Shambhala: Not Your Average Music Festival

Explaining Shambhala Music Festival to people is a bit of a pointless exercise sometimes. How can you properly articulate a driving purpose through words and/or photographs?

There is an emotion that you feel when on the grounds of the Salmo River Ranch in the British Columbia Kootenays. Yes, it is a 4-day party of mythical proportion. Yes, it’s on a private acreage set amongst classic BC scenery that can pretty much be described as “as good as it gets”. But all that pales in comparison to the collective feeling that emanates from a valley of 15,000 people all collectively doing their best to have the best time possible. In fact, a moniker has surfaced to describe the emotion: Shambhalove.

Yes, it borders slightly on cheesy. Until you are standing by yourself at 3 in the morning after losing your group of friends, and a stranger strikes up a conversation that winds up taking you on an adventure for several hours. Or giving someone a drink of water when they realize that they have been dancing for the past four hours. However your first dose of Shambhalove hits you, you soon realize that you have stepped into some sort of positive-vibed Twilight Zone where everyone surrounding you is collectively trying to have the best time possible. As a tribal species, this is a very good thing.

Back to the Human Tribal Roots Through Dance

Dancing in Western culture has had quite an interesting run over the past 100 or so years. Somehow our natural inclination to gather around and collectively move to the same beat has become devalued. Hopefully what we are seeing now is a return to our original state; a tradition that was passed on down through the generations long before we had a spoken or written word.

There is something special about dance. It’s an extension of music, a topic of such beauty and simple complexity that the ability to discuss its importance could continue on for the rest of time. Instead of discussing, we can just appreciate. Dancing is one of the purest ways for the human body to connect with its surroundings with complete presence.

A photo posted by Xavier Walker (@xavierwalkerphotography) on

I don’t know when I was first drawn to expression through dancing. But I can confidently say that it works. It’s a release and absorption all in the same instance. There are other seemingly paradoxical elements to dance. It concurrently nourishes both the extrovert and the introvert within all of us.

Shambhala is a dance party. Some may try to argue that it is more than that, that its’ some sort of Canadian hippie-raver pilgrimmage that serves as rationalization to forgo responsiblity for a week or so while they have some fun out in the forest. But when you boil it down, it’s a dance party. At least that’s my generalization on the experience. But there is something great about that. It is a pure expression of the soul where people come together for the sole purpose of celebration. The world needs more of that. And Shambhala does that better than any place I have seen thus far.

Harm Reduction: Finally A Responsible Approach

Part of the dance music culture is the use of certain substances to enhance the experience. While I do not condone the use of illegal drugs, you would have to be in some serious denial to believe that people would not be partaking.

Before one passes judgment on people’s decision to take drugs, it is important to understand why they do so. Sure there are some people without a set intention who just like to feel altered states of consciousness. But for many, the substances they choose to consume act as keys to different states of mind. Each drug unlocks certain gateways based on their chemical composition. But the common thread is that they allow the person to break down the personal barriers we have all accumulated in everyday society. Barriers which are a result of years of conditioning. Certain drugs can help the mind perceive the world in a way that is different than much of our conditioning. Considering how much pain and suffering exists, perhaps a different approach to how we think about things ain’t such a bad thing.

The ability to have a space to use these without fear of incarceration or arrest is a powerful freedom. Without it, people will consume drugs that could be suspicious and not producing the intended result. Enter the Harm Reduction team.

The concept of harm reduction is not a new one, yet is one that still does not get much discussion even though its implications have the ability to change or save lives. At Shambhala, the Harm Reduction team provides resources to festivalgoers where they can safely test the substances they wish to consume. It is not a place to acquire said substances, but rather a place to ensure that people actually get what they want. And there is some real power to that.

People can have their opinions on drug use, but any criticism for an effort to reduce the risks involved should stay aside. The Harm Reduction team is not about encouragement, but rather prevention of serious consequences.

The Music

Of course, when it comes down to it, the dance party would be nothing without the music. On that front, Shambhala delivers in spades. With six unique stages all individually managed by their own crew, the mix of artists that perform at Shambhala represents a broad cross-section of current dance music. It has become almost a right of passage for DJ’s and producers to perform here, and when you hear their carefully-crafted sets you know they are happy to be playing at such a unique venue.

That is part of the fun – being able to wander between 6 different stages until you hear something that truly gets you into the groove. Some people stay at one stage all night, and others hop around with childlike ADD. However you decide to imbibe the vibrations is completely up to you, and in doing so you can find the best way to express your love of the music.

A photo posted by Amanda (@playthatfunkymusik) on

The music being played would be nothing without the sound systems that put out the sound. On that front, Shambhala is host to some of the most powerful sound systems on the planet. PK Sound has blown up in recent years for their crystal-clear quality speakers that pack more than a punch, they end up permeating every inch of your body with sonic enhancement. For audiophiles who expect the best, the PK systems will set a new standard for what live music sounds like.

To Wrap It Up

All in all, the weekend is about cultivating good feelings. Dancing helps express those feelings. The creativity and hard work that beams through every square inch of the farm will leave you wanting more. It has for me, and I can’t wait to go back this year. The road to Shambhala is one of the best feelings out there. Especially when you know that you are on your way, like in my case as well as 15,000 other amazing people currently making the journey.