On Friday morning I packed my car and set off for Salmo River Ranch.
I first went to the farm which hosts Shambhala last year in July, just after moving to Nelson.
I went to the site to learn about the family and the story behind what has quickly grown to be one of Canada’s premier music festivals.
I met Corrine Zawaduk — one of the event’s executive directors — and her dad Rick Bundschuh, I heard stories about what I’ve come to realize is the heart and soul of Shambhala.
Shambhala is — of course — a music festival focused on electronic music, but it’s more than that.
Since I was 18, I have been to a lot of music festivals, more than I can count really.
I’m not an expert in event planning and management, but I am a music lover and a journalist, which means I have a curious mind.
I have been to music festivals that vary in size from Unity Fest in Winlaw, to Vancouver Folk Fest, to Rifflandia in Victoria and Sasquatch in Washington State; and having been to many festivals I can say without question that Shambhala is different.
On Monday morning I was told by the festival’s executive producers about the death of 23-year-old Mitchell Joseph Fleischacker.
My heart ached for the family of this young man, for his friends and for the festival organizers.
As I spent time with the executive producers and organizers during this tragic time, it became apparent to me the family that is behind Shambhala not only cares about each other, but has extended that to the people that call the farm home for the duration of the festival.
The distress and sadness of what had happened was on everyone’s face because they had lost a member of the Shambhala family.
The event has endured a lot of criticism from the local community since it began.
They are put under the microscope and condemned for the actions of the attendees of the festival.
There is drug use at Shambhala. The festival organizers don’t deny that and don’t try to hide from that reality.
But there is also drug use at every music festival.
From marijuana to beer, festival-goers often indulge in substances while enjoying some good music, and many stay sober and enjoy the music and experience as well.
Unlike a lot other festivals though, Shambhala takes a proactive approach to harm reduction.
Shambhala does not encourage drug use by suggesting that using them will enhance the enjoyment of the event.
As you drive in to the grounds there are signs like “Take Good Care of Each Other,” and “You are Home.”
There is a wish tree, where attendees can hang notes of encouragement and hope for their community and for the festival.
Few events take an approach like this to their festival-goers. They aren’t just a source of income, but a part of a larger community.
There is a heart and soul to Shambhala that doesn’t exist with any other event I’ve been to.
They truly care about the people that attend their event and in that encourage attendees to care about each other.
The organizers also care about their community and reinvest their earnings into the community they call home.
As I spent time with Zawaduk on the last day of the festival I could see that behind the sadness she was feeling for Fleishackers loss, there was a sense of pride and happiness for what she and her family had created.
Shambhala isn’t just a party on a farm with 10,000 and world-class electronic music, it is a community that comes together and inspires people to be who they are.
In the past year, since I attended the event for the first time in 2011, I have gotten to know the executive producers and many members of what they call the “farmily.”
When you speak to any of them about the festival, passion, inspiration and devotion ooze from every part of them. They don’t do it to make money, win awards or gain acclaim from the industry. They do it for the people who attend.
In speaking to people from the music and festival industry at the VIP barbecue on Saturday night, the words “world-class” were uttered by almost everyone.
But while the festival may be in the international spotlight, at the root of it is a family, who are essentially farmers, who had a vision for a festival 15 years ago and have built something that as a community we should be proud of.
Megan Cole is a reporter at the Nelson Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.