This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s September 2022 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
At the beginning of our conversation, emergency management professional Simon Hunt fielded my first question expertly. I asked him to tell me about his career; a vague question, I’ll admit. “What I’m going to get to is the why,” he says. The answer to how the hell he ended up saving a music festival and securing a job as Public Safety Coordinator for Shambhala Music Festival.
A fire roughly 350 hectares in size, responsible for 39 evacuation orders to properties nearby, loomed dangerously close to Shambhala in 2017, threatening to end the iconic music festival early and result in financial disaster for the organizers.
The festival was under evacuation alert and planned to cancel the last day of festivities due to safety concerns. The shock was illustrated through multiple news headlines, and Shambhala issued a public safety announcement to guests: “Due to the McCormick Creek wildfire and after consulting with the local government Shambhala Music Festival Ltd. has decided to issue an early closure this year.” According to a CBC article published, an estimated $500,000 in revenue would be lost by ending the festival early.
Simon attended Shambhala in 2017. The fire was an opportunity for two parts of Simon’s previously separate worlds to collide. Shambhala provided a juxtaposition of Simon’s professional and recreational worlds. At the time, he was a Federal Government employee working for Parks Canada as a park warden. “I’m a forest fire expert,” he says, recounting the event. “And the festival was threatened by a wildfire.”
“An incredible career”
When I first sat down with Simon, I thought I would hear a story about a local DJ with a cool and contrasting day job. I pictured the magazine spread featuring a blown-up image; two portraits merged, one half of Simon in his emergency management environment fused with his other half as a DJ and producer. The story didn’t go the way I expected. In fact, Simon’s story is an example of expecting the unexpected and making the most of the situation.
Simon’s father was an emergency doctor. “I got first aid manuals in my stocking at Christmas,” he tells me, laughing. “He’s definitely had a huge influence on me, and he was really accomplished in his medical career. So, I realized early on that it really turns my crank to help people. And there are all different ways that you can help people.”
In a 25-year emergency management career with the federal government, Simon deduced that his interests and values didn’t always align with his employers. “I had the most incredible career,” he says, telling me about the extensive training worth millions of dollars he received through his work.
In 2010, Simon took a senior role in emergency coordination with the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. “[It] was the largest assemblage of emergency management in all of Canada’s history. It was like 20,000 people,” he says. “I worked in the Regional Emergency Operation Centre that oversaw all six municipalities that contain the Olympics. So we looked after everyone; we looked after two million people during the Olympics.”
“So just like an incredible career, but then all these new things came into my life, and I just saw that my beliefs and values didn’t align.”
Simon’s wife, Pauline Hunt, passed away in the summer of 2021, 10 years after being diagnosed with ALS, a terminal neurological illness. “See, that illness runs its full course in three to five years,” he tells me. “We ended up getting 10, which is incredible.”
Simon tells me about how they met, the house they bought, the two kids they raised, and the ways the community banded together to support his family after Pauline’s diagnosis. “We’re the kind of people who make the best out of the situation,” he says.
Friends, family, and community members fundraised to send the family on a trip worldwide. As Pauline’s illness progressed, the community came back and fundraiser to renovate the Hunts’ home, making it wheelchair accessible so the family could stay together.
Simon says a big part of the why — the answer to my initial question — he attributes to his wife. In 2017 when a friend and event organizer at Shambhala invited them to the festival, they went. “The music just absolutely blew my mind,” he says. “And I was like, I want to do that.”
That was where it all started for Simon. Shambhala showed him the music, and his career prepared him for what would happen next — a crossover that would change his career trajectory. Simon had been monitoring the weather as a fire expert all summer for Parks Canada and knew there was rain in the forecast. “I told [the festival organizers and owner] to delay their decision to end the festival by 12 hours; I’m pretty sure it’s going to rain,” he says. The organizers retracted the decision to evacuate, and sure enough, it rained. “That saved the festival,” He says.
The experience profoundly impacted him and opened doors. “I took the role as their first public safety coordinator. I am the first of my kind for the entire event industry,” he says proudly. Shambhala is forward-thinking when it comes to harm reduction. Simon oversees six programs and a team of over 1,000 staff and volunteers. Simon says he took the festival’s six existing programs, medical, harm reduction, security, fire rescue, traffic control, parking, and health and safety, bringing them together to work collaboratively.
The beginning of SIFI
As Simon’s wife’s illness progressed and she became less active, Simon stayed closer to home. “I was closer and closer to home, which gave me the space [to] realize early on that I want to use [music] to play a larger part of my life,” he says.
His first event was shortly after Shambhala, at Revelstoke’s 2017 LUNA Arts Festival. Simon was a DJ at the after-party. “The response I got inspired me so much that I decided to go professional,” he says.
And so SiFi Beats, Simon’s performing persona, was born. As a professional drummer for over 30 years, SiFi’s specialty is house music. “I like to see people absolutely lose their inhibitions on the dance floor,” he says. “I like to have a lot of bass, and it’s just vibrating you from the inside out and just endorphins.”
He explains that DJs mix other people’s music, and one of his goals is to produce music.
After Pauline passed away, Simon discovered a gift she had left for him. She sent Simon to a music production school, supporting his dreams even after she’d gone. “It’s called Cosmic Academy,” he says with emotion in his voice. “It’s an artist development program.”
Simon says the gift was a beautiful gesture that not only taught him how to make music but also sign records, promote himself, and become part of a collective. It created a community for him to utilize. “At [Shambhala] this year, five of my colleagues are performing,” he says with a smile.
Simon fulfilled his dream of producing music with an unexpected deeper connection. Simon will perform original music at this year’s Woodstoke festival in Revelstoke on September 3, 2022. He’s performing with Amy Stenner, a professional singer and one of his wife’s caregivers. He describes the beautiful coincidence, “She’s like family, and there’s so much synergy between us.”
Simon says he’s at a place in his life where anything could happen. He’s creating music to progress his DJ career and dreams of performing at Shambhala. He says he’ll apply to record labels after he has an arsenal of good music.
Simon continues to work for the Shambhala music festival as their Public Safety Coordinator. In addition, Simon does emergency management consulting under Spark Solutions Ltd. He will serve as the Safety Coordinator for the 2022 LUNA Arts Festival in September.
In November, Simon will start a master’s program in Disaster Emergency Management. “I’m gonna be a master of disaster,” he remarks comically. With this education under his belt, he hopes to fill a gap in the events industry. “I would like to be able to create a safety coordination role for the entire event industry for all events across Canada,” he tells me. He wants to use all his knowledge from his government career to create a role intertwined with a scene he loves so much.
“I don’t know what that’s going to be quite yet,” he says. “But here I am, getting another crack at life, a whole new life.”
For Simon, it’s not black and white. His work overlaps in unexpected ways. He refers to his work as parallel lives — both sides define his pioneering ambitions for the future.