I am not Hunter S. Thompson. And the Nelson Star is not Rolling Stone.
Needless to say, the account of my first visit to a festival of almost mythical proportions will not be Gonzo journalism.
It will take the tone of a 40-year-old mother of three, writing for a local newspaper. My adventure was borderline Gonzo but that’s for me, a few of my close friends and my dust-covered boots to know, not you.
Living in Nelson for 12 years, I’ve spent the last quarter dozen wondering what I was missing over the weekend that the town empties of a whole load of people attending the festival just outside of town.
As a reporter, I don’t like missing out. As a person who likes to have fun, I don’t like missing out. So when the opportunity arose for me to stuff my backpack full of an entirely uninspired wardrobe and head to the mythical land of Shambhala, I got both nervous and excited.
My nerves stemmed from the hype surrounding the music festival that’s garnered worldwide and award-winning attention.
My nerves stemmed from the fact that it’s one of the largest festivals in the world — I haven’t been to a music festival since my 20s. How will I find my way, attending solo, among such a crowd?
And my nerves stemmed from the fact my backpack was stuffed with an entirely uninspired wardrobe.
Fortunately good friends came to my rescue, as is the Shambhala way. The red tutu and star-on-the-bum booty shorts were like a teddy bear in a pack full of my closet favourites. Costumer-y isn’t my thing, but I didn’t want to look overly ordinary among the crowd I’d only seen in photographs.
Not a big fan of neon faux fur, face paint (unless you count eyeliner), wigs or tutus, I was relieved to find those dressed-up marvels didn’t make up 90 per cent of attendees as I’d been told.
My “teddy bear” stayed packed and I felt like a million bucks wandering the festival in a cute pink sundress admiring others setting the scene.
And the scene WAS set. My first evening was spent drifting around the massive site transformed from a cattle farm, similar to the one on which I grew up, to a land aptly called Shambhala.
Unified in adult indulgence, strangers gave me high-fives and casual acquaintances from Nelson became long-lost friends full of hugs. I’d heard about Shambha-love but assumed it part of the myth. It’s not. It’s as real as the magic spell Can-Filters cast over porta potties to keep them from smelling.
The love continued as a good friend welcomed me into a luxury camp filled with fine folks and a couch that supported my weary, sweaty body with dust settling into every wrinkle. I put those boots up on a littered coffee table.
As I returned home and the adult indulgence continued with a bowl of Smarties ice cream eaten in bed, I wondered why the philosophy of Shambhala couldn’t extend to every day.
My now-clean body at rest again, I thought back to the boots upon the coffee table. Life is about endurance. Shambhala is a sprint.
While there are lessons to be taken from the festival into regular life, like trying on new personas, trying out new experiences with extreme enthusiasm and trying eight different kinds of poutine all the while surrounded by the positive support of mostly strangers, it’s not possible to Shambhala-de-da every day. This is the ultimate appeal of Shambhala.
There are still locals who’ve never sprinted Shambhala style and some who’ve been in the West Kootenay forever who are trying the festival out for the first time — a worthwhile endeavor, I must say.
I met such person standing in line at the bank machine just the other night. We spoke briefly, both having the words to participate in the post-festival talk that fills the community as much as stragglers leaving the festival.
I have many more words about my time at Shambhala but space to express, just as the duration of the event, is limited. I’ll finish with three things I will remember for next year. (I might go back. Yes, I might.)
1) Bring a headlamp. Duh!
2) Eat breakfast before and carry water for the duration of the dusty drive from the festival. Despite nine hours of sleep and being entirely sober for the trip home, I struggled with my state nonetheless. Coffee doesn’t suffice.
3) And bring a parasol. The moment most fun for me was in Fractal Forest, standing in the “sweet spot” base pounding from my toes to my head and my head to my toes in a mob of ecstatic people, a purple parasol held high in my hand. A loaner, it was super pretty. And, it would have kept the sun off my dusty, sweaty self as I stood in line to pee.
Happy Shambhala. *high five* *hug*
Kirsten Hildebrand is a Nelson Star reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org