A couple short days after being back in my normal routine, I keep feeling as if the whole experience was a dream. Maybe I fell asleep in my tent the first night, and the pounding of the Pagoda amps I could feel in my pillow swallowed me up and carried me to another dimension where I’ve been lost in a world of sound and color and the highest of frequencies for the past week … Maybe I’ll wake up one of these nights back in my tent and get to live it all over again irl!
More likely I’m stuck waiting until next year to experience that magical energy again, but with a head and heart full of Shambhalove.
From the first smiling faces that greeted us at the entrance, to the unforgettable friends we met at the river and our neighboring camp, to the incredible artists throwing down from sunset to sunrise every day, Shambhala was a one-of-a-kind encounter with musical heaven.
Admittedly, I haven’t been to a ton of festivals. In fact, this makes my third or fourth festival to date. While I’m no festi connoisseur, there are a few things I think set Shambhala Music Festival apart from the slew of other music evets going on these days.
The Sound is Insane
I’ve never worn earplugs at a festival, or at any outdoor venue other than Bass Center. But I bought a nice pair after the first night of Shambs because DAUM, those speakers bump! What a treat to experience 6+ stages and 100+ sets of PK Sound, engineered for the best audio adventure possible. It was obvious that the people attending the festival were there for the music, rather than just to party at a festival, and this was a refreshing change. Top-tier sound production is clearly of the highest priority to Shambhala’s creators, and I have a feeling every festival after this will pale in comparison to the audio invasion this festival provides.
The Size is Perfect
It’s not too big, not too small, and allows you to slide comfortably between sets, people, and your campsite. This is especially important when the lineup is stacked with so many artists you absolutely can’t miss. Ain’t nobody got time to trek 15-30 minutes between stages when there are 50 must-see artists on your must-see list. God forbid you forget something at your campsite at Electric Forest, you’d better be prepared to live without it or miss a good portion of the evening hiking back. At Shambs, I could scurry back to my campsite for an extra layer or gum in 10-20 minutes tops.
You also run into people more, in a good way. If your phone dies and you lose your friends at a huge festival, it’ll probably take some festival magic to find them again. At Shambhala, just head to the sets you want to see and odds are you’ll run into them “downtown” between the stages. The dancefloors were quaint and cozy, without being overcrowded. With the exception of one set, I never felt cramped or constricted and even had room to set my backpack down if I needed to. This makes such a big difference when you’re spending 6-10 hours on your feet.
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The Visuals are Dreamy
I can’t imagine a better visual experience than what I saw at Shambhala. Not only is every stage unique, most of them are handcrafted structures with viewing platforms and intricate bits and pieces that make each one a world all its own. Other festivals have distinct stages, each with their own vibe, but I don’t recall any of them feeling like a different ride at Disneyland.
The Pagoda stage, specifically, is an audio-visual trip you have to take to believe. Forget an LED panel or video screen behind the DJ. This is an entire structure built from real Canadian timber (that was en route to Japan to be used on actual pagodas before the Shambs crew swooped it) with some of the world’s top VJs running the show. Check out my interview with Rob Campbell, Pagoda’s stage director, for more of the production details, but this stage alone is worth visiting Shambhala for its all-encompassing sensory adventure. My dreams are better because I’ve seen the Pagoda.
The Nature is Beautiful
The Kootenay Mountains overlook the festival, and if you get there early enough you can even set up right in the foothills that surround the ranch. The Salmo River running right through the festival grounds was the perfect place to relax and recharge (and rinse the dust off) during the day, especially with the temp getting up to 105 when the sun was high! Jumping in the river is like an instant reset that I was so grateful for every single day. If you needed a nap or short escape, there were plenty of little trails along the river or in the foothills to explore, throw up your hammock and catch a snooze.
The Crew Cares
This was the first dry festival I’ve ever been to, and while it’s tough for a girl to leave her tequila at the border, I think my experience was better because of it. Not only was I not having to deal with spunions who also don’t know how to hold their liquor, I didn’t witness any fights between drunk festi-bros or campmates. That’s more than I can say for any other festival I’ve been to. I know when I mix drugs and alcohol, my own experience is muddled and I definitely remember less. I attribute my full and vivid memory of the weekend to the fact that I wasn’t chugging booze every day.
The fact that there was a tent in the middle of downtown with a place to safely test your drugs, and a giant board advertising information about the quality of drugs going around, was oddly comforting. I like the fact that the Shambs staff takes responsible partying seriously, and I think every festival should have a safe place to test substances.
I caught at least a few sets between 3-6am that I absolutely loved from artists I'd never seen before. Moontricks and Khiva are two that stand out - they absolutely killed it. Hell yeah, that's exactly what festivals are about!
Now I know what my friends were raving about. Shambhala is hands down the best festival I’ve been to in terms of sound and production, and I’m counting down the days until I can get back to the Ranch.