How does Salmo maintain its composure when 12,000 people descend on the village for a five-day music festival every August?
Shambhala, an electronic music festival, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this summer. What started as a small gathering of people at the “Salmo River Ranch” has grown into 10,000 guests attending from Canada, the United States and Europe.
That many people travelling to a 1,000-person town is, for the most part, good for the community.
Most Salmo businesses maintain they see triple the foot traffic and that regular sales quadruple in the span of a week.
Kathleen Lins, a five-year cashier at the Salmo Pump (Esso) station located at the junction of Highways 3 and 6, took a few minutes to step away from a long queue of customers loading up with Gatorade and water.
Lins said the store’s 15-person staff put in extra hours to keep shelves full with four times the usual stock of water, juice and snack foods.
“We are used to how many people come into town for the festival,” she said. “So we know how to prepare for the onslaught by giving our staff a lot more hours and ordering way more supplies ahead of time.”
Further into town, Salmo Foods manager, Jim Speirs, said he sees a marked increase in the amount of fruits, vegetables and bottled drinks sold during the five-day event.
“This is about the only time of year you can sell water in Salmo,” he said.
The whole foods store extends its hours during the festival, but once people leave for Shambhala grounds, business slows.
“Since they’ve taken the Greyhound bus depot away from next door, not much happens downtown anymore,” he explained. “Although each year we see new faces surprised to find our type of store, ‘way out in the country,’” he laughed.
Although Shambhala is great for Salmo businesses, it can tap into the village’s resources, according to the village mayor.
Ann Henderson said the quick influx of festival-goers is “like lifting up everyone in Nelson and dropping them into Salmo.”
“What we are finding is they are camping in our parks without paying,” she said. “Salmo should receive some compensation for our staff cleaning out village garbage bins three times a day instead of once a week, and beefing up our police presence.”
Finding KP Park washrooms trashed Tuesday night is the kind of thing that gives the festival a bad name, she said, though there is such a positive side.
Shambhala organizers responded Wednesday afternoon, sending staff to assist in cleaning up the park and offering to help clean the community, said Kandy Schroder, Salmo’s deputy clerk/secretary.
As the Greyhound bus pulled away from the Esso station early Wednesday morning, a group of festival goers were stretching their limbs and getting ready to walk or hitch a ride to the ranch, six kilometres down the highway.
First time attendees Nadi Zaharieva and partner Daniel Sullivan, said their three-day bus trip from Ontario was definitely worth the wait to be a part of such a large gathering.
“The biggest festival I’ve been to was 1,000 people,” said Zaharieva, a grad student of neuroscience at McMaster University in Montreal. “I am so excited and hoping for something unexpected.”
Sullivan, a student of peace and conflict studies at Waterloo University, brought sleeping bags and a backpack filled with provisions.
“We brought canned beans, a lot of them, and tortillas to get us through to the end,” he laughed.
Each student said the festival cost about $1,000 to get there plus the $400 ticket.
“Who knows, we may be back next year but it’s more about the time commitment to get here,” said Sullivan.
Also stepping off the bus that morning were two friends from Calgary, 19-year old Brandon Egnell and 22-year old Brayden Hopkins, both first festival-goers.
“We brought all our own food, pots and even a burner,” said Hopkins. “It cost us two grand but it was totally worth it.”
Both men waterproofed their transport, skateboards, which served double-duty as a pulley for their heavy gear.
“See you next year,” they chimed, heading down the highway for the final leg of their journey to Shambhala.