Every year the Shambhala Music Festival hosts a five-day, city-sized bacchanal at the Salmo River Ranch, routinely attracting close to 15,000 people to the remote locale from destinations all over the world.
With twenty hours of music playing daily, six stages and plentiful spin-off activities, it’s the largest and best-attended event in all of the Kootenays.
This year’s festival, which ran from August 5 to 10, was the biggest in the festival’s 18-year history. The Star asked some of the participants, volunteers and workers in attendance what keeps them coming back every year.
Earl and Wendy
Earl and Wendy have been attending Shambhala for 12 years. The pair brought along the skull of a Shambhala bear, which they keep on a walking stick, and Earl works as a greeter.
They were camped out in front of their RV, watching hordes of festival-goers walk by, when the Star interrupted their lunch.
“This is the happiest place I’ve ever been to,” said Earl. “Everyone is happy and I haven’t seen a fight or argument, nothing in all the years I’ve been coming.”
Wendy said she likes seeing young people have fun and dress up, though her own costume was conservative comparatively.
“This is about it for me,” she said, motioning to her colourful tights. “I just like seeing everyone, all these young people, having fun. It really is the best place on Earth.”
Ariel and Candice
Ariel and Candice view Shambhala as an opportunity to grow spiritually. Though they appreciate the music, their primary focus was on the workshops being offered.
“We just took a tantric yoga class, and I haven’t had a yoga session that worked that well in…ever,” said Candice. Ariel agreed, saying the festival exceeded her expectations.
“The workshops have been super amazing, super enlightening. The people are so warm here and I’ve learned so much.”
Candice said there’s an indescribable energy at Shambhala.
“Everything coalesces into this awesomeness. Everyone is so connected.”
Austin and Ryan
Austin and Ryan worked on the fire suppression team for the weekend.
On top of putting out spot fires and responding to emergencies, they check in on the festival-goers as they walk by and work alongside the multi-faceted staff team, which includes hundreds of medical and harm reduction staff.
“I’m a member of the Salmo volunteer fire department,” said Austin. “So I have some experience and this was a chance to hang out for a couple days and have a vacation.”
Ryan has been attending for 8 years, and this year he wanted to volunteer to give back to the community.
“It’s just an amazing, magical place. It’s kind of indescribable. I’ve met so many friends out here.”
Craig has always wanted to attend Burning Man, but wasn’t interested in the desert. When he saw pictures of the Shambhala venue he realized it would be a better choice.
“I decided old growth woods would make a better destination.”
And three days in, he was thrilled with his decision.
“I like a lot of the art that’s around, the stage decorations and the amazing buildings. It’s nice to be able to hop between stages to catch whatever attracts your ear.”
But his favourite part was the communal vibe.
“I love the peace to everyone attitude.”
Peter and Polly
Both Polly and Peter had attended the festival before, and said they feel at home while in attendance.
“Shambhala was the first festival I ever went to, and it’s the first place I’ve ever really felt like I belong. I wore what I would normally wear and I blended into the crowd. That’s never happened to me before,” said Polly.
Peter said he has friends from all over Canada he only ever sees at the festival.
“For me it’s about the community and the family I’ve built here. I have friends in Toronto who I only see here on the ranch. It’s like a family reunion.”
Polly was effusive about the festival: “Everyone should try it at least once.”
Jeremy and Stella
Sunshine Coast and no fixed address
Both Jeremy and Stella were volunteering during the festival while their friends worked, and both were there for the first time.
“I like it being in the Kootenays and the culture you get to experience here,” Jeremy said.
“I also like how it feels like everybody is on a certain level of open love vibe. There’s a love vibration here that seems to set the tone for the event.”
“I feel like I’m home. I really feel like I’m among friends. I’ve found a tribe and it’s vast, plus my playlist is around me at all times. I haven’t listened to my iPod once since I’ve been here.”
Kyle, Gemma, Chris, Alex
The four costumed friends were en route to a show when the Star stopped them. Kyle compared the festival to Sasquatch, saying it had more of a “hard party vibe”.
He praised the music, the ambitious stage designs and the special effects. But all agreed the welcoming, inclusive feel of the festival was the main attraction.
“It’s like a community here,” said Gemma. “There’s so much stuff to do, like shopping and hula hooping and yoga. I love that.”
Chris said the event was an attempt to grow personally.
“I’m just trying to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m pretty introverted and quiet normally in my every day life, so this was a way for me to try something new.”
Aaron was invited by a friend to come along to the festival, and was thrilled by his surroundings.
“My friend, his buddy ditched out on him. He knew I like to have a good time so I guess he thought I was the best person to bring along,” he said.
Aaron plans to pay it forward.
And though he loved the concerts, he was most excited by the Kootenay landscape. He was tempted to hike up the mountain nearby, but was dissuaded by his friends.
“The scenery is so beautiful, man. There’s this great energy and great people and great music. It’s just a great scene.”
Naomi has attended the festival many times, and can’t believe how much the harm reduction infrastructure and staffing has improved over the years.
“In the past I often found I was walking around worrying about people’s safety, but now I’m here volunteering and I see how dialed they have it. They’re really on it.”
She said that’s a relief.
“Now I can relax and enjoy myself and know people are well taken care of. The line-up outside the harm reduction tent last night was so long, people taking information and talking with the volunteers.”
Naomi distributed educational material to party-goers as they arrived at the ranch. She said festival-goers have embraced the culture of supporting one another.
“People were asking really good questions, and you can really see the culture’s come to the place where everybody’s taking care of everybody.”
Owen and Emma
Victoria and Vancouver
First-timer Emma volunteered to direct foot traffic for the festival, and was hanging out with festival-goer Owen when the Star chatted with her.
“As you can see, I’ve been sitting on a rock in the sun all day,” she said. “I’m volunteering for a free ticket, and it’s been totally worth it.”
Owen is a more seasoned Shambhala participant, and said it’s the highlight of his year.
“I keep coming back because there’s that spark, that extra something Shambhala has that feels like more than just the music. It’s something about the way people talk, connect, how there’s no boundaries here. I’ve never experienced it any other place. Honestly, there’s no place I’d rather be.”