By Erin Holdbeck.
The term “life changing” might be better reserved for Instagram hashtags when it comes to most music festivals, but when attempting to recall my experience at Shambhala Music Festival I can think of no better term. The annual festival celebrated its 17th anniversary this year welcoming nearly 11,000 attendees to the farm in Salmo, BC. Trying to describe the 5-day experience is nearly impossible, and will be unique for every attendee, but imagining the craziest place on earth and then multiplying that by ten is getting you off to a good start.
For most festivals the line-up is the main attraction for the majority of attendees. Shambhala did not disappoint with their vast and diverse selection of DJs, producers, and live acts. This year featured dozens of top names including Bassnectar, Andy C, Exicsion, Moby, Odesza, What So Not, and Skream. With six incredibly designed stages with dedicated genres you can without a doubt find something that keeps you moving from morning to night.
While the line-up was definitely a highpoint for me initially I barely made it to any of my favourite artists simply because I was so blown away by whatever stage I was at no matter who was performing. I spent the majority of my time in Fractal Forest, which hosted the likes of Kill Paris, Griz, Beardyman, and Neon Steve. It is easy to forget that you are even at a stage and can easily believe you have just stumbled upon the most incredible forest dance party complete with PK sound systems, lasers, and psychedelic visuals. The DJ becomes your last concern, as there is always something new and visual stimulating to get lost in.
Shambhala is primarily a music festival, but the musical aspect doesn’t begin to cover the overall experience. I was fortunate enough to camp with a mix of first-timers who were as mesmerized as I was, and veterans who were able to show us the ropes. While the grounds are beautiful in the daytime complete with a swimmable river, a valley surrounded by mountains, and a never-ending supply of visuals in the forest, they don’t truly come to life until the sun goes down.
Walking through the gates for the first time at night is an experience that is impossible to forget. To my left, a man in a pink bear costume bops to the beat of the tribal music blaring from The Amphitheatre. To my right, I am pulled into a group cheer lead by a Shambassador, and then our group heads through the woods towards The Living Room. The music is amazing, but I am simply to mesmerized to notice. My friend and I, both first-timers, wander away from the group and make a feeble attempt to take in our surroundings. The veterans have already surrendered themselves to the festival while we walk around practically drooling the phrase “Is This Real Life?!” The space between the stages sometimes referred to as “Downtown” features art galleries, local food trucks, a marketplace, community garden, and hundreds of attendees who quickly become more interesting than many of the DJs with their costumes and talents.
The crowd at Shambhala is another unique feature of the festival. Everyone is incredibly kind, non-judgemental, and down to spread the Shambhalove. Except for the occasional (and unfortunate) “Where’s Molly” t-shirt there was no evidence of the fist-pumping and grinding “neon bro” crowd. Most of this success is likely due to the alcohol ban, which significantly thins out the aggressive mosh-pit types. It wasn’t uncommon to see the DJs wandering around the grounds, including Skream, who was easily as captivated as the rest of us. While the grounds and the shows were amazing the people you meet will have the biggest impact on your experience. Even as a huge advocate of the “all-black-everything” uniform I was stoked to dress up in costumes and face-paint every night because everyone else made it so much fun.
I’m not quite sure how after 4-days of non-stop dancing, swimming, and exploring I was still getting down to Trap at Fractal Forest at 4 in the morning on Monday. In a few hours our camp was packed up and we were on our way back to the land of cell service, showers, and air-conditioning. While those things might be great first-world marvels all I could think about was how stoked I was for next year. If you have ever even considered attending stop thinking, buy your ticket, and be prepared to feel the Shambhalove in 2015. Happy Shambs!