with ATVs and metal handcuffs. Roy said once an attendee was taken into custody they were handed off to RCMP as quickly as possible.
“I’d say everything went smoothly,” said Roy.