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How Shambhala’s 20th Anniversary Was Saved: A Story of Love, Passion, & A Little Chaos

Before we packed up and headed out to Salmo River Ranch for Shambhala this year, we all already knew that this year was going to be the biggest in the festival’s 20-year history. Each stage promised new, exciting additions, the lineup was out of the this world, and all in all, there was just a feeling that things would be incredible in 2017.

And for the most part, a large majority of people experienced just that: A once-in-a-lifetime journey that changed the way they thought about festivals forever. That said, for some, a pall was cast over the weekend by wildfires in the area, that constantly had the fate of the weekend up in the air. For lesser festivals, that would have spelled complete chaos both behind the scenes, and with attendees. So how was it all handled after the dust settled?

Perfectly, and it wasn’t even close.

So, what the hell happened?

The facts were these: When things kicked off on Wednesday, August 9th, the festival issued a “pre-evacuation alert,” essentially warned attendees of wildfire in the area that local authorities were handling.

On Thursday, August 10th, Shambhala issued an announcement to attendees, stating that there was “an evacuation alert near the festival grounds,” and that they were “communicating with local government to stay ahead of the situation.”

Early Saturday morning, an evacuation alert was issued for the festival, defined as “a notification of risk in the area and NOT an order” (emphasis ours). Despite that fact, it didn’t stop clickbait headlines from blowing the situation far out of proportion, confusing the terms “alert” and “order,” and leading to a dozens of conflicting reports spread throughout the festival grounds (none of which came directly from the festival organizers themselves).

Also worth noting: For any evacuation that would have been ordered by either the local authorities or Shambhala, a 24-hour notice was in place (i.e. no one was ever going to be told to leave with the wildfire mere hours away). 

On 3pm Saturday, things took a turn, as reports of the local wildfire jumping the Salmo River put Shambhala in a tough position. At that time, the festival made the call themselves to cancel the final night of programming for Sunday, while instructing attendees to “to make necessary preparations for an efficient exit of the site by getting a head start on packing up their campsite and belongings.”

Mere hours later, rumors started to swirl, followed by an update pushed to the official Shambhala app, stating that with rain in the forecast for Saturday night, there was still a chance that Sunday’s festivities would happen. Late that night, the skies opened up, and it seemed as though the weekend was saved.

Upwards of a thousand people left Saturday night, while others still woke up Sunday morning with their campsites half-packed, unsure of whether they’d soon have to vacate the festival or plan for another night. At around 9:30am, the Shambhala app informed attendees that Sunday was indeed off, and scores of people began to leave. A couple hours later, a final update was pushed out, stating that  “after hours of meetings and consultation this morning, the RDCK, other local government and a fire behavioural analyst, we been have been approved for Shambhala Music Festival to remain open for our final night.”