Shambhala: Cultivating a New Culture

A photo of ShambhalaMusic Festival taken by Hannah Many Guns

There are only so many of those instances that you wish you could seal up in a jar. They’re those extraordinary instances. The ones that you wish you could go back to, and that always seem to pull the edges of your mouth into a grin when taken into recollection. Shambhala Music Festival, an annual outdoor electronic music festival held in the forest surrounding Salmo River Ranch, BC during the second weekend of August, is definitely one of those very few, and very far in-between, instances.

In short, the best way to see the beauty that is Shambhala is experiencing it for oneself. The seventeen-year running festival seamlessly manages to gather thousands of fans, both veteran and new, for an enlightening three-days of peace, camping, music, and pure ‘Shamba-love’. To provide a vibe for each of the six unique sham-stages, this years’ organizers delivered a more than exceptional line-up. From the likes of Nispissing Anishnabe group A Tribe Called Red, to the biotic sounds of Plantrae, to EDM pioneers Bassnectar and Moby, each of the 150+ artists roused the stages, performing revolutionary sets from dusk till dawn the entire weekend.

Surrounded by the lush landscape of interior BC’s cedar forests, in the company of a crowd teeming with spiritual resonance, we got a chance to catch up with A Tribe Called Red during their second show of the weekend. Throughout their set at the Ampitheatre stage, the Juno-award winning group ignited their renowned electric pow-wow, spinning favourites from their record Nation II Nation, and presenting freshly produced beats. Traditional dancer James Jones embellished the trios urban indigenous anthems with both ancestral and contemporary foot-work.

“The crowd always gets really into it,” smiles Jones. “A lot of them come up to me after the show and say they see animals and spirits when I dance”. Along with his solo dancing, Jones generated a mini-roundance with listeners on-stage, inviting them to embrace in a moment of first-nation tradition as deep bass, accompanied by samples of traditional drumming and singing, amplified the Ampitheatre stage.

“There really is a cultural exchange going on,” says A Tribe Called Red’s Thomas Ehren Ramon, DJ Bear Witness, after their set. “We’re exposing the audience to something that they haven’t been exposed to before, and the audience really respects us for that.” For festival go-ers, both of A Tribe Called Red’s shows were distinguished as core Shambhala highlights, especially because of their ability to initiate an urban indigenous experience and invite everyone to join in on the dance.

Although, believe it or not, the music at Shambhala is just the beginning of what the festival has to offer. Everything from the incredible food choices – including local free-range burgers and vegan pad Thai – to the vibrant marketplace – full of merchants providing festival-goers with clothing, jewelry, artwork, and more – there really is never anything not to do during the weekend. This years non-music features included daily live paintings, yoga by the river, seesha lounges, oxygen bars, tea-houses, river-floats, mountain hikes, spiritual showcases, visual arts, mini-plays, on-site barbers, safety sanctuaries, multiple tree-houses, and many other unique activities that combine to create the Shambha-loving community that the festival has come to cultivate over the years. It doesn’t stop there, though.

Along with the vast community of merchants and showcases, there’s one simple ingredient that ties the festival together: the people. Or rather, the family. All the way from the ones that spend an entire year sewing and creating their shambha-wardrobe, to the ones that bring nothing but a couple pairs of shorts and the bare essentials. Everyone belongs. Perhaps it’s the close proximity camping. Perhaps it’s the perpetual pass-by greeting ‘Happy Shambhala’. It may even be the bounteous take-it-and-leave-its scattered along the trails of the forest. Regardless, the people – the family – they’re the ones that create that vibin’ Shamba-community. A community that embraces all of those little oddities, garners personal and spiritual growth, and accepts each and every individual for who they have become and are becoming, inside and out.

“I see these festivals as a gateway for folks coming from a more dominant culture and head-space,” articulates neo-folk artist Plantrae. “They come to be exposed to something that is a bit more different and creative.” Talking with Plantrae before his set, it became clear that his personal views, along with many other artists performing at Shambhala, deeply reflect the earthy and conscious expanding philosophies that the festival builds a foundation for itself upon. It’s a kind of universal philosophy. A philosophy that bridges and connects everyone at the festival.

“All music, and all different cultures around the world, comes out of those peoples’ relationship with the earth,” says Plantrae. “You see, we can have a relationship with the earth just as individuals, and then we can form kind of our own personal relationship with it. Here, we’re creating a new culture for ourselves individually, one that is just as authentic as any other. A culture that has come out of the earth, and that is very new. That’s the only culture I have that is really authentic and intact, and that’s where I draw my inspiration from.” Plantrae’s pre-produced organic whomps, whobbles, and drips of bass, accompanied by live improvisation from the strings of his viola, truly enchanted the Grove stage, energizing and captivating the sets attendees.

As the weekend came to a close, festival attendees packed up their gear and went their own ways, taking with them the sweet reminisce of what they just experienced. And it is these kind of experiences, these instances, these new perspectives and views and people and the everythings in-between that creates Shambhala. Shapes it as an instance that you wish could be sealed up in a jar. That is why Shambhala Music Festival highlights the pinnacle of what music festivals have to offer, and maximizes itself as, in our opinion, one of Canada’s most enriching and self-nurturing festivals to go to.

Tickets for next years festival go on sale on November 1st, so check out their website ( and join in the countdown until the next annual Shambhala Music Festival. We promise, it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.