It’s no wonder Shambhala sold out nearly a month before the festival was scheduled to take place on August 7-10 at Salmo River Ranch or “The Farm” as it’s often referred to. Located in the beautiful Kootenay region of British Columbia, Shambhala is Canada’s largest and one of its longest running electronic music events and offers a truly unique and mesmerizing experience for attendees. Since the festival began in 1998, Shambhala continues to remain a family-run event and has never accepted corporate sponsorship, funded entirely by attendees through ticket sales. This plays a large part in what distinguishes Shambhala from other festivals I’ve attended. The event is internationally renowned for its awesome music lineups which include some of the best electronic artists in the world, its unique and innovative stage design, and its state-of-the-art services for attendee health and safety. And this year’s event was no different.
The festival has six uniquely-themed stages all independently run by their own respective stage directors.In addition, most of the stages and installations are permanent structures which allows the teams months of prep time to design and build their stages. Nestled in various spots on the vast 500-acre property, each stage offers patrons a wide variety of music styles, sound systems, environments, and ambiance. The night time is when the magic of Shambhala truly blossoms. Stages such as the Fractal Forest, The Pagoda and The Grove come alive with vibrant lights and visuals which dance off the surrounding forest challenging the senses to keep up. These stages in particular hosted some of the weekend’s standout sets from artists such as Tipper, Griz, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Mix Master Mike, Pretty Lights, and even a surprise performance from Zeds Dead. I loved the old-school hip-hop vibes of the Fractal Forest where DJs played in a burnt out cedar tree stump and are surrounded by an eclectic mix of pyramids, friendly forest creatures, and familiar Star Wars characters. For a slightly more relaxed experience, the festival’s newest stage, The Grove, provided both a lively dance floor and plenty of “chill zones” where patrons could take a load off and relax in giant hammocks hung throughout the area.The Grove also hosted one of my favorite performances from artist Tipper, set to some of the most impressive visuals of the weekend from digital painter Android Jones. And Derek Vincent Smith’s (aka Pretty Lights) late-night Sunday set at The Pagoda stage was the perfect finale to the weekend as he served up his characteristic funky “electro hip-hop soul” beats. One of my personal favorites, his live shows are known for their complex laser and lighting displays, and The Pagoda could not have been a more perfect venue for his show, boasting one of the best audio visual productions on the planet.
Just as impressive as the music and stage production were the health and safety services available to patrons during the festival. Shambhala’s “harm reduction” philosophy is one of the most progressive in the world and includes a comprehensive list of programs and safe havens where attendees’ health and safety are the number one priority. Having primarily attended U.S. festivals over the last several years where the approach is vastly different, I was blown away by the sophistication of these programs and theoverall non-judgmental atmosphere of the festival that leads attendees to feel much safer and respected. Organizers of U.S. festivals should look to Shambhala as a shining example in designing and improving upon their own harm reduction efforts.
Having had a week to reflect on my first experience at The Farm, the people are what truly bring the magic of Shambhala to fruition. From the moment I set foot on the property I was overwhelmed by the sense of family that encompassed me, whether it be from the amazing staff of volunteers, attendees, artists, vendors, etc. Every interaction felt sincere and genuine, something I’ve rarely experienced at any other festival I’ve attended. After the first night I lost count of the number of complete strangers who would smile and wish me a “Happy Shambs!” just in passing. All said and done it’s impossible not to feel the love, the “Shambhalove” as it’s affectionately been coined, from the moment one sets foot on the property.