The name Shambhala conjures up a lot of different images, but from coast to coast, and indeed worldwide, people are familiar with Canada’s most famous, and largest, electronic music festival. So famous, in fact, that spell check corrected my spelling of Shambhala.
Growing up in Ontario, I heard of a magical “three day” just down the road and through the mountains, with a river running through it. It was a peaceful place with no alcohol allowed and naked hippies dotted the landscape. I knew I had to go to there.
This year will be my third Shambhala. While it by no means makes me a veteran, I have learned a lot from my raving career and have assessed some basic survival tools for what the locals call “Shambhala Virgins”.
I use the word locals with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but Shambhala truly is its own village. The attendance has grown almost tenfold since its inception in 1998. Actually, according to British Columbia requirements for a city, Shambhala is a pretty big one with a population of around 15,000. Salmo, where the festival grounds are, has a population of 1,139.
So there you have it. Shambhala is far away no matter which way you slice it (unless you slice it in Nelson), heavily populated and magical. Below are some personal suggestions to elevate your festival experience, eliminate waste and decrease sketchiness. If things have been left out that’s because no one likes to overplan, and some things you just have to learn on your own.
Shambhala runs from the 8th (a Wednesday) to the 13th (that’s a Monday). Every year, at countless raves across the world, a group of people get the idea that they’re “never leaving” and insist on staying on site. This, or people try to leave as fast as possible while being not in exactly the right shape to drive. The best advice I can give is to remember you have to leave on Monday. Do not let that bum you out, but remember when you are up until 8 a.m. Monday morning you might have to drive home 9 hours (more on that later). Either you’re responsible and this is obvious, or you’re a wild card and can see yourself in this position. Remember, there are lots of great campsites in and around Salmo if you feel another night’s rest would do you good before driving home. Shambhala is held on a fully operational farm, and we need to be respectful and let them get back to business. If you feel like you would like to volunteer with takedown or cleanup after the festival, apply online.
This festival is not near Vancouver, and for those of you who only know BC to be the West Coast, Shambhala is actually closer to Calgary (but who’s counting). In fact, you are just as likely to see red plates (Alberta) as you are blue (B.C.). For n00bs coming in either direction, remember, this is a long, yet highly satisfying drive. From Vancouver, Highway 3, or the Crowsnest Highway, will take you through E.C. Manning Park, the deserts of Osoyoos, interesting Kootenay towns like Grand Forks, Ross Vegas and Trail (Go Smoke-Eaters!) and finally to Salmo. Those coming from Calgary and beyond get to take the fabled Crowsnest Pass through the Rockies and pass through Rocky Mountain ski towns like Fernie. Plan for nine hours in either direction, although Calgary is shorter by an hour or two. Do not get ahead of yourselves on this ride and drive safe, the route is full of mountain passes and logging trucks. Also note that there is generally always a police roadblock at the entrance to the site as well as security at the gate. Drive safe, drive smart.
Every year there will be at least five sites where the whole crew just utterly flails and leaves everything because they are too broken to take down their tent. If this is you, consider investing in one of those pop-up tents or perhaps share a tent with an older, more responsible camper and let them do all the work. Remember also that it gets cold at night in the mountains, although once the sun breaks over them, around seven or eight o’clock in the morning, it is already unbearably hot.
Shambhala does have better infrastructure than some of the comparatively smaller festivals around Canada, but that doesn’t mean you should take advantage of all the refuse bins. Try not to bring too many things that turn into garbage, and what you do bring, pack out. it will put your waste production into perspective. Cigarette butts, although it is hard to kick the habit of just flicking them, can be put into an old film canister in your pocket, or even a plastic bag. All the hippie babes and boys will love you, as will Mother Nature.
Okay, let’s be real. You are going to party, yes? And while you are partying you may feel not so hungry. And after you party, you may very well feel like a bag of dicks… in a bad way. You probably won’t feel like making that giant awesome curry you bought all those ingredients for that have gone half bad. In fact, anything you have to cook may be a bad idea for you. Consider bringing tons of snack food, like granola bars, and non-perishable food items like that “why does this taste as good as it does” post-apocalyptic dinner that is a cold can of beef-a-roni. The meals at Shambhala are actually really reasonably priced, don’t involve your haggard ass operating a Coleman, and help out local vendors. One good dinner a day could cost you about 10 bucks or less. Even if you stayed the full time that would only run you $50. Making your own food, unless you enjoy raw Mr. Noodles and the aforementioned cold Chef.Boy-aren’t-you-hungry, could run you about the same really. Take note, the food vendors at Shambhala do not gouge and you can get bootleg Tim Hortons coffee for a dollar. Oh, and one way or another, get some vitamins.
This is beautiful B.C., land of nature, and home to some of the best water in the world. Don’t bring a 24 of water, you lazy, product of the ’90s. Bring one (or two) reusable water bottles and perhaps a jug and fill up at the well. There may be a line, but with four faucets, it goes fast, plus you’re saving money and helping the environment. Please no tap showers though, it’s waste of water.
It gets super hot out, and no better place to cool down than at the river. If you look hard enough, there is a log you can dive off of. Make sure to wear sun protection though, as countless blissful hours in the sun can give you ye olde heat stroke. Don’t forget your bathing suit or that free water we told you about.
Always a good idea, although everyone pretty much is your buddy and there are first aid and chill-out tents if you need them. Do not be afraid to hug your way to safety. This also coincides with the “don’t be a dick” treaty signed by all upon entry.
Who brings a book to a rave? Save space and pack extra granola bars. US Weekly OK.
The stages at Shambhala are amazing. They stay up year round and without the nuisance of having to reconstruct and deconstruct them every year, the stages have truly grown into works of art. Case in point, don’t just get stuck at the Village because that’s where all the dubstep is. The Rock Pit is great if you are tired of techno (impossible, I know) and the beach stage is a great place to relax. Pagoda is my personal favourite; it has lots of space which is great for dancing and very open-air if you are feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of the other stages. They also are pretty much the only stage to play house music, which is great if, like me, you love house music. The Labyrinth occasionally plays psy-trance, which isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve heard some pretty awesome techno and tech-house sets back there too. The walk there is quite fantastic as well. So don’t let a stage’s reputation as the “trance stage” or the “house stage” hinder you from checking it out. The music may surprise you, and the walk will be worth it.
Sunday = Funday
No truer words have ever been said. So make sure to organize your flail, put on your Funday best and dance like never before. Sunday always starts with Neighbour’s legendary 8 a.m. set in the Fractal Forest. There is no better way to start your Fun Day. After a good BM and some lunch, the Forest hosts the Fractal Funk Jam, where some of the best DJs of the fest play an all-vinyl back-to-back set of pure soul repair. After this throw your rulebook out the window, put on your wedding dress, and party hard because it’s your last night.
There is no doubt that Shambhala has grown over the years, and its size may have deterred some long time adherents. But Shambhala still has all the same ethos as always. It is warm and friendly. It is probably the most fun one could ever ask to have. There are no corporate sponsors and local DJs share the billing with all the big headliners. It is both a representation of the Kootenays, B.C., and Canada all in one. You will meet new friends, and solidify existing friendships. You may fall in love, or out of it. But you will definitely have one of the most memorable experiences of your life, and I can’t wait to dive in again.
Shambhala Music Festival, located in Salmo, B.C., runs from August 8th to 13th. See the festival’s website for more information.
By Jordan Cook
Photos: Andrew Ferguson, Benjamin Jordan, Graeme Wahn, Leah Gair, Louis Bockner