The Best in Festivals & Conferences: Shambhala



Shambhala is most unique music festival I’ve ever been to. Born in 1998, it has grown to become one of the largest and most longest running electronic music festival in Canada.

It began as big party held on a huge private farm in the West Kootenays, in British Columbia. The promoters of the festival used to rent that land from the family that owned the farm, but as it became more successful, the farmers themselves decided to actually “buy” the festival and operate it themselves. The festival now lasts 5 days and 4 nights, hosts 10 000 people in the middle of the nature, and offers a mix of electronic music, from hard trance to really weird and trippy techno.

I wanted to write about this festival because there are a lot of weird and wonderful things about it. The main thing is the sense of community it has developed. Everyone in BC knows about Shambhala, has been there at least once and still talks about it like the best experience of their lives. As if everyone was part of the experience, of the loving community of Shambhala.

I got a job there in the summer of 2012 and road-tripped from Montreal to get there. I was eager to see why exactly people were so enthused about it and how it could be so different than other electronic festivals. I now understand why it was so hard to understand…Because it is so hard to explain. The special thing about Shambhala is the VIBE created by that sense of community, freedom and love. Entering the site, you are warned that you are entering a utopian world with its own rules where no judging is permitted and where everyone must love everyone. Sounds like a hippy, happy, druggy, fantastic festival. It is. So everyone says hi to everyone, everybody is on a few different drugs, and no one sleeps.

Similarly to Tomorrowland, a LOT of attention is paid to the theatrics, décor, audiovisuals and atmosphere at Shambhala. The difference is that everything is “homemade” or built by members of the community. Most of the DJs (except for some of the headliners) are from British Columbia and also part of the “family”. Most of the festivalgoers are from BC and 95% of the volunteers as well. I could write about that festival for pages so here is quickly what I thought was most important:

–       the sound. PK stereo systems sponsor a few of the stages. I’ve never hear something so loud in my entire life. They literally install WALLs of sound in front of the stages. I still don’t get why people like to listen to music so loud.

–       the 6 stages. Every stage is UNBELIEVABLE and managed & operated by its head DJ. I think that was a clever way to involve your “employees” and make them feel special and important (they actually are). Therefore, each stage manager books his line-up of artists and is responsible for every concert held at his stage during the entire festival.

–       The costumes. At Shambhala, everybody is whoever he/she wants to be because no ones cares. So everyone is costumed, and some take that WAY more seriously than others.

–       A “Sober” Festival. Shambhala prohibits alcohol on the festival site because (and it’s true) it would completely change the atmosphere of the festival. So intense security muscle guys search every single car that gets it the festival and take everything (alcohol and drug they can find). We all wonder what they do with it after. Result: everyone is on drugs. There are a couple of overdoses everyday and a community built hospital on-site.

–       Sponsorship-free festival. I realized after a day that I hadn’t seen any advertising and it hit me. Shambhala is a sponsorship-free festival. The community supports everything and they make their money on tickets entry only. THAT is spectacular for an event of that size…

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