Electronic music festival Shambhala postpones amid sexual misconduct allegations

This year’s Shambhala Music Festival, which was already to be transformed to a virtual streaming event because of COVID-19, won’t go ahead at all due to allegations of sexual misconduct being made against one of the festival’s performers. This photo is from a past festival. (Bobby Tamez/Black Press Media files)

A prominent electronic music festival in British Columbia is postponing this year’s virtual event after sexual misconduct allegations were made against one of its performers.

Organizers of the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, B.C. say they’ve pulled the plug on weekend celebrations that were set to begin this Thursday.

The decision came several days after Shambhala removed U.K. artist Billy Kenny from the digital streaming event following several allegations of assault posted online.

“We take any allegations of assault, whether it be physical, verbal or sexual, very seriously and we do not condone that behaviour in any way,” organizers of the festival wrote on Twitter last week.

In the days after Shambhala’s statement, concertgoers who attended other music events described misconduct they said involved Kenny. Record labels and at least one other performer who toured with Kenny condemned his alleged behaviour.

Kenny’s manager did not respond to a request for comment.

Shambhala says the decision to postpone its digital event comes in response to both “past and present artists” who appeared at their festival and have been the subject of online allegations.

Among the planned changes, organizers say they’ll immediately review the event’s code of conduct and introduce “extensive background checks for artists and a zero-tolerance policy for assault of any kind.”

The festival also says it will expand staff training on how to conduct sexual harassment and violence investigations.

“We recognize that forms of sexual violence (exist) in our society and we take accountability for the role festivals play in this,” the Shambhala organizers said in a statement posted Saturday on social media.

A representative for the music festival did not respond to requests for comment.

Shambhala, which launched in 1998 with about 500 concertgoers, has grown into one of the country’s most popular electronic music festivals with attendees numbering closer to 17,000 in recent years.

As it rose in popularity, the festival’s leadership cultivated a reputation for being supportive and inclusive on the event grounds.

Five years ago, the festival launched drug testing for concertgoers who snuck in illicit substances. The goal was to ensure partiers were using drugs that weren’t contaminated.

Shambhala also provided crisis support and improved security measures for women and non-binary people in recent years.

But festival executives say they fell short of their safety goals by continuing to book certain artists.

“We acknowledge that we can do better to ensure that our team, guests and artists align with our values and we commit to using the lessons learned to reduce the potential for future harm,” the organizers said.

“The industry needs to change. We need to change.”

— David Friend

Canadian Press