Transformative festivals

Prayerformances and sharemonies

MUSIC RISING by Bruce Mason

• “You are Home,” say the Bundschuh family and they mean it. They host Shambhala – Canada’s premiere Electronic Music Festival – at their pristine 500-acre Salmo River Ranch, inviting “Farmily” to “join the self-expression, play and dance!,” adding they “can’t wait to see all our Shambhalovlies in August!” and “Until we meet again, keep spreading the Shambhalove!”

By way of explanation and translation, let’s start at the beginning. Back in the early 90s, Rick and Sue Bundschuh transplanted their family to the Kootenays, setting up a cattle ranch and modest lumber milling operation. By 1998, their children, Jimmy, Corrine and Anna, had other ideas and another enterprise in mind: a 500-person party with two stages that they dubbed Shambhala, after the mythical kingdom in Buddhist traditions.

Without any corporate sponsorship, their spark has skyrocketed. With more than 2,000 volunteers, performers, keen participants and ticket sales capped at 10,000, Shambhala spreads out over six stages and five nights (August 7-12) to become the biggest community in the West Kootenays, featuring, among many other things, a $100,000 water treatment system that rivals nearby cities. When the show is over, the ranch reverts back to a working farm. Cows roam and the farm dogs, horses, pigs, chickens, miniature donkeys, gardens and hay fields return to normal. The small sawmill – the main gate during the fest – provides the biggest buzz for the rest of the year.

Ndidi Onukwulu
Ndidi Onukwulu performs at Burnaby Blues & Roots, August 10.

In 2010, the Bundschuhs reached their self-imposed guest capacity. The next year Shambhala sold out in advance of opening the gates; online tickets for 2012 were snapped up in just 17 days in November of 2011. A ticket for this year’s festival is one of the hottest and hardest-to-find, anywhere.

Volunteers arrive weeks or months in advance, creating six sprawling stages – each harnessing about 100,000 watts of sound – impressive art installations and expansive lighting rigs (projectors, lasers, strobes). They paint murals on myriad surfaces, create mazes, nooks and crannies for meditation, workshops and crafts.

An organic garden is expanding to supply food vendors, who are vetted to ensure local, ethical and fair trade goods. Recycling and composting is a priority. Oh, and as well, the very best in top-tier and up-and-coming electronic music talent from around the world comprises the artist performance list that goes on for pages; visit the gorgeous www.shambhalamusicfestival.com, a site worthy of the award-winning family (make that ‘farmily’) run festival that defies imagination and big-bucks, global-goliath festival gatherings.

Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty performs at Wanderlust.

The Bundschuh family and their 10,000 fellow Shambhalites shun corporate sponsorship. They want to “maintain creative freedom of the event, rather than cater to a corporate image, and the fullest creative freedom of expression, whether it takes the form of a sign, a costume or dancing naked on the beach.” They also want to keep the event free from logos and influences that they say we’re used to in our everyday lives. Shambhala is also alcohol-free.

“It’s all about the people on the dance floor!” they explain. “We lay the groundwork; the festival is what our guests make it, the most important piece of the puzzle. It’s up to them to spread Shambhalove in kindness to fellow Shambhazens, with laughter and creative costumes. They alone have the power to make Shambhala the best it can be, for themselves and everyone else on the farm.”

A generation raised on Rave culture is spontaneously reconstructing Woodstock Nation with a lot less idolatry, bad trips, carbon and other footprints, etc., at events as varied and colourful as their names: Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, Sonic Boom, Diversity, Mystic Garden, Faerieworlds, Boom, Beloved, Burning Man, Water Woman, Knowphest and Lunacy, to name a few.

“What is brewing that is the antidote for what’s missing in modern materialist society?” asks Jeet-Kei Leung at the end of his highly articulate, enthusiastic, inspiring and viral TEDX TALK. Leung is the co-producer and director of the new documentary web series, The Bloom, described as “illuminating the emerging culture and immersive participatory realities that are having profound life-changing effects on hundreds of thousands of lives.

Love and prayer girl
Love and prayer girl. Photo by Zac Cirivello.

“Amidst the global crisis of a dysfunctional old paradigm, a new renaissance of human culture is underway… Around the globe, The Bloom: A Journey Through Transformational Festivals, explores the alchemy of themes that weave a true story of genuine hope for our times – a new blooming human consciousness emerging through creativity, love and joy and an emerging culture pointing the way to a bright and promising future.” (Common Ground will have much more on the project as the dust settles on the festival season. In the meantime, visit and bookmark www.thebloomseries.com)

Leung has identified Vancouver and BC as hubs – second only to San Francisco and California – in the morphing of music events into so much more, as millions of Earthlings seek temporary sanctuary from ubiquitous corporate greed and too much information and too little wisdom to party and dance all night with like-minded souls. They are rediscovering and reinventing the most ancient and spiritual community rituals and communing with nature, in unadulterated ecstasy.

Music is a common draw and a major thread in the weaving of this magical new tapestry, overlooked by myopic and increasingly maligned (or ignored) mainstream media, much like global warming, GMOs and creepy, creeping inequity and injustice. In the meantime, Transformative Festivals and transformed traditional festivals are finding new shapes and niches, shaking all over.

Festival Fire has produced a graphically stunning and informative festival guide. Download it at www.festivalfire.com/fg2013

Wanderlust is the largest celebration of its kind in the world, emblematic of the ongoing boom in the number, scope and dramatic evolution of festivals. With hybrid combinations of live music, yoga, outdoor adventures/challenges, organic food and wine and inspirational speakers, Wanderlust festivals are set in the really, really great outdoors in places like Stratton Mountain, Vermont, Copper Mountain, Colorado, Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe, California and Whistler, BC (August 1-4). Here, the well-heeled and mindful turn an ear to the likes of Moby and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, who in turn line up with the likes of Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker and Deepak Chopra.

The sum is greater than its parts so two new locations are being added this winter: Termas de Chillan in Santiago, Chile and Turtle Bay Resort on O’ahu.

North America’s largest free Yoga and Kirtan event is back (Saturday, August 10, noon to dusk) in one of the world’s most beautiful settings: Second Beach in Stanley Park. Five non-profit organizations are supported by the event, which features yoga lessons, live music, a Vancity sponsored Green Bazaar and vegetarian and vegan meals (www.kirtanvancouver.com).

The Do Lab tent at Boom Festiva
The Do Lab tent at Boom Festival. Do Lab produces large installations at various events. Photo by Aaron Gautschi, www.aarongautschi.com

The sky’s the limit. All sorts of folks are digging something precious in them hills and creating new alloys and models for community including in out-of-the-way sites such as Wells where the stuff of festival runs deep.

“2013 is our 10th ArtsWells Festival; the first was informal, on the edge of town, up at the dike and performers agreed to come with no promise of money,” reported co-director David Harder from the little mountain town, 74 kilometres east of Quesnel, population 200. “It’s evolved into the ‘Festival of All Things Art.’

“Wells’ culture has always been vibrant, rich in resident artists and artisans, including a school of the arts and galleries,” he added. “Long ago, mine owner Fred Wells told his workers they wouldn’t always be digging dirt, especially pay-dirt, and he sought employees who could also entertain and lift spirits, especially energetic artists and musicians. That’s always been a big part of who we are. In the 30s, popular musical arts performed in the same community hall where many of this year’s shows and exhibitions are being staged.”

The town’s namesake would be kicking up his heels at the discovery – or rediscovery – of a rich, new vein, experiences worth their weight in gold, once again drawing folks from far away by the thousands. Festivals like ArtsWells are catering to crowds that want to go beyond mere consumption of music and are searching for more on the menu. They want to co-create memorable experiences in the moment, help build community – a basic human need – if for just a few days.

“We blur the lines between artists and festival goers and provide opportunities for collaboration at all levels, ages and walks of life,” Harder explained. “’Expect the Unexpected.’

“We’ve booked 90 acts for 12 stages, from folk, roots and pop, to jazz, country and hip-hop. Bulat Gafarov is a one-man band and throat singer from Russia who has collected 300 musical instruments from around the world and is himself considered a national treasure. Fred Penner will not only perform, but also collaborate with songwriters and C.R. Avery is returning for the 10th anniversary, having performed at the first ArtsWells.

What keeps artists and “audiences” coming back and spreading the word about ArtsWells is collaboration and features such as a One Minute Play Festival; write and produce one on the spot and you’ll be onstage, front and centre. An Artwalk is packed with surprises at every turn, including artists painting together in groups, poets and violinists fiddling around, film screenings and plays. There are crafts and stages for kids and more than 20 workshops, from belly to contact dancing, laughter yoga to lyric writing, extending to historic Barkerville, eight clicks up the road.

If you haven’t acquired a taste for electronic dance music (EDM) and the only yoga position you seek is a folding chair and if Wells and other rural environs are beyond your bike or bus route, check out the one-day 14th Annual Burnaby Blues & Roots Festival. (Saturday, August 10, noon to 10PM.) Everything you want and need to know is at www.burnabybluesfest.com

Dip your feet into Deer Lake or tap them on the shore to 12 acts on three stages, including Blue Rodeo – celebrating 25 years together – Charles Bradley, “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” the always delightful Ndidi Onukwulu, blues-hop/soul singer ZZ Ward, R&B’s Shakura S’Aida, multi award-winning guitarist David Gogo, folk-rock and reggae duo Jon and Roy, gospel trio The Sojourners, Emmy-nominated John Lee Sanders, folk-rocker Vince Vaccaro, singer-song writer Shaun Verreault, and the six-piece Brickhouse. One more feast being cooked up close to home.

As Will said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” But in 2013, it’s just one ingredient. Stay tuned.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

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