I never thought I could love a festival as much as I love Shambhala. Traveling the entire Western Hemisphere during the past two years, going to over 35 different festivals, I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Located in Salmo, British Columbia, Canada, Shambhala is everything that a festival should be and more. Coming back in 2015 for my second year just reaffirmed it; I am completely, utterly in Shambhalove with Shambhala.
The Shambhala adventure begins when you take a turn down a narrow dirt road, trees towering over you on either side. Everything that looks familiar disappears as you roll down the pathway, inching deeper and deeper into a dream world. You’re stepping off of the grid and into a magical land that only exists for one weekend of every year, and once your tires hit that dirt road, you might as well have opened the wardrobe to Narnia.
You follow the dirt pathway for what seems like forever, until finally, a clearing appears. Friendly faces in neon vests come up to greet you. "Welcome to Shambhala!” they say. Some even say “Welcome Home” between beaming grins. You smile back and get in line, ready to officially cross the gates onto The Farm. It was my second year at Shambhala, so I knew the drill. You get in line, park, and wait, and wait, and then wait some more. But the waiting is entirely worth it.
Many like to complain about the time it takes to get into a festival, but at Shams, it’s part of the experience. You stand alongside your car waiting to get called in for a final security check, but the anticipation during that time forms a bond; it is the best way to meet your neighbors and make new friends! Standing in line is a great place to start conversation, and I always love to take the time to make connections and find friends to dance the weekend away with. Everyone is so friendly, you can feel the sense of community before even entering the gates!
Once you’re in past security, you’re in. No security search checkpoints the rest of the weekend, no waiting to get your bags checked, no full body pat downs and no long lines making you late to see your favorite artists perform. The only big decision to make, is where to camp? Shambhala has amazing camping options that can make anyone happy. Starlight, Sunlight, Shambhalodging, and Metta camping. Starlight and Sunlight have the options to purchase a car pass to camp alongside of your car, which is convenient if you have a lot to carry, or would like a safe place to lock everything up during the duration of the weekend. Metta camping is definitely in the coolest location, offering a close location to the stages in a mostly shaded and wooded area. Although there are no cars allowed in Metta camping, campers are able to get really creative with their set ups in the trees, and can park their cars for free onsite in a guarded lot. With reserved parking spots, provided tents, and a short walk to all of the action, Shambhaloding is the best way to camp in style. However, no matter where you camp you are sure to be surrounded by awesome neighbors!
The gates open for Shambhala at 7:00am Wednesday, although attendees start lining up to get in far sooner. Since music doesn’t start until Thursday Afternoon, Wednesday is the night where everyone gets to know each other! With the campgrounds filled with mini dance parties and friendly people, there’s no shortage of pre-party action!
Finally, the main event starts Thursday with only two stages open before the weekend blossoms into full swing. The Amphitheater and the Living Room offer entertainment to kick off the festival. The Amphitheater offers upbeat performances thrown down by DJ’s from all across the world, including some of the industry’s biggest up and comers. Thursday afternoon, the stage was host to my favorite set that is so uniquely Shambhala, British Columbia’s own Skiitour! The pair puts on one of the most eclectic and entertaining shows I have ever seen. Whilst throwing down their own twist on danceable club tunes, the duo sports full on retro snow gear, and an entire posse decked out to the nines in similar apparel. Skiitour adds an extra element to their performance by bringing out snowblowers, dancers, aerial hoopers, and more for one of the most fun and entertaining sets of the entire weekend.
Thursday night the Amphitheater was host to an extra special treat; a back to back set with G Jones and Bleep Bloop. G Jones has recently gained a lot of attention for his collaborations with industry heavyweight and Shambhala Veteran, Bassnectar. Seeing the collision of Bleep Bloop’s future space style with G Jone’s heavy hitting bass was definitely a highlight of the weekend.
The Living Room is an extra special staple of Shambhala, easily being one of the most unique stages I have ever been to. It is one of the smaller stages of the festival, nestled right beside the glacier-fed river that winds through the grounds. The standing area for the entire stage is sandy, making it the perfect place to kick off your shoes and relax. The music featured on the stage was mostly downtempo, creating a soothing and care-free atmosphere. The best part about the Living Room stage is that you can enjoy the music on it from the river. Sit down in a tube and float for the duration of the set, or set up lawn chairs along the shore and enjoy. Adding to the atmosphere is a shisha and tea lounge, as well as a fresh fruit smoothie stand. The smoothie stand, like many of the food vendors at Shambhala, uses only local organic fruit in their tasty treats!
Easily a highlight of the Living Room this year was Tipper’s downtempo set that took place Sunday night. The Living Room filled to capacity with people sitting down to enjoy Tipper’s otherworldly sounds. No visuals or light shows necessary, the natural beauty of the setting sun exploding in oranges, pinks and reds, was enough. With plumes of fire exploding from pyrotechnics along the river for added effect, it was one of the most magical moments of the entire weekend.
Shambhala is special because it is a completely family owned festival. What does that mean? No corporate sponsors, no big company owners, and an awesome tight knit family vibe! After 18 years of running strong, the festival has managed to stay below 12,000 attendees annually, keeping the feeling of the festival very intimate. Many of the people working with the festival have been involved for years, either as staff team members or as festival attendees. A tone is set by the people dedicated to the festival, as if to say “this is home to me, you should treat it as home too.” What does that mean, treating a festival like home? To me, treating a festival like home means a lot of things. It means to treat everyone around you as you would in your own home, be welcoming and kind! See someone in need? Be as good of a host as you would at home, and help them out! Keep the area clean, meaning clean up after yourself and respect the land. Be comfortable being yourself! At home you should be able to be whoever you want to be, Shambhala is the same way, you are free to be who you truly are! Home, in the most important sense, is a place where you create some of your best memories, do the same at Shambhala!
Shambhala is unique in a few other ways as well. Shambhala is a completely dry festival, meaning there is absolutely no alcohol allowed. There is no alcohol sold onsite and alcohol is not allowed in from outside of the festival. This may be shocking to many regular festival attendees, who know alcohol is usually a large part of the festival scene. It is my firm belief that Shambhala's choice to run a dry festival changes the experience for the better. Alcohol changes the way people act, and not always positively. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be standing in a crowd where some drunk ass hole isn’t spilling their drink all over you every time the bass drops or have someone falling into you instead of dancing an entire set. Shambhala has one of the best crowds I have ever been in, and I think the dry policy plays a large part in that.
The people of Shambhala are quite possibly the thing that caused me to fall in love with the festival above all else. Everyone is extremely nice, and granted, there are bad seeds everywhere, but at Shambhala it’s extra hard to find them. People get DOWN at Shambhala. A lot of times you will go to a festival and only the first couple rows will be into the music, while the rest of the crowd will be awkwardly standing near the back swaying from side to side waiting for another DJ to come on. This wasn’t the case at Shambs, if you were at a stage, you were dancing, and dancing HARD. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that more than any festival I had ever been to, people went to Shambhala for Shambhala, not for any one artist more than another. Many people I talked to throughout the weekend claimed they didn’t even know who was on the lineup, that they just went for the Shambhala experience. How cool is that?
The crowd at Shambhala is a beautiful breed with an affiliation for the weird. Costumes are a necessity for the festival, and as far as clothing is concerned, anything--- or nothing, goes. Walking the grounds of Shambhala you will definitely see people decked to the nines in extravagant costumes and people fully nude. Part of the beauty of Shambs is that anything goes, and seeing everyone’s outfits is one of the most exciting parts of the festival. I spent the better part of my Friday talking to Snow White and Chewbacca, while wearing a full Mad Hatter costume complete with a hat and a tutu. One of the most popular traditions at Shambs is wearing a onesie for the first day of the festival, “Day Onesie.” See our full gallery of “Day Onesie Onesies” here!
There were also other themed events throughout the weekend, including an epic pillow fight, pancake breakfast, hoop jams, and my personal favorite, a dance battle between the Pirates and The Lost Boys at the Village Stage, you just had to be dressed as a Peter Pan Character to participate!
The stages at Shambhala were something to fall in love with on their own. Each stage was unique, boasting a maze of viewing platforms and dance floor. It was easy to find a place that you were able to get a good view of the action and also have enough room to get down and move around. The Pagoda, The Grove and The Village are some of the most impressive festival stages there is. The Village creates a complete circle around the stage of viewing platforms, set up so they are facing each other, which is a really cool effect. The platforms look down to the crowd below, which is contained to a dance floor surrounded by other elements of the stage. There are lights and a dome like casing which encompasses the top of The Village, giving the stage an enclosed and intimate vibe. The Pagoda stage has a similar vibe, offering a up close and personal setting to see some of the biggest names in the industry. The Pagoda puts the DJ on a platform in the center of a multi-level literal Pagoda. Visual projections and dancers are on the other levels of the stage, enhancing the experience even more. Viewing platforms also surround the area, which is entirely enclosed besides two entrances by a large wall. The Pagoda offers one of the best light shows of the festival, with lasers shooting from the top of the building! With The Village and The Pagoda boasting state of the art sound systems from PK Sound, you are able to enjoy crystal clear sound with bass that vibrates you to your core. The Grove boasts a sound system from the equally prestigious Funktion-One out of the UK. The stages played host to the festival’s all-star line up including names like Skrillex, Datsik, Tipper, GRiZ, Pretty Lights, and more.
Then, there is The Fractal Forest, the most magical of them all. One of the most unique stages in the world, it offers attendees a 360 degree experience. Bringing some of the funkiest music on the lineup, its a nonstop party. The Forest was completely expanded and redesigned in 2015, offering more space to get down.
Everything that is so great about Shambhala comes together to form one epic experience. The top notch production, eclectic lineup super-charged with talent, friendly people, great atmosphere, and everything in between makes Shambhala so easy to love. For two years I have attended and left with some of my fondest memories. I think of Shambhala and I think of swimming in the river, head-banging at The Village, gettingmesmerized by the lasers at The Pagoda, hooping at The Living Room, and eating a lot of Coco Loco waffles. I leave every year discovering tons of new music, and with even more new friends.
When the weekend of magic finally draws to a close, the music stops, festival-goers pack up to go home, you turn drive down the dusty dirt path, and hit the pavement of the main road. You are smacked back into reality, and suddenly, the world of Shambhala seems so far away. It seems like it was all in a dream, and the only thing you have to prove it actually happened is the layer of dust on your skin, the ringing in your ears, and the smiles on your faces. That is why I love Shambhala the most, because it takes you so far away from your every day life, and puts you in a world with beautiful people, amazing music, and endless adventures. It will be a whole year until you return, but you’re already counting down the days until you’re back in the magical land that is Shambhala.
Written By Madi Lawton
Photos By Madi Lawton