That Shambhala Magic Keeps Pulling Me Back In

photos by Don Idio of Festival Squad

It’s no secret that festivals come and festivals go. Here in North America, we’ve seen several festivals close their gates for a year or close the doors of the festival entirely and indefinitely. Trying to figure out the secret to what keeps festivals alive is like trying to find a treasure chest under a rainbow. If festival organizers could figure out what keeps festivals alive and thriving, they would continue on that path for as long as they could.

For Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, British Colombia, they’ve figured out how to keep festival goers coming back for the past 21 years. If you’re not impressed just yet, now may be a good time to mention that Shambhala is a dry festival (read: there are no alcohol sponsors or bars… anywhere). What is noteworthy about this is that alcohol sales and sponsorships pump a lot of money into a festival.

This was the second time I headed North and across the border to attend this Canadian favorite. From Thursday to Monday afternoon, my ears were filled with amazing music, my stomach full of delicious Thai, and my heart overfull with joy from the vibes of the farmily. There are so many things that make Shambhala a special and magical festival, but they are so hard to capture in photos or in words. To understand what truly happens at Shambhala, one must attend and experience the venue for themselves. For now, I will try my best to pinpoint why this festival is my favorite in North America.

The People… Are Weird.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the number one reason why I love Shambhala so much is people who attend. If you attend any amount of festivals each year, you know that you’ll run into strange things or people around every corner. You’ll see lots of glitter, maybe some guys and gals dressed as bananas, and maybe even a crazy wig or two. At Shambhala, you’ll run into strange things and people nearly every second. Groups dressed as the elderly (complete with walkers), a group of people playing Twister in the middle of the crowded dance floor on Saturday night, or heck, even a festival goer with $400 worth of poutine in a wheelbarrow for a friends birthday (shoutout to that girl). This strangeness is one that should be appreciated and loved. Every person at Shambhala welcomes you into their Squad with a smile, a hug or a little hand high five. At Shambhala, grown men aren’t afraid to dress as fairies. 

A group of strangers that aren’t afraid to join in on a day-time train ride (by the way, WHO BUILT THIS?!)…

And I ran into about four people that were proud owners of stuffed pet unicorns. Each of these unicorns had a name and a story about what they were up to the night before. Sorry, but nothing tops what you’ll find at Shambhala.

The Stages Are A Fixture

How many festivals do you know never break down their stages? My guess is few, or maybe one. Shambhala is the one festival that I know of that does not take down their stages. That’s right, the stages live on the farm year round. What makes this an important point to why Shambhala is unique, its that the stages have been carefully curated over the years. The Pagoda Stage, for example, is a stage that is mirrored after a house. Yes, it is as tall and as wide and also has rooms inside of it that act as a backstage area and windows where performers can stand and dance. This stage is kept up 365 days out of the year. Stages of this magnitude cannot and should not be broken down for just one weekend.

The beloved Village stage located through the forest is a stage that resembles a jungle. Water flows through the side of the stage during the day and the entire area glows at night. Again, this stage is not only grand and detailed throughout, but it lives and breathes as the trees and vegetation does throughout the festival.

Holy Sound

I cannot tell you much about sound systems or how they work, but I can tell you that the sound systems they have at Shambhala Music Festival will rattle your soul. Headquartered in Calgary, PK Sound is considered to be the gold standard of the music world. When you see their logo, you know you’re in for a ride. I distinctly remember on Friday night turning to my friend and saying “Do you think these earplugs are even doing anything?”. While this may not seem ideal, hearing the music in a 360 setting and feeling the bass move you is one of the best feelings ever. Each stage carried PK Sound systems. Shoutout to Shambhala for knowing how to deliver what the people want.

Secret Stages?

Down the Rabbit Hole you go… or wait… whats that? If you were lucky enough to stumble upon a hidden stage, good for you. If not, come back in 2019 and keep your eyes peeled.


My hat goes off to Shambhala for really caring about the land and the people. This year, Shambhala embraced the idea of ending single-use plastic straws. For those of you curious, the alternative was paper straws. Making this switch is a big deal for the environment and I love that Shambhala has been my first festival this year (out of 10) to do it. As mentioned earlier, Shambhala has been one of the few festivals to have a totally dry policy. No alcohol is sold on the land and no alcohol can be brought on the land. This results in a remarkably cleaner festival. There is hardly any trash on the dancefloor or anywhere at the festival outside of the trash bins. Shambhala seems to have really figured out how to be both fun and conscious.

Lazy River

After a long night of dancing, sleeping in sounds like a dream. Unfortunately, at Shambhala, that’s not entirely possible with the heat. The next best thing? The Salmo River. The majority of the festival-goers will head down to the Salmo River with giant floaties to catch some sun (or some zzz’s in the shade) and hang with the rest of the fam. Its next to the Living Room stage, perfect to cool off and a good way to spend the afternoon. You can often hear a “woooooo” wave starting from this area of the festival, and it’ll progress into the campgrounds.

Harm Reduction

Shambhala is hands down, without a doubt, the very best festival in the world when it comes to harm reduction. At Shambhala, you have the ability to test your drugs courtesy of Ankors, as a woman you can camp in an all women’s safe space, or if you feel overstimulated from anything you may have taken, you can head to the Sanctuary. These spaces make a huge difference when it comes to harm reduction. Ankors has a line day or night outside of its booth and it constantly flashes messages about what is being found in substances and helps to describe the packaging they’re in. The Women’s Safe Space is for anyone who identifies as a female who may need a place to get away from it all and not feel threatened or violated. Lastly, the Sanctuary is a space that is created for those who need a spot to hang during an overwhelming psychedelic experience. Inside you can find coloring books, comfy places to lounge and staff ready for anything you need. A guy at the festival told me a story about a friend of his that went into the Sanctuary at one point in the evening. The next day she came back to camp and said she had fallen asleep in the Sanctuary and was just returning. The fact that the staff left her comfortable and asleep in a safe space all night is unheard of at any other festival or event. Shambhala takes the cake in this category.

All in All?

Shambhala is my favorite festival in North America. It cares about the land, it cares about the people, the vibes are out of this world, and the lineup is never something that you could guess. Want to challenge me on this? Head to Shambhala’s 22nd installment next year. See you on the farm!


Check out our entire gallery of Shambhala photos HERE.

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