After 20 years, Shambhala music fest going strong while others take a bow
Youth appeal, genre focus and strong sense of community help keep event a live music leader
Jimmy Bundschuh spent Thursday morning the same way he has for years: watching festival goers pour into a ranch near Salmo, B.C. to party hard for three days at the Shambhala electronic music festival.
Shambhala has been an enduring part of the live music scene in British Columbia. The first event, in 1998, saw 500 people attend, according to the festival website.
This year, Bundschuh estimates about 17,000 will attend the festival in the west Kootenay region of southeastern B.C. — many in elaborate, colourful garb.
"The costumes are out. People are very elaborate in their outfits," Bundschuh said of attendees.
Shambhala has lived on while large events like Penticton's Boonstock, Pemberton Music Festival and Squamish Valley Music Festival have folded.
A veteran of the live music industry says a combination of factors keep Shambhala viable now and likely into the future.
Electronic dance music is popular, but it's popular with music festivals' most important audiences: young people.
"For sure, an 18, 19, 20, 21-year-old is more likely to spend two days or three days out in the hot sun dancing than somebody older with children," said Nick Farkas, spokesperson for industry group Music Canada Live.
"Electronic music skews young, hip-hop skews young right now. So you see a lot of those festivals thriving… the demographic is able and willing to go for 11 hours."
"If you're not getting the young people out, it's hard to sustain a festival," he said, adding music like rock has, "been going for a long time.
"I think that some of those genres, maybe they've played their course."
Another strength of Shambhala, from a business perspective, is that it has a focus, he said. It's not a generalist event with big artists from disparate genres.
"Those styles of festivals are very, very, very expensive, and if you're wrong, it can take you out in one year," Farkas said.
Focused events, Farkas said, tend to be more sustainable. Country, punk, metal and EDM events tend to last even though the audience might be smaller.
"It's still niche, but there's a sense of unity," he said.
Biggest challenge of all
Shambhala has also survived long enough to become established, a tough feat in the music festival business.
The festival has legions of devoted "Shambhalovelies" who build bonds with each other that are renewed every year.
"After my first year, I decided I was going to come every year until I die," said Melody Kaiser, 33, who has been attending for the past four years.
Establishing an event and building that sense of loyalty is a challenge, as Ponderosa Festival co-founder Kia Zahrabi knows.
After six years, the Rock Creek, B.C. music festival, which advertises a diverse selection of pop and rock and a laid-back atmosphere may end after 2018's event Aug. 17-19.
"It takes time to build a reputation. It requires a lot of patience to grow a festival for sure, whether its electronic or live music-focused," Zahrabi said.
"Once you have that community, I don't think it matters what you're offering in terms of music tastes. People just want to go to a place where they feel welcome."
The 2018 edition of Shambhala runs Aug. 9-13.