For 9 years out of the past decade the pilgrimage to a Farm on the outskirts of Canada’s British Columbia has been an an arduous journey that myself and many like minded individuals find worth the effort. Every year roughly ten thousand ticket holders, event staff, and volunteers make their way to the annual Shambhala Music Festival. This year was number 22, yet years of the same adventure, packing for a long trip across the country to a 5 day long music festival, never gets any easier.
The drive goes smoothly enough, thanks to the excitement of arriving at the farm. First stop is always picking up Joe Runge, a photographer from Minnesota and fellow Shambhala veteran. A mere 40 hours after leaving Michigan we find ourselves driving up the ever familiar dirt road, miles up into the heart of Salmo River Ranch in the heart of the Kootenay Mountain region. Nestled in a pristine British Colombian valley, the recognizable sites and sounds come rushing back.
Barely a moments break from the long journey and we are loading up our bikes and wagon, desperate to find a suitable camp area to host us for the coming week. Arriving later than usual, finding camp was another endeavor and by the time we found our temporary home near the AMPhitheatre stage, our backs were sore and feet tender from miles walked.
Shambhala offers early access to their grounds at additional cost. This allows you to be setting up your camp as early as Tuesday as well as giving you a couple days before the music starts to rest up and find friends; After all, time is precious when you’re home. With the town square open there are a number vendor booths worth pursuing and a line of food vendors that would knock your socks off. Ranging from tacos paninis and curry to hamburgers, there are a number of options to keep nourished and satisfied. Nestled back in the main grounds you’ll find a big top where workshops like Body Painting for Body Positivity, daily morning yoga, flow arts and prayer flag painting are scheduled through the weekend. This year saw a much appreciated additional effort shown to the work shop events at Shambhala. BASS camp, located in the center of it all provides information about the festival and sports an impressive art show that is worth checking out, year after year.
Then it arrives, Thursday, the unofficial start date of Shambhala. A soft opening of the Amphitheater and The Living Room stages provided a nice ease into a weekend of expertly curated music reverberating non other than Canada’s own PK Sound, appropriate seeing as the piston driven subs were practically birthed at Shambhala a decade and a half prior. Notable acts on Thursday at the AMP consisted of multi year residents Pigeon Hole and Skiitour, as well as fresh faces like Abelation and a collaboration by Yheti, Toadface, and Mt. Analogue dubbed “The Trifinity”. The stage provides expert digital mapping and is prefaced by acrobats and break dancers alike.
Over on the beach side, you will find The Living Room Stage providing chill beats and summer vibes to the dutiful dancers and river floaters. Resident DJ and local artist, Lion-S, who was among those that pioneered Shambhala from day one, oversees the curation. Coupled with other local artists a notable act for us was Invisible People, a side project by an-ten-nae who is see on the line-up later in the week partnered with Dove1 to create duo, DnA. Music on Thursday goes until a few hours after midnight, allowing for a goods nights sleep before the entirety of the festival is open to the public.
The official start of Shambhala ushers in a sense of community, both during the inaugural rush as the gates open and then again at the opening ceremony. The ceremony honors the lands and ancestors in a new special way each year but it always leaves you feeling with a sense of empowerment and excitement. As you first walk in to the freshly-opened stage, you will come across The Cedar Lounge, a side stage where you can take classes like Intro to Acro-Yoga or see acts like Sam Klass. Further in is what could be described as a gnomes playground, sized for adults of course. A number of hammocks and resting areas litter the trees and art installations are abound, and nestled off the the side an extension of BASScamp. After all that you’ll come across Shambhala’s, The Grove, the only stage to support ground breaking Function One speakers. Shambhala has bred many artist over the years, as you’ll see with Nelsons own Shiny Things. Other notable acts include Goopsteppa , Atyya, Leland River, and Melo.Nade, an artist who the previous year played a noteworthy sunrise set and set the bar high this year by being the first to play The Grove.
Next up on the tour you’ll run into one of the heaviest stages out there, The Village. This stage consists of a number of technical advances like PK Trinity stems and a tiered, expansive dance area. Sets by Excision have been hailed by his fanbase year after year and California's Stylust brings in the heat just as expertly as years prior. Later on in the weekend you can see the likes of Ganja White Night and Subvert, the CEO and Pioneer of PK Sound.
What some might liken to “the heart of Shambhala,” The Fractal Forest is comprised of a 360° wall of speakers and an intricately designed laser and mirror system that would put a stars twinkle to shame. Resident performers like Chali2na and Z-Trip can be seen playing at this stage. On Sunday you could have found Diplos white escalade smeared with mud from the recent downpour, a weather pattern that did not dampen the mood of festival goings, although did cause the event staff to put a temporary hold on the music due to an on-ground lightening strike.
Lastly, you will find The Pagoda. Shambhala’s unofficial main stage, it towers over the festival grounds, majestic in its beauty. A 50 foot Goliath of a stage, it supports a cutting edge digital projection mapping system as well as an impressive array of lasers. A fantastic thing about Shambhala is the transforming stages, while permanent fixtures, each year you will see vast improvements in the design and layout of different stages. This years fresh design brought a wider opening to the Pagoda stage grounds, providing easier access to shows such as Black Tiger Sex Machine and the world premier of Deathpact, a masked and unknown DJ. This stage can be seen littered with tech house vibes all night Friday by Justin Martin and other regulars as well as first timer, Anna Lunoe.
The world class festival that is Shambhala brings together people from around the world and provides a fully immersive festival experience. Without mention, the six expertly curated stages keep you vibing all weekend long, but it has to be mentioned that the festival also pays close attention to the health and wellbeing of its family. The Sanctuary offers welcome calm in a stressing time and a safe space for women. Medical services are only a phone call or short walk away to treat anything and everything that ails you with a smile. As well as ANKORS and roaming Shambassadors to make sure that you have what you need to make for a beautiful weekend like safe sex supplies, information about services available to you, and on-site drug testing. Shambhala allows for a build-your-own adventure type atmosphere that keeps you wanting to come back no matter the cost or the length of the journey.
Inevitably, music ends on Monday morning, with a traditional closing set by Rich-E-Rich; there is not much left to do but rest, and maybe get one more poutine, until that fateful moment of camp break down. The goodbyes are always just for now, because the return home is only a year away. Thankfully this winter will be easier, Shambhala has changed festival dates for 2020, sending us all home a few days earlier. For us, the long road awaits but at least the drive is beautiful. Another 3,000 mile trek through the towering Rocky Mountains and the sweeping expanse of the midwestern plains to reminisce about the fun had. Until next time, Shambhala, it is always a pleasure. If you have yet to experience the love that is Shambhala, I look forward to giving you a huge hug on the farm when I see you!