Some consider electronic-music, drugs and alcohol to be synonymous. Shambhala music festival's harm reduction initiative – including a sober tenting area called “Camp Clean Beats” – is attempting to challenge this mentality.
Well known for six unique stages, a world class lineup of performers from a variety of genres and West Kootenay, BC mountain panoramas – the industry leading harm reduction services offered on-site at Shambhala are often overshadowed.
But to some, they are the difference between being able to attend the festival or being forced to stay home. No one knows this better than the co-founder and current co-ordinator of Camp Clean Beats who has been volunteering and partying on the farm since 2001 – Mandy Lawson, 37.
“I had to step away for the first two years of my recovery, I still had tickets given to me but I was just too afraid to go because there weren't any supports like this so to get back into it, I definitely set up certain safety nets for myself.” These supports include three daily “Any A” meetings, recovery literature and a sober, supportive place to camp.
“Everybody has a right to be at the farm and everyone has a right to feel safe and I think Camp Clean Beats gives clean and sober people, or people who want to not drink or use, a way to feel safe and to be at the farm,” said Lawson.
“It's the culture, people are going to do drugs, people are going to drink – but what makes Shambhala different is that we have the supports I think that are needed to keep it a more safe space for everybody, whether or not you do drugs. For women and everyone in between it needs to stay safe. Maybe being opened about the possibilities of people using drugs, like with the drug testing, having that safety net there is important and I think that is where shambhala sells, is by keeping people safe,” she continued.
Camp Clean Beats started in 2013 when they had four people camping with them. This year Lawson says they expect 30 or more festival goers to take advantage of the services.
Shambhala has an extensive harm reduction initiative which extends well beyond Camp Clean Beats. The six branch operation includes 250 harm reduction volunteers. ANKORS, a harm reduction outreach group based in the Kootenays provides on-site pill testing and harm reduction.
A team of outreach workers comb the festival handing out information and supplies for safe drug use. There is a women's safe space and options for sexual health. The sanctuary offers counselling services and a safe space to hangout for anyone at the festival who might be in need.
While harm reduction is growing in popularity as Canadians become more acquainted with its principles and research continues to show it is an effective means of preventing incidence of crisis, there are still many festivals throughout North America which seem to have difficulty implementing similar practices.
Last year, Jonas Colter the organizer of Evolve Festival outside Antigonish, NS was forced to drop pill testing services from their harm reduction initiative due to objections from their liability insurance provider.
According to Shambhala harm reduction coordinator Stacey Lock, 37 – the festival manages to avoid similar restrictions because as a non-profit organization ANKORS comes on site with their own liability coverage for their pill testing services.
By providing harm reductions services it's actually meeting people where they're at in an upstream preventative way to prevent crisis. Through harm reduction essentially we’re really trying to get out of crisis driven response. By providing harm reduction we've seen the rate of incidence go down significantly with each department that we blend into the services that we provide,” said Lock.
This year, Shambhala continues to innovate and push the range of harm reduction services offered.
British Columbia is currently experiencing a public state of emergency in response to a wave of overdose deaths related to the potent opioid Fentanyl which is currently ravaging the province. According to Lock, all outreach, security and medical staff working on the farm will be trained in the Naloxone program and provided with NARCAN kits – a life saving opioid receptor uptake inhibitor which can give a person experiencing an opiate overdose a chance to reach medical attention.
In addition, this year the festival has also implemented an SOS line which Lock hopes will help improve response times for medical emergencies.
Fentanyl is a particularly dangerous substance because the current reagent testing kits available to outreach staff on the festival circuit are unable to detect its presence, a problem which Shambhala is hoping to remedy for next year's festival with a mass spectrometer that Lock says they have already raised 11-thousand dollars for.
In the end Shambhala as a result of the services offered, the festival is able to be one of the safest in North America because – as Lock said, “it’s all about the people on the dance floor.”