This month, Shambhala Music Festival took place along the serene shores of Salmo River Ranch, located not far from the U.S./Canada border. The festival, known for its stages rooted deep within the trees, celebrated its 20th birthday while a blazing wildfire threatened to destroy the very grounds many attendees call home each year. It was shocking and unreal to think that what is, in my opinion, one of best festivals in Northern and Southern America, could be threatened by Mother Nature herself. Thankfully, the fires that burned throughout British Columbia all summer took a sudden turn away from the farm at the last minute, allowing the music to go on.
Fortunately, despite low visibility and a serious emotional rollercoaster due to the possibility of a complete festival shutdown, the good heavily outweighed the bad this year, causing us to rule Shambhala Music Festival’s 20th Anniversary a raging success. Check out Shambhala’s most memorable highlights and heartbreaks of 2017 below:
Festival Staff’s Consistent and Careful Communication With Festivalgoers
The threat of the McCormick Creek wildfire threatened to unravel a year’s worth of planning and thousands of dollars’ worth of improvements in order to destroy a place that is as sacred as it is beautiful. Fortunately, festival staff calmly gave attendees a rundown of the pre-evacuation notice that had been issued throughout the area prior to entry and informed everyone that they would do everything in their power to prevent a major tragedy. The Shambhala Music Festival App was the go-to for all live updates, including fire watch. The festival staff remained calm, while explaining that everyone may need to leave at a moment’s notice, and that they would only evacuate if they deemed it necessary and in the interest of safety for attendees and the public.
High Tide at the River
Salmo River, one of the area’s most sought-after watering holes, took a serious beating in years past. Drought plagued the river for many years, until this winter’s serious snowfall blessed British Columbia. The river was the highest that it has been in years, creating an oasis to beat the heat throughout the daytime. It’s tradition to head down to the water’s edge with friends (or make new ones once you’ve begun to float) sporting anything from this year’s new bikini to your birthday suit, while listening to the music blare from the Living Room. Many decide to bring giant blow-ups and float alone, or with a group of their favorite buddies from the top, all the way downstream. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
Ivy Lab at The Grove, Perkulat0r at The AMPitheatre, and Bleep Bloop’s Monday Morning Performance
Ivy Lab’s performance at the Grove Friday night left a lasting impression in everyone’s minds, as we rushed between stages to catch Perkulat0r over at the AMPitheatre. Luckily, the fires did not stop Bleep Bloop from performing Monday morning (or what I considered Sunday night), to a crowd of very happy rain dancers.
Mad Zach and Shaun Frank at the Pagoda Stage Sunday Night
Shaun Frank rocked the Pagoda Stage with his grimy beats and a pop-up tribute to REZZ, who was unable to attend after the fire evacuation warnings on Saturday evening. If you stuck around into the wee hours of the night for sunrise, you were baptized by Mad Zach’s crowd-pleasing sonic bass.
The Fractal Forest
Let’s not forget about the Fractal Forest (which is a no-photography zone, so you’ll have to make the trek to see it yourself next year). Generally, you need to know that if you enter The Fractal, you will get lost for about an hour, so just go with it. The faces of Chewie and the gang float above you as you dance, with light seeming to reflect off each tree.
Every Single Performance at The Village
For this year’s 20th Year Anniversary, The Village Stage received some serious upgrades. Its wooden platforms elevated into the air to allow every person in the crowd to feel as though they were on stage themselves. Artists such as NGHTMRE, Datsik, Pigeon Hole, Jauz, Terravita, Excision, Slushii, Z-Trip, Downlink, Tha Funk Junkie, DJ Anger and many more doused the crowd in bass that shook you to your very core, courtesy of the PK Sound System that originated at The Village Stage. Many of these artists even stepped up to perform twice after hearing that many artists would be unable to join the festival on Sunday. Go Team!
Black Tiger Sex Machine’s Debut Shambhala Set, Followed by Ephwurd’s Set at the Pagoda (The “Official Day One” of Shambhala)
Black Tiger Sex Machine took over the legendary Pagoda stage on Friday evening (which by the way, got an epic makeover), and was immediately followed by the popular duo Ephwurd (Datsik & Bais Haus). If you didn’t catch these sets and you were in attendance, I’m not sure what you were doing. Ephwurd murdered the Pagoda, as member Datsik exclaimed over the mic that the duo was about to break the typical house vibes at the stage with mind-boggling bass and heavy drops.
The Pagoda Stage’s Makeover
The Pagoda, known for it’s three-tier madhouse of festival tunes, got a complete makeover. Improvements included a completely rebuilt stage with bigger shadow screens and an even badder brand-new PK Sound System. Oh, and did I mention lasers?
The Party Will Go On, Go On
ill.Gates took the stage Saturday after news broke that the festival was facing an early closure due to the out-of-control blaze that had jumped the river close by, instructing us to pray for rain. So we did. The Village hosted Stylust Beats, Dilated Peoples, Subvert (PK Sound’s CEO, and profoundly down-to-earth music maker), The Funk Hunters and Datsik, who summoned up the heavy bass as everyone partied into the morning, long after the sun made an appearance. We would not leave ‘home’ until we had completely exhausted ourselves and crammed five days of partying into just two nights. Completely exhausted, I wandered back to my tent set under a large tree to sleep it off before preparing to head back to California a few days too early.
“THE RAIN DANCE WORKED, THE FESTIVAL IS BACK ON!”
Early Sunday morning as I was cuddled up in my sleeping bag, battling the fatigue and sadness that had washed over me at the notice of evacuation, I suddenly heard the beloved sound of rain against my tent. “The same thing happened last year on Sunday,” I thought as I rolled back over and went back to sleep. Good thing I packed a poncho. It didn’t occur to me that this meant our rain dance had worked! A little later on Sunday morning, attendees were slowly shuffling about, packing their gear back up when suddenly, throughout the campgrounds, the battle siren rang out one last time:
“THE RAIN DANCE WORKED, THE FESTIVAL IS BACK ON!”
Screams of joy shook the forest grounds in waves as people in the campgrounds echoed the news to their neighbors. I have never heard a louder cheer come from a single crowd in my life. The previous night had brought a heavy rain from the Canadian clouds, protecting the motherland of Salmo River Ranch. The approximately 17,000 festivalgoers in attendance began whooping and hollering. As I laid hunkered within the walls of my own tent, unable to grasp the fact that this beautiful festival may have come to an early end, I let out a whoop of my own.
Shambhala Music Festival continuously shows its attendees serious respect and love, and this year was no different. Shambhala is a place where everyone comes together with a sense of community that I have yet to find at any other event; a place that is driven with love and kindness; a playground for adults, where artists party in the crowd with their fans, and every soul you meet has the potential to become a lifelong friend. The serious decisions that Shambhala Music Festival had to face this year, and the grace in which it was all handled with, puts them on top of the festival throne once again.
The Smoke and Ash Falling From the Skies
Despite careful festival planning (and trust us, it takes a great deal of work and dedication to pull off a successful festival year after year), planners and staff cannot control the natural elements. A dense cloud of smoke descended on the valley, resulting in the normally breathtaking view of the Selkirk Mountains that surround Shambhala to be completely obscured as visibility grew continuously worse. Ash fell from the sky causing the lush forest trees to become “snowy.” Festival staff encouraged attendees to use dust masks and warned people with asthma to monitor their conditions.
Staff monitored the situation and remained in contact with local authorities as fire fighters attempted to control the flames. Medical staff passed out free inhalers to anyone with asthma who needed help, and invited anyone who needed some extra O2 to stop in for an oxygen session. Staff maintained a calm demeanor as they helped ease the worries of those on the farm. Luckily, by the time I hit the AMPitheatre on Thursday evening for um.. and Skii Tour after The Grove’s opening ceremony, the thoughts of a fire were shoved successfully into the back of my mind.
Sunday’s Expected Cancellation Causing Last Minute Lineup Changes
Unfortunately, the flames, possible evacuation and early cancellation notice meant that many artists that were scheduled to arrive on Sunday did not make it to their stages. Included in these artists were famed Canadian duo Adventure Club and the beautiful and talented REZZ.
Luckily, fans got a special opening set by Terravita who performed in place of Adventure Club. Terravita received a special sound package from Adventure Club prior to their second set on Sunday, and opened with the duo’s specially curated tracks. Shaun Frank even played a few of REZZ’s tracks during his own performance on Sunday night.
The shocking amount of artists who stepped up to perform on short notice, and some who even performed two sets at the last minute, embodied the spirit of Shambhala: everyone pitching together to make something epic happen. Sometimes, the best adventures and sets are those that haven’t been planned.
Sunday’s Seriously Emotional Rollercoaster
Sunday morning festivalgoers received the amazing news: the festival would go on! However, many people had already packed up and headed out … prematurely. The evacuation order given by the festival stated that attendees would have all day Sunday to evacuate, as a precaution to the safety of their attendees, after the local government stated that the fire was growing in size and speed, jumping the river just eight kilometers from the ranch. When faced with a threat to their people, festival organizers decided that risking the lives and safety of anyone in attendance would absolutely not do. The call to cancel the final day of Shambhala was made, and understandably so.
But let’s not forget that this particular weekend proved to be a fairly odd one with Mother Nature threatening a festival on the East Coast (U.S.A.) as well. Moonrise Festival was also shut down a day early due to thunderstorms and later reopened, just like Shambhala.
Luckily, after Sunday morning’s heavy drizzle, the fire was deemed “under containment, and no longer a threat” by local fire authorities, and Shambhala’s organizers decided to that the show must go on. Yippee!
After the sun went down on the final day, I was able to chat with one of the Pagoda’s stage managers, Benny Freebound, about his thoughts on Shambhala’s 20th Anniversary. He reflects on Shambhala’s 20 years and 2017’s epic party below:
Benny, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. First off, what role do you play during the festival at the Pagoda stage?
I am the night time shift supervisor and showtime stage manager.
The Pagoda’s Makeover is pretty epic,. Everything is bigger and better! What have some of the challenges been when working with a new stage design?
It has been quite the ride getting the new Pagoda up and running like a well oiled machine. The entire team has been working night and day to get this ready for showtime. The build team has been working for many months to make sure the structure was ready in time and that it passed the engineers occupancy standards. Once the structure was built the visuals and lighting teams worked around the clock to develop custom content for the new stage dimensions to ensure that the Pagoda looked amazing and that the content was mapped to the new design. As for show time, we had to figure out the new systems and where to staff the new structure to make sure that we adhered to the new occupancy regulations while keeping the smooth flow of performers, dj’s, and dancers on and off the stage.
Shambhala had a few hurdles to overcome this year. How do you think these were handled over all? Do you think the crowd’s energy changed each day?
I think that Shambhala handled these hurdles very well. The primary factor of every decision was safety of both attendees and employees. Forest fires are fast moving and can be unpredictable. The CEO of Shambhala even went to the point of taking a private plane above the fires to assess the risk himself. Everyone wanted to keep the show going and once it was determined that it was ok to do so, everyone picked up the pieces and worked together to keep an amazing event happening Sunday night. Betty and Kora have a great, more in depth article, about the struggles here.
The Pagoda is home to more than a few major headliners every year. How did you think each performance went? Was there one that sticks out in your mind?
Everyone killed it, the level of talent that Robbie books is incredible. Everyone is so professional that I think I would be more surprised if I didn’t see a set that was really amazing. I did however really enjoy The Destructo sunrise sermon where Chris Lorenzo and Dj Soup jumped on for an incredible b2b2b set. Shaun Frank, S2, Justin Martin, Dj Soup, Chris Lorenzo, Chuurch, and Slushii also had great sets. I don’t get to catch most sets because I’m running around trying to take care of things but I was lucky enough to get to catch a good portion of most of those.
Besides facilitating the performances on stage, what are your other responsibilities?
Other than that I great the artists, check in with them to see what they need both technically and hospitality wise, speak with them or their T.M about lighting, cryo, or visual needs. I check in with their need about people or guests on stage or lack their of. Help to coordinate media teams both of individual artists, teams, and the festivals media team. Speak with the Dance and aerialist troops about what they might need and coordinate their needs with the visuals, rigging, and lighting teams. Have correspondence with the security and stage keepers about what the stage and area needs and what levels of clearance certain areas have. Make sure employees sign in and out and that they have breaks and food vouchers. In general , just make sure that all the departments and artists are happy and that the show goes off without a hitch. The stage director, Robbie Campbell, puts together such an amazing team and working with the likes of PK sound, the visuals team (Robbie Campbell Art Inc., Leigh Powless, Cam Mcneill, Jacob Tilgner and Ben Leonard art), Slick Lasers, Corinthian lighting, and Shambhala Music Festival makes my job very rewarding.
Outside of Shambhala, I hear you’re quite the musician yourself. Do you feel like your involvement on the festival track inspires and motivates your music?
It absolutely does, I feel so very blessed to be surrounded by the best in the business. Having some of the most cutting edge artists playing at the Pagoda every year always leaves me dripping with inspiration every time I leave the farm.
What made Shambhala’s 20th year special for you?
The amount of work that everyone put into it and the adversary that everyone had to overcome. I’m so proud of everyone and the whole SMF team. Forest Fires are no joke and everyone came together in the face of a possible disaster and made this years Shambhala one that no one will soon forget. Thanks for taking the time to ask me some questions, all the best ❤
Festival tickets for Shambhala Music Festival 2018 are scheduled to go on sale September 1st.
Last year, tickets sold out within 24 hours, so don’t sleep on this one. Tickets will be available here.