What Makes Shambhala So Different?

As the festivals of today become much larger many have become stricter on the freedom of self expression, losing the essence of true festival spirit slightly or altogether.  As commercialization increases in music festivals, and money becomes the most important goal for festival planners, the organization of festivals is no longer oriented around natural enjoyment and happiness of the festivalgoer.

Photo By: Madi Lawton

Photo By: Madi Lawton

After attending Shambhala music festival for the first time from August 4th to the 11th, 2014, in Salmo, British Columbia, many of the festival’s characteristics made me realize an extreme difference between commercial versus more intimate festivals.  The small festival population of Shambhala, at roughly 11,000 people, accompanied by the Shambhala creator’s focus on family and togetherness, places much more trust in the hands of the attendee.  At a temporary gathering, in the heat of the summer, within a completely surrounding wall of mountains, the largest “family reunion” is created.

The intimacy and respectfulness of Shambhala, as compared to much larger and commercial festivals today, allows for slight differences that can make a big difference in the overall experience.  If you are from the States and are planning on ever making the trek to Canada for Shambhala, expect these small, yet hugely impactful distinctions:

Photo By: Madi Lawton

Photo By: Madi Lawton

1.     You can camp wherever you want.

As everyone knows camping festivals provide distinct, organized sections for people to pitch their tents; hardly allowing leeway to air on the side of extreme caution.  At Shambhala, there is quite a higher level of trust between the festival and its attendees.  Entering the Shambhala gates, be prepared to gather your tent and camping supplies and begin your walk into the woods.  While areas for cars are provided, and some people do camp theire for convenience, Shambhala allows everyone to find their perfect spot for establishing a weekend home around the festival’s woodland grounds.  Instead of camping in large fields packed into strict lines, Shambhala offers the freedom of real camping.


2.     Festival grounds remain open all night.

Where larger festivals have a set open and close time, strictly obeying the schedule, Shambhala allows the crowds to meander throughout the grounds all night.  Instead of closing the festival to the people, creating disconnect, Shambhala’s gates are always open generating a sense of welcome and even home.


3.     All of the food is entirely fresh.

Festival food is generally ALWAYS good.  After dancing for days and nights, usually in the heat, let us be honest that anything is bound to taste good.  At a huge festival (while not all food is unhealthy) greasy, quickly prepared, high priced foods are the ones most commonly found.  However at Shambhala the case is the opposite. Although still high priced, Shambhala’s vendors deliver local, freshly grown fruits, vegetables, and meats.  Instead of focusing on delivering food as fast as possible, Shambhala focuses on what is healthy, delicious, and organic for the price (they even provided wooden and biodegradable cutlery)!


4.     Cigarette Recycling!

Generally, anyone that smokes cigarettes at a festival is used to throwing the butts, hopefully sometimes in the trash, but, mostly on the ground.  At Shambhala, guests had the option of customized Shambhala cigarette-butt disposal pouches.  To support everyone’s desire to “leave no trace,” it was extremely rare to see any liter on the ground ANYWHERE, including tiny cigarette-butts.  Within the festival there was also a cigarette receptacle where everyone collected the butts to be sent for recycling; each dollar earned was donated to upkeep of Shambhala’s iconic river where everyone loves to swim.

Photo By: Madi Lawton

Photo By: Madi Lawton

5.     Never-ending positivity, togetherness, understanding.

From the very beginning to the very end, Shambhala brought together a group of complete strangers into a community.  The best way I can personally describe the feeling is: a presence of constant reassurance in the feeling of responsibility for oneself and trust in everyone’s responsibility for one another.  At Shambhala there were no judgments of male versus female, beauty versus ugliness, or worthy versus unworthy; for a weekend we are all just people (and that was one of the most beautiful realizations for me).  The “Shambhalove” as many call it even brings many of the people we met back year after year simply for the experience and not even necessarily for the music.



If we make an effort to recognize some of these issues within many festivals of today, such as distrust, unsustainability, environmental destruction, negativity, and a festival mentality focused on pure profit, we can hopefully encourage every festival in the future to follow the positive influences of Shambhala, today.

Written By: Andrea Inscoe