Beyond the Lineup: Shambhala

It took me four years to make my return to Salmo River Ranch, and boy was it worth it. Despite having been just twice, I call this magical festival home. Shambhala Music Festival is located on a working farm in Canada, nestled beautifully between the mountains and trees, with the stages following the flow of the Salmo River. Though I believe the true beauty and magic of this festival comes from the incredible community that has built it into what it is today.

In Tibetan Buddhism, “Shambhala” is a mythical sacred realm. I can fully attest that both the festival organizers and the community of attendees create this ‘sacred realm’ by upholding idealistic standards for the farm. The attendees and organizers affectionately refer to all Shambhala festival-goers as “Farmily”, creating a space for inclusion and comradery right from the jump. The festival itself recognizes and honors that it lies on the traditional lands of the Syilx, Sinixt and Ktunaxa Nations, and shares a collection of values with its attendees.

Their number one value is Safety and Harm Reduction, an ideal that notably takes priority from the moment you step onto the farm. Alcohol is completely banned from the grounds of Shambhala, cutting down severely on the number of medical emergencies from alcohol-related injuries. While illegal substances are not permitted, the ANKORS tent on-site provides complimentary, judgment-free drug testing, harm reduction supplies, services and information about safer sex and partying responsibly.

Located directly next to ANKORS and Medical Services is the Sanctuary, a safe haven for anyone feeling overwhelmed, cold, hot, or tired. I was diagnosed with Type-2 Narcolepsy this summer, and sometimes when a girl needs to lie down, she really needs to lie down. The Sanctuary provided me with a shaded, comfortable space to take a quick breather, staffed with non-judgmental support volunteers. I was incredibly impressed with the existence of this tiny fairy refuge.

The farm also offers a safe space for those who choose to abstain from substances of any kind. Camp Clean Beats is a safe haven for sober ravers, offering a community of like-minded individuals, peer-based recovery support, and daily meetings for anyone who is interested. Alongside Camp Clean Beats are the other “Theme Camps.” These are typically large campsites of attendees creating their own fun or supportive campsite communities, such as Camp Stranger Danger for any solo attendees.

Other values of Shambhala include ShambhaLove and Community; Consent, Acceptance and Freedom of Expression; and Music, Art and Creativity. Upholding all of these values fosters an environment of respect for both yourself and each other, and a respect for the uniqueness of each individual encountered on the farm. It is extremely rare to walk down the path from your campsite to the river without hearing at least one “Happy Shambs!” yelled out towards you as a beaming smile ushers you on your way. The only true way to respond, “Shappy Hambs!”

The entire vibe of the event feels much like you are Alice, trekking through Wonderland, encountering strange and beautiful creatures along your path. It is a journey to another place of which you will grow and shrink and morph into an entirely new and fabulous version of you, if you so choose. There is a sort of release that happens, once you choose to fully let go of inhibitions and judgements and fear, fashioned by a utopian environment that I have yet to fully experience anywhere else on this planet.

Now the fact that I’ve gotten this far along without even touching upon the music should be a testament to how much more this festival is than just a lineup. Though, now that you mention it… 

Shambhala continues to boast a diverse and impressive lineup, with artists and bands coming out from all over the world to share their music and experience the magic for themselves. Artists practically seem to beg to return, with a few regulars joining the ShambhaFarmily and happily calling the farm home year-after-year. From Jam Bands to Drum and Bass, the wide variety in music seems to have a little for everyone, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to fall in love with something or someone new.

The music festival also welcomes an array of activities, interactive art installations, and workshops. Last summer I participated in a hundred-person game of tag. I have never laughed harder or inhaled more dust in my life. I mentioned this to my UK-based friends, who quickly informed me what that would look like in a Manchester DNB warehouse: a particularly grimey and terrifying version of the Hunger Games.

There are fire performers and flow artists, Party Scientists and puppeteers, you name it, they’ve got it. I’d recommend exploring the festival and campgrounds during both the night and day to fully experience the weird and wonderful secrets of Shambhala. My favorite daytime discovery would have to be the flower garden. My favorite nighttime discovery: the Cat Dome. A fully immersible dancing-cat experience equipped with remote-controllers for you to cat-dance yourself. Explore at your own risk.

One other praise I have for Shambhala is the food and market vendors located on-site. It seemed like every food I craved happened to exist: smoothies for the morning, chicken rice karaage bowls for lunch, burgers for dinner, and bone broth for a late-night snack. I truly cannot speak highly enough of the kindness of this festival, so I will provide you with one more anecdote as convincing. The food is slightly pricey, as it is at all festivals these days it seems, and I was standing alone, just short of the right amount of Canadian cash on my person to order. The first person I turned around to was another lone human standing in line behind me, who did not hesitate to offer me his cash when I mentioned I was just barely short. He handed me a “toonie”, the Canadian nickname for a two-dollar coin. I needed just a couple cents, but he insisted regardless. This was just one moment of many that “ShambhaLove” became real for me.

This summer ushers in the 25th Anniversary of Shambhala. The festival has grown and changed in so many ways since its inception in 1998, and I believe its resistance to corporate sponsorship and commitment to exemplary values has continued to uphold it as truly one of the greats. I am ecstatic to be returning home this summer, and I can’t wait to see what surprises and adventures await.

– Katy Wade


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