Every year I step onto the Salmo River Ranch for Shambhala (This was my fifth consecutive year) I'm amazed and inspired. It's not just all the great music – though the amount of high-quality, incredibly creative music is near-baffling – but how Shambhala brings the best out of everyone involved. The organizers seemingly outdo themselves every year with new instalments, a keen eye for talent and various tweaks, small and large, to the well-oiled machine that is Shambhala. The Djs, visual artists, dancers, hoopers, etc, all bring their A-games, bringing out their finest beats, strokes and moves to the funky proceedings. And my fellow attendees – their willingness to let the weirdest parts of themselves shine and bathe in bass makes me smile. Seeing all the little pieces of oddness people have found for themselves, the novelty we all gift to each other as we traverse the four days on the farm, is unlike anything my imagination can come close to. I am astounded every year and this year was no different. Please Shambhala, Shambhalovelies, please don't ever stop astounding me.
And now, some stray observations from another successful year. These are the memories, musical or otherwise, that managed to battle through the smoky blur and etch themselves into my memory permanently.
EVERYONE HAD TO DEAL WITH THE FIRES. WELL DONE, EVERYONE.
There have been many stories about the Sunday cancellation/evacuation/cancellation of the evacuation. The good homies at Betty & Kora just put out a great breakdown of the whole thing. There's nothing more to be said on the matter. However, what is becoming more interesting to me is hearing stories from attendees of how different people and camps came together and dealt with the impending chaos in their own ways. My campmates sat down Saturday afternoon for a very well moderated meeting that included a time to share our favourite moments of the first couple of days of Shambhala, in an effort to keep spirits high. This is when we found that two of our Sham-fam had got engaged on Friday night! In the same spot at the Pagoda where two other members of the fam had had their wedding ceremony a couple of years earlier. I'm sure we would have found out soon enough, but to discover this beautiful thing in the midst of what kind of felt like impending doom was a deeply moving moment. One that I'm sure no one who experienced it will forget anytime soon.
THE RIVER OF SMOKE
This is an untouched photo of the river on Thursday, in the midst of what would prove to be the worst bout of wildfire smoke all weekend. It's burned into my head forever now – the relentless partiers continuing unabated in front of what looks like the bloody apocalypse. At this moment it felt like the smoke would never let up, that this is just how life was going to be, gasping for fresh air in between dance moves. Obviously it wasn't like that, crisp air wasn't that far away, but it's a pretty good summation of the most challenging parts of this Shambhala20.
It finally happened. After nearly three years of listening to this guy, telling anyone who listen how badly I wanted to see him and two consecutive years of putting him on my official Shambhala Wishlist, I finally got to witness Polish Ambassador in all his dancetacular glory, appropriately in the warm, colourful embrace of The Grove. The good dude's energy was as infectious as his delicious, earthy dance beats. Armoured in an incredible yellow suit and blue bow-tie, the Ambassador bounced behind the decks, feeding off the energy of the jam-packed dance floor, and throwing it back with just as much force. Running through a career-spanning set of originals and remixes, the groovy dude from Calfornia had a smile on every face within ear shot as the crowd dealt with the inevitable ass-shaking that comes from listening to the head honcho of Jumpsuit Records drop his funky shit. I've used his “Careless Whisper” remix to get a number of people into the music of Polish and getting to hear it proper on that incredible system in the Grove is something I'll never ever forget. VICTORY IN THE GROVE!
I cannot remember this guy's name. This is the gentleman on the left in this picture. (How many names can you learn and forget in a weekend?) He gave us his name, all his social media hand and his plan to build his brand. If you know who he is, please let me know. I don't remember the specifics of his plan but I know whatever it is, I want to be a part of it. My compatriot and I were sitting by the river (Which will from here on in be referred to as OLD MAN RIVS) shortly before we met this legend. We were just standing against the fence, staring aimlessly into the smoky abyss, when we both caught the site of this man emerging like he was being birthed from the river. He stretched his hands up, looked up at the world and we saw it, the big gimmick - his testicles, just his testicles, hanging out of his tiny neon underwear. We were mesmerized as we watched him traverse the rocky bottom of the river as he crossed the river with all the grace of a drunk six year-old. We hoped and wished for his safe passage as he swayed to and fro, basking in his reflective triumph as he reached the other side shockingly verticle. Meeting him later in the day was a true joy. (Not pictured: His very much still-hanging-out balls.) Also, as a little bonus, a friend pointed out a post on a Shambhala Facebook thread that I'm just going to leave here for your consideration. “Guy in the river with a full on mullet had his balls hanging out of his speedo. He would walk around the river pretending he didn't notice it and creeped people out. Everybody thought it was hilarious but then he did a batwing with his nuts put a cherry on them, flipped the cherry in the air off his ball sack and dove and caught it in his mouth.”
Watching Haywyre go to work, laying into creating, is something truly special. The musical phenom made his return to Shambhala after his debut last year. I spent a whole goddamned year hearing from so many people about how I blew it by not being there when he smashed the Village. Luckily he was back this year and I got to witness his funky, spacey, jazzy, jaw-droppingly creative music first hand. I had someone remark to me that it was a bit too technical for their tastes, they had expected something harder and a bit nastier, but there was enough of that stuff at the Village this year. Haywyre is a guy who seems keenly aware of the special moment that a live set can be – the only truly new ground to be tread is in the experience, right? Do yourself and see Haywyre if you get yourself a chance. In fact, I'm going to have to see him again ASAP because I had to leave before he finished because I had to get to...
Established as one of Ghetto Funk's most consistent purveyours of seriously creative, wobbly-ass bass music, WBBL finally made his Shambhala debut as he appropriately manned the front spot in the legendarily funky Fractal Forest for a Sunday night smashing. With his set being up in the air until mid-afternoon in the wake of those damned fires, WBBL hit the stage full of piss and vinegar (That's a thing people say, right? Am I imagining this disgusting saying?), fuelled by the turbo rush of renewed life and converted an audience largely made up of souls who'd never heard much of WBBL before this emotional Sunday night. He came out hard, flexing by choice cuts from varying genres but when he hit that drum 'n' bass, the set reached another level. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a big drum 'n' bass guy, but if all was as funky and fun as WBBL's, I might be listening to it more.The number of people who have told me WBBL was their “surprise of the festival” - you know, that act you find completely unknowingly and you're instantly a fan of – is pretty astounding. I wasn't so much surprised as I was inspired. It's an amazing thing to witness a step in evolution. If WBBL was a Pokèmon, he got touched with the Fractal Stone and jumped to a whole new level right then and there. I may be exaggerating, but it really felt like that. He's said that the release of his set is indeed forthcoming, but until then he's gifted the world his set closer, a burning rework of Childish Gambino's “Redbone.”
The sight of people lined up, waiting to get their substances tested makes me as happy as anything of the amazing things Shambhala puts together every year. (Tied is the sight of the drug board filled with results and descriptions.) It's astonishing how far ahead of the curve on taking care of their attendees the people are. With first-class medical staff, an incredible sanctuary space, a proper female-identifying safe space, the aforementioned drug-testing, Shambhala has built an environment that lets its inhabitants truly let go and explore the edges of themselves and the world around them. If you slip too close to an edge, someone will be there – on either side – to catch you or just help you restabilize. Maybe you found the edge by dancing too hard and forgetting to get that life-giving h2o into yourself – they can help with that too. You don't have to to go far – hell, just a province over – to see just how advanced this whole culture is compared to similar hubs. Everyone involved with the harm reduction at Shambhala needs to be commended and lauded.
THE PORTAPOTTY SITUATION
Can-Fans. Let's talk about 'em. I maintain that this whole thing, all this great fun everyone has on the Farm, would not be possible without the smell-busting power of Can-Fans. I've heard tales of life before them, and I don't care to hear any more. The ability to go into an outhouse, at 3am, in the midst of a massive party, and not have to worry that you're going to smell horror is a gift whose worth can never be accurately stated. And all of that hilarious/tragic/magical outhouse art? Well, if the smell lingered, no one would be able to stay enough to create or enjoy that art. Legit, how many great things did you see on the walls of the outhouses you hit? Note: They also provide a welcoming breeze in the midst of the strangling, sweaty days.
BRYX'S “BRUSH YOUR TEETH/DENTAL PLAN” REMIX
Honestly, Bryx's Thursday set went by in the blur of adrenalin that comes with the first few frantic hours of a festival – especially Shambhala, where a vast majority of Thursday attendees had been there for 24+ hours. But the moment when thousands of people crammed into the AMP realized the homie Bryx was dropping beloved children's classic “Brush Your Teeth” by guy-no-one-hates Raffi, and the singalong started, will be forever etched in my mind. But when it got blended with Homer's unforgettable “Dental plan, Lisa needs braces” line, things got taken up to a whole other level. It also led to the all-important question: Why don't we hear more Simpsons samples at raves?! There are any number of songs from the show that lend themselves to party-rocking remixes. How about “Flaming Moe's” as an opener or closer? What if someone rocked a drum 'n' bass “See My Vest”? Some chunked-up, funkified “We Do (The Stonecutter's Song)”? Guaranteed good times with Simpsons music. People would love it. Can't go wrong.
The early-entry line at Shambhala is a roller coast of emotions and sensations. Sure you're there with your friends and fellow festival goers, all sharing in the same goal, the same longing to get the party started. But, if you're among the hardcores, you're waiting in the shadeless, dusty dust (Yes I mean to have 'dust' twice there) for more than 24 hours. That's a long time to wait for anything, even the glory of Shambhala. This year though, Shambhala thought it appropriate to reward the soldiers of love waiting in that line with a Line Party. 6 Djs – one from each of the festival stages – took the spot behind the decks, giving everyone a taste of the sonic delights that each stage was ready to unleash. Rewarding dedicated early-arrivers with a blast of sonic energy to power them through the next morning, as they sprint through the gate like so many flocking Gallimimus through the valley on Isla Nublar, on their way to the perfect camping spot, is a top-shelf stroke of genius. Hard to say if this was a one-off as part of the 20bhala celebrations, but with the number of early-entrants seemingly growing every year, we can only hope this becomes a dusty new tradition. Also, big props to Lefy for that incredibly wobbly hard house System of a Down remix. Holy shit that was good. Where can I hear that? Can someone tell me? I really need to hear it that. Note to organizers: Clearly this new-fangled stage should be called the Dust Bowl.