Date: August 8th – 11th
Location: Salmo, British Columbia
Years Running: 16
Shambhala (“Shambs”): A festival in Canada that brings together thousands of the world’s nicest people who dance to epic beats for four straight days at some of the festival world’s coolest stages. Oh, and there’s a river called the “the beach.”
Stages: The stages at Shambhala were otherworldly. Shambhala has the advantage of owning their property, so their structures are up all year long. This allows them to build structures around each stage, which adds an entirely new and epic dimension that most other festivals don’t have. A different production company operates each stage, so there is not only an element of individuality, but also a bit of competition for the best stage. Competition definitely breeds innovation, as evident by the spectacular stages at Shambhala.
The sound at every stage was flawless thanks to the PK Sound speaker systems that powered the music.
The Village Stage.
Crowd: As wonderful as the venue and stages were, the crowd is really what makes this festival such a pleasure to attend. The event is over 90% Canadian and they are wonderful festivalgoers. They are the friendliest people you will ever meet, they are good about picking up after themselves, and they did an absolute bang up job of dressing up at this festival. It seemed like everyone in attendance was dressed up in one way or another.
Organization: Shambhala was a mixed bag on the organization side. They did a really great job of keeping on schedule and creating a magical vibe. They really went the extra mile to ensure their porta-potties were well lit by adding an LED light above each pod. The porta-potties even had a fancy ventilation system which I had never seen before. Unfortunately, Shambhala did not have enough porta-potties in high traffic areas, which led to lines that took up to 15 minutes to get through. Lines like this give attendees an excuse to pee inside the fairgrounds, so by the last day of the festival there were areas that had an unfortunate smell.
My only other complaint is about Shambs’ decision to use paper wristbands. We wear festival wristbands as a symbol to show that we were a part of something awesome. These wristbands unite us festivalgoers throughout the year as we count down the days until next year. Using a paper wristband that doesn’t last very long simply robs us of these connections because we take them off the instant we leave the fairgrounds, or they disintegrate a few days later.
Food: Shambhala offered a wide variety of food dishes for its attendees. You could have Thai food, wraps, gyros, tacos, ice cream, as well as the usual festival staples. The food at Shambhala was averaged 20-40% higher than you would pay at an American festival. An average meal costs $10-$14 without a drink. Higher minimum wage and the fact that the vendors have to travel explains the difference in cost, but food prices that high really changed the way I will approach the festival next year.
One of the things that makes Shambhala so unique is the fact that it’s a dry festival (no alcohol can be brought in or sold). I didn’t really notice a change in vibe from the other festivals, but it did make it seem special when someone would offer you a black market beer.
Art: Shambhala had hundreds of great little art pieces that all added up into a magic wonderland to explore. They even brought in an art installation from Burning Man that was a kaleidoscope you could walk into.
Greening: Shambahala was a really clean festival and did a great job of providing proper trash/recycling receptacles. I was very impressed with how well the attendees did at picking up after themselves. The venue remained clean until about 4am at which point partying took over. The next morning the crowd did a pretty admirable job of helping the cleaning crew get the stages cleaned up for the day.
The most impressive green feat was the fact that the burger vendor was serving beef from the farm that the festival is held on, meaning the cows literally went from pasture to plate without having to be shipped anywhere.
Overall: Shambhala is one of the best festivals you could ever go to. The scenery and weather are absolutely beautiful, there is a river to hang out in all day, the people are wonderful, and the stages are visionary; this list could go on forever. Shambhala is going to get four and a half stars. They have to do better with the bathrooms because we do not pay to wait in line. Once they do this, and maybe even upgrade the wristbands, Shambhala will be a perfect festival.