What Festival Organizers All Over the World Can Learn from ShambhalaArticle by: Marcus Dowling|@marcuskdowling
Thu July 09, 2015 | 00:00 AM
Long before the need to bridge the gap between “EDM extravaganzas” and “transformational festivals” was a hot-button topic in popular festival culture, Kootenay's now 18-year old Shambhala Music Festival had already walked that line. Nearing a full two decades in existence, while for so many other festivals the stakes raise and the expectations grow, Shambhala literally exists alone in a forest, on a farm. Independently operating with a heavy onus being placed on elevating both people and culture before anything else, the Kootenay area event sets an iconic footprint worth examining as festival culture evolves.
“So what’s Shambha-love?” Fest300 asked Shambhala’s director Jimmy Bundusch this question to open our chat. Bundusch is the affable and seemingly relaxed man who runs the now completely sold-out-for-2015 event, taking place on 500 acres of his parents’ farmland in the Salmo River Valley in the West Kootenay region of Southern British Columbia.
“Shambha-love?” he said, pausing to put words to the governing emotional ethos of the four-day festival. “Well, it’s the vibe that the attendees bring to the event, the community that gets formed on the farm. People who come to Shambhala are coming pretty far to specifically be here, so there’s a vibe that everyone from the performers to the volunteers who work at the festival have that has to be welcoming.”
“[The Bundusch family] have built a crazy infrastructure for that area,” said Jon Horvath of Washington, DC’s Fort Knox Five , a DJ/production collective playing Shambhala this August for the 10th time in eleven years. The family has also contributed a an auditorium for the local college, Selkirk. Continuing, Horvath said, “[T]hey’re also building a hotel and lounge, bring electric power to a limited rural power grid for the event, plus food and water to the land, too. The contributions that [the Bundusch family] has made to the land are pretty amazing. They’ve never ‘sold out.’ They have a beautiful location, and they’re trying to make this utopia with art and vibes.”
Fort Knox Five also mentioned that it's the people that make Shambhala special. “Shambhala draws a certain type of person that’s coming for the music as much as the experience,” says FK5’s Steve Raskin. “You get these mountain kids who are really on top of cutting-edge music, plus people now who are similar in their interests from all over the world. The scene that this family of people has supported at Shambhala has actually helped break acts like Bassnectar and Skrillex.”
With such big names on Shambhala's lineup, you'd think the likes of energy drink brands, or music distribution companies, or credit card companies (not liquor companies, as alcohol is banned at the fest) would be needed to help cover booking fees. Not so – Shambhala remains a 100% independent festival, thanks to the Bundusch family. They own and maintain the working farm where the festival takes place, and outside promoters cultivate the lineups and buy the talent for the six autonomous festival stages at the event. Though booking fees have grown – which, to defray those costs, is why giant corporations are active in the festival space – it’s that “Shambha-love” that has 2015 headliners including the aforementioned Skrillex, alongside names like Pretty Lights, Kygo, and Big Gigantic literally venturing into the woods, when stadiums and beaches literally worldwide are calling their names.
“They have amazing production that will blow your mind. Every year they get better,” said Raskin. “[Shambhala’s] Fractal Forest is where it all started for us. It’s the most amazing place to DJ. The DJ booth is set up with a 360-degree view of an audience that’s surrounded by a ring of trees in a grove. The booth is set inside of an old tree that was struck by lightning. There’s even a huge stage behind the crowd for your crew, and they can even have an amazing dance party, too. Everybody can see what’s going on. We’ve had too many magical experiences in that place.”
Fort Knox Five's Horvath shares that sentiment: “Festival organizers from all over the world have come to Shambhala and seen what is possible. You see companies trying to buy big festivals, but in reality, they should just be looking to book awesome music on big plots of beautiful land. Shambhala’s been doing it well [like that] for awhile now.” Shambhala’s Jimmy Bundusch “humbly” describes the festival as being “pretty awesome,” and at nearly 20 years in existence, one would be hard pressed to disagree. The key to the festival’s success is that it continuously and perfectly blends free spirits, wholesome vibes, unfettered imaginations and tremendous music. In excelling at that, they defined the future of festival culture long before it even happened, and it looks amazing.
Shambhala takes place August 7-10, 2015.