By Michelle Swami
August 11 – 14, 2017
Salmo River Ranch, BC
VANCOUVER – This year marked the 20th anniversary of Shambhala, Western Canada’s longest running music festival. Nestled on a ranch in small town Salmo, BC, the festival is still privately run with no sponsorship or liquor sales and just run by ticket sales and merchandise sales alone. With the falling Canadian dollar and rising costs of amenities it is quite the feat considering most of the crew working are volunteers. Of course having such a small but largely attended festival (15,000) doesn’t have its set of issues.
A couple of days before the festival was set to start, the Shambhala team had sent out social media alerts warning people the festival may need to end early or get cancelled all together and that they should plan an alternate route home due to the unfortunate BC wildfires engulfing north eastern British Columbia.
With a strong online following, people on social media were quickly abuzz about the fact that Shambhala might get shut down. Another thing that fans were fussing about was the fact that a certain lemonade stand was being replaced by a stand with lemonade from the actual ranch itself and that Bassnectar, the long haired DJ that played Shambhala’s earlier years and became a “Sham tradtition” did not make an appearance on the 20th anniversary line up. It did not stop fans from making memes and “boycotting” the lemonade stand. The weather, lack of Bassnectar and the lemonade stand did not deter fans as they descended on the farm on Wednesday night.
In order to get a good camping spot, many line up early Tuesday just in time for 8 a.m. Wednesday morning entry. For its 20th year, organizers decided to open a pop up stage, which had acts such as Village stage favourite Subvert play midday in the parking lot, complete with PK Sound. With many waiting 36 hours to get in, including vigorous checks for glass, alcohol and other contraband, people descended by the thousands to get through the gates and get ready for Shambhala’s unofficial first day, Thursday night festivities.
It was pretty clear entering the festival that the Kootenay region got the best of the BC Wildfires because it was smoggy as ever. Not to mention, the air quality had deteriorated. Thankfully the First Aid came well prepared with necessities such as air masks for people that had hard time breathing. Also, the Green River Peace Collective came armed with portable ashtrays to put your cigarette butts in, instead of putting them out and possibly causing another fire.
Like every year, Thursday only had the Amphitheatre and the newly revamped Living Room stage open all day from 11 a.m. to a shorter night ending at 3 a.m. with festival favourites JPod Skiitour, Longwalk ShortDock and Mat the Alien playing opening duties.
Friday morning the festival was scorching hot, with temperatures as hot as 35 degrees. That being said, rumours were flying that the fire had only gotten bigger and that it was now across the Salmo River, which is the river that runs through the festival. Again, that did not stop the party people because during late afternoon, Victoria native Whipped Cream managed to pack the Amphitheatre stage for a set full of her brand of trap music and current rap hits, even dropping a new Ekali song with the Vancouver artist making an appearance during her set.
Friday night also marked the first night of the unveiling of the new Pagoda stage, which got a big revamp with a much bigger, taller, stage with massive projection and larger lasers than ever before. Also, in the 20th year, of course the Shambhala would have some surprises and not so surprises In store with Opiuo, Stickybuds and Smalltown DJs holding their regular Fractal Forest sets with Excision playing his usual Village stage, this time a full two hours with special appearances by his Kelowna affiliates Downlink and Datsik.
Other Friday favourites included the dark, bass stylings of England’s Ivy Lab and Destructo with his sunrise sermon, which has been a regular occurrence on music cruise/festival Holy Ship for the last few years, is in its second year at Shambhala and it seems to become the new staple. Well-attended by those loyal to Gary Richards from his tenure at the helm of HARD events, it begins before sunrise with some dark techno, transitioning to some lighter 90s house as the sky gets brighter playing a whopping 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. set.
Saturday morning/early afternoon the air quality and smoke surrounding the festival had gotten significantly worse from the nearby fire. Rumours were abuzz and because of pressure from nearby government and fire officials, the organizers decided to pull the plug, ending the festival after Saturday night, which was going as planned. Every with an early leaving time on Sunday morning, many took it as a queue to pack up their non-essentials or get an early start on the road or a nearby hotel as soon as the cancellation was announced.
Now as the 20th anniversary was in its premature last day, festival goers went their extra hardest with their best outfits and a few totems dedicated to the early closure (my favourite being the one that said a simple: Premature Evacuation). Also going hard, were the artists giving their all making sure the festival goers were not panicked and having the time of their lives. A little later on in the evening, the weather report did report a chance of rain, which would have inevitably have made the air a bit clearly giving a chance to the festival organizers the green light to open on Sunday night. Z-Trip, having been scheduled to play on both Saturday and Sunday night at the Village came through with a group prayer for rain on Saturday night which made one of the best moments of Shambhala history, with everyone sitting down and hoping that Mr. Rain will soon appear; but only time would tell if the festival would go ahead as planned on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Fractal Forest lined up a series of masterclasses in turntablism on Saturday night, starting with Skratch Bastid who’s party music was fit enough for a BBQ, then DJ Jazzy Jeff who dabbled from everything from Golden Era and ’90s hip-hop to trap music and breakbeats favourite, A Skillz. Completing this line up was A-Trak who had the opportunity to show us what he’s really made of, but perhaps too many Vegas residencies have tarnished his talent. We were left with some unimaginative scratching and failed attempts at being his own hype man, which paled in comparison to his predecessors on the decks that evening.
Other highlights included, Vancouver’s own Pomo who brought along a newly appointed live band showcasing his talent playing slow, jazzy hip-hop beats, The Orb, the legendary electronic group from the UK, whom many were looking forward to and playing their first tour in years which was ultimately moved from Sunday night to make way for Saturdays scheduled cancellation and young, up and coming Leeds producer Billy Kenny who drew a huge crowd to the AMPhitheatre for a stomping set, comprising imaginative reworkings of house favourites and pop classics. The stage was jumping higher than Kenny’s hair from beginning to end, as we all realized that This ain’t Bristol, this is Shambhala at its finest.
Unfortunately, the word of cancellation of Sunday meant that two Saturday night headliners Jai Wolf and Jimmy Edgar had to cancel their scheduled sets. With many artists hanging around and even camping at the festival that whole weekend already, there was no shortage of replacements that kept the music playing the whole night.
Sunday morning came and there was still no rain, so as of 9:45 a.m. the organizers decided that this is the end, so people had started packing their bags and heading off the festival grounds. Then at around 10:45AM, the clouds started to form and then it started to rain. The fairy festival-mother blessed Shambhala with rain and the organizers stuck to their word and ultimately, at mid afternoon, organizers decided that yes, Sunday night was going to go on as scheduled.
Of course this didn’t come with a few setbacks. First off, a festival with little or no cell signal had to rely on word of mouth from few people that checked their social media and loud speakers from crew riding on their dirt bikes throughout campsites to announce that the festival was back on. Secondly, a lot people had already left and either was too far out to turn back around or their festival bracelets have been cut off and are now null and void. Organizers did however, honour people with bracelets back in or single day tickets for $180, but the festival’s Sunday was visibly scarce. Lastly, like the fans, the artists were not kept in the loop until last minute that Sunday night was back on. Many that were travelling from other parts of North America had either cancelled their flights or just turned around all together. Headliners like Rezz, Diamond Saints, Woolymammoth, yunnis, Delta Heavy, Adventure Club and LTJ Bukem all cancelling their sets, scrambling organizers finding worthy replacements for those top-knotch acts.
Determined to keep the party going, Shambhala organizers rushed around and worked vigiously throughout the morning to replace the last minute dropouts. Several B2B sets with artists either playing the festival or hanging around both backstage and with their friends in Artist camping were done in place of missing artists as were double sets of artists that played in previous days. Unfortunately again due to lack of signal, a lot of people were not made aware of changes right away or even at all, which proved frustrating to both artist and fans.
Highlights on Sunday included Mat the Alien (and friends) playing the almighty Pagoda stage for 5 hours (!!!) covering for various artists who could not attend the Sunday night, Deekline at Fractal Forest who was also celebrating his birthday that night, who got the crowd dancing to some of his signature Breakbeats with some Jungle and Garage thrown in and an almighty B2B2B2B2B set by UK’s Sam Binga and Fixate, Denmark’s Shields and Vancouver’s own Greazus and Taal Mala which again, covered for Woolymammoth, another headliner that couldn’t make it. Kudos to the crew and festival organizers for scrambling around last minute on Sunday night for something that could have been a complete downer and disaster to bringing fans one of the best nights of the festival, despite the torrential rainstorm that happened later on that night.
All in all, Shambhala’s 20th year was no doubt one of the more memorable, albeit challenging years of this long running festival. Despite Mother Nature and changing Lemonade Stands, it’s proof that the rave can still go on.Shambhala, Shambhala Music Festival