You can tell a lot about a music festival by its opening moments. For our Thursday night entrance to the Shambhala Music Festival near Salmo, B.C. that meant enduring a gruelling search reminiscent of Cultural Revolution-era Chinese Red Army members hunting for tell-tale signs of counter-revolutionaries.
A security guard ordered all our gear out of the car.
"I know you have weed," said the young man watching out for illicit items. "It's not a big deal. Just admit it and I'll let you in." It was comforting to know the crew was taking the safety of partiers so seriously, but the approach of the guard was a bit unnerving.
"Hey, I've read that book," he said, catching sight of the autobiography of a Chinese official who had spent years translating for Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai. I couldn't believe, of the soon-to-be 11,000 rave-fuelled souls on the property, probably the only person who had actually read this particular hardcover was the one tasked with searching my car.
His attitude totally changed and he began to apologize. The crystal-clear reflection of the way Shambhala manufactures mind-blowing idiosyncrasies was just the first of many unique moments of connection over the course of the Aug. 7-10 music festival.
Now enjoying the event for the third time, Langley resident Cody Cameron used the festival as an opportunity to give back to a DJ he says made a big impact on his life. The 23 year old creates custom shoe art and then presents the products to his favourite electronic music artists.
"I buy the shoes; I paint on them; I work with the artists' managers to get sizes if necessary," he said, sitting outside the artist camping area clutching a box containing a pair of Vans for Skrillex. "He's one of the main reasons why I'm even part of this."
Shambhala can be equally as important for the talent who play the fest. It's basically summer camp for DJs, and this laid-back environment is often the perfect space for swapping music tips or developing collaborations. In the VIP area, American and British producers compared notes on Ableton Live plug-ins and UK vinyl cutters, before their sets Saturday.
This is the second time KOAN Sound has played Shambhala and the Bristol group's Jim Bastow says it's good to be back.
"There's been a few little changes," he said, "but the main one is we're playing the Village this time around. So it's sort of a big step up from what we did last time, in terms of size and sound." He said he was more than pleased with the audio coming from PK Sound's speakers.
"They've got their new line arrays, the Trinity," he explained. "I feel there's much more clarity in the mids and the highs now."
His co-conspirator, Will Weeks, said he was impressed with the way organizers managed to blend a kind, hippie vibe with insane production techniques. "It's all just probably like the best we've ever seen at a festival," he said, in a chipper British tone.
The boys of Terravita lamented the fact that Shambhala is more of an anomaly than the rule of thumb. "This place is amazing," said vocalist and songwriter Jon Spero. "There's no festival like this on Earth."
Chris Barlow, the group's main DJ, said Shambhala's uniqueness has a lot to do with the fact that it isn't easy to get to. "It's not near any big cities," he pointed out. "The people that got here mean it."
Terravita producer Matt Simmers said Shambhala is such a watershed moment it informs the rest of their performances. "It's one of the few gigs you want to make sure you record every year," he said. "So many people have such an amazing time here that it just becomes so special."
Police said they were "very happy to report that there were no major crashes involving Shambhala" this year, as they racked up 104 drug seizure files for substances including pot, MDMA, ketamine, LSD, mushrooms, hash oil, cocaine, shatter, steroids, and crystal meth.
A couple dozen people were charged with possession of a controlled substances and two with trafficking. More than 60 vehicles were impounded for traveling at least 40 km/h over the speed limit, authorities noted. But most importantly: "We are very happy that everyone arrived home safe this year," RCMP Sgt. John Ferguson of West Kootenay traffic services said in a release.
Looking back, Lodewijk Flutter (aka Bakermat, a Sunday headliner at the Pagoda stage), said Shambhala lived up to his high hopes. "I really expected it to be one big hippie village with all sorts and kinds of people -- and it turned out it was exactly that," he said.
"The thing I really loved about it was that at Shambhala, it doesn't matter how you look, what you wear and who you are. Everyone's there to have a good time and to dance the way they want to dance."
He was pleased with how engaged the crowd was, including during one particular moment of spontaneity. "I was playing a tech house track," he recalled. "It was without any vocals or anything, so I had a lot of room to play. My saxophone player then joined me and we improvised and ended up making the track sound like something else."
Flutter came away from the festival thinking Shambhala is a place with no room for embarrassment or shame. "I would definitely love to come back to Shambhala," he said. "It's a very unique festival, something I've never, ever seen before. I met no negative or angry people on the festival site, only people that were having a good time."
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