Shambhala Music Festival: An Enchanting Festival of Wonderment

11,000 Shambalovers came together in the southeastern temperate coniferous forests of British Columbia, Canada to spend five days in the mythical festival kingdom of Shambhala. Hosted by the Bundschuh family on the 500 acre Salmo River Ranch, the festival is in a uniquely great position of being out of reach of corporate interests that would otherwise taint the experience and vibe. With around 1,000 people coming together to help co-create the festival, there is a tremendous spirit of cooperation in order to create the grand vision of Shambhala that puts it in a place I consider as being the most unique festival I have ever been a part of.

Shambhala is the perfect place to go if you are looking to strip away the cultural and epigenetic programming that’s been imprinted on you since you came into this world. You will come to see the genuine nature and expression of what it is to be a human being and be comfortable just being your true self. There is a wide horizon of how we can consciously express ourselves out there, and choosing to continue living a life as just another cog in the wheels of the matrix and the box society tries to force upon us is a bland existence. Shambhala can dissolve the hindering imprints society has imposed upon us, and it can do so incredibly fast.

Photo by Bryce Duffy

From goddess dens inside of ancient hollow trees to hammock villages on the mountain foothills, there was a cornucopia of magical places to call home at Shambhala. Those who never got past the pasture fields missed out on the best camping opportunities nestled away in the forested area of the festival, although they had the luxury of having their cars with them. The need to get out of a tent by 10 am because of the heat, however, seemed like the trade-off wasn’t quite worth it (a suggestion for those of you coming next year, bring a cart/wagon for your things so you can more easily carry your things into the forest camping on the Kootenays foothills and by the majestic Salmo River).

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Shambhala truly shines with its energy-elevating music. With 300 performances sharing six stages, each with its own unique feel and vibe, there is an abundance of consciousness-shifting music to synergize with. The Grove, The Village, Pagoda, Fractal Forest, Amphitheatre and Living Room were produced incredibly well with what may have been the richest and best sounding systems I have ever heard (Funktion-One & PK Sound). From globally-recognized artists such as Beats Antique and Bassnectar to more locally known artists like Plantrae and A Tribe Called Red there was an incredibly array of music. It’s an amazing experience when you’re elevated to transcendental heights, rooted with chunky bass, and planted deep into the core of planetary consciousness thanks to mind-altering musical frequencies.

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As far as workshops go, there was a surprisingly small amount of workshops compared with music but those that were there were soul-enriching and interesting. We would love to see more speakers, yogis, and teachers come and share knowledge and wisdom that can be a guiding light upon the waters of the new paradigm collective consciousness. One thing that has been a growing interest for people coming to festivals is to come to a place where they can feel spiritually rejuvenated and centered. In order to make a lasting and direct impression on the collective consciousness in a profound way that evolves us into beings with greater compassion and understanding, festivals that take on this catalyst role will be the trailblazers of a new humanity. They are the new temples of humanity.

A Sacred and Safe Space

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Shambhala may very well be the safest festival to attend of its size in the present festival culture. According to Shaun Wilson, the festival’s security manager, Shambhala has fewer fights and sexual assaults than any other music festival he has worked at. There’s several things the festival does to create a very safe festival village. Alcohol is prohibited, for one. There is also a space called the Sanctuary, where anyone having a difficult experience (usually initiated by a drug) for whatever reason can come into the enclave of safety and comfort to recenter and revitalize. Signs around the festival and within a special safe space for women promote consent and being responsible when it comes to sexual activity. Beyond these, there are also other smaller spaces created by co-creative attendees of the festival that wished to bring their sacred and safe space elements to the festival.

Having professional mental and physical health staff on the team has been so effective that less than 10 people out of 11,000 had to be taken to the hospital. Having drug testers with special kits on-site was helpful to keep that number from being higher. While we are hopeful to see the new paradigm culture shift away from misuse of substances and be mindful of their sacred power as indigenous cultures have for eons, the present situation is what it is and the best we can do right now is educate people and help them through their difficult experiences that hopefully will help them as well to learn from decisions they made that were misguided. That is where Shambhala truly shines in terms of response…with reason and compassion.

The Grove

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With each of the six stages being guided by their own stage director that guides the vision and atmosphere in a unique direction compared with the others, Shambhala truly possesses a wonderland experience. Out of all the stages (which were all fantastic in their own way) we most closely vibed with was The Grove, an enchanting area amidst the ancient coniferous forest of the Salmo River Ranch.

Speaking with Pete Basaraba, one of the co-creators of the Grove, I learned that all the materials were sources at the festival grounds themselves, in that mystical forest. This created for a biophillic setting that enhanced the feeling of an intimate connection between Shambhala attendees and the stage environment. The walls of the Grove’s stage, for example, were made out of living moss, giving it an enchanting touch. Because of how captivating the Grove was I spoke with Pete more in depth about it in order to demystify the enchanting space.

Shift: The Grove had so many unique aspects of it that made it so enchanting and feeling as if you were in a magical forest kingdom. How did you get the idea for the stage’s and area’s theme?

Pete: When it used to be the Labyrinth the space was super cosmic and since there’s a huge forested area we had alot of space to work with. We had alot of people collaborating and involved with various helpful skills co-creating the Grove and adding things like the Teahive section, the enchanted forest section with the waterfall, pond, natural foresty benches and cedar roofs, the Poetry Zone where people could come write and read their poems, put them on the trees, etc. The Teahive idea for example came from something we saw at Burning Man and then improvised and added our own style. We kept things organic and not as cosmic and spaced out as the Labyrinth was in previous years. The workshops area was intentionally put in the area deepest into the Grove so that the environment would be most suited for talks and workshops that needed to be away from all the music. We had two amazing gardeners that worked with us this year, Warren and Kelly, who are locals that love to plant things and so we told them we’d love to get a living wall set up and so they collaborated on a beautiful organic wall that looked and smelled good and survived throughout all the noise and everything that was going on.

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Shift: Are infrastructure and the various artistic elements left up after the festival or does it all get taken down and put into storage for the next year?

Pete: The plants and rocks on the stage will all just stay there and probably die in the winter. The art gallery and lookout platforms will get winterized. This was the first year that it was all going down since the Grove was so different from the Labyrinth. Since this year we did alot of the cleanup from what was there before, and since we did the basic building of everything, alot of the workload disappeared. Over the next couple years we’ll be able to focus more on the artsy and intricate collaborative projects and build up that forest into something incredible. Imagine two or three years from now just how different it will be when we put our time and energy into the artistic elements of the Grove.

Shift: Talking about sustainability, were the materials sourced locally?

Pete: Yes, alot the extra wood came from the mill that’s on the property. Alot of what we used was made of recycled materials. For example, even the Teahive was made out of alot of off-cuts and wood scraps that otherwise would’ve gotten burned. There’s pieces like the giant 3D visual hexagons that came from years before and a few things from Bass Coast. We set up a whole new sound booth and lighting booth with a platform everybody could go up and look down.


Soniko and The Heart Map Experience

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Don’t believe anything I say. Go check it for yourself. Listen with your heart. Your heart will know if I’m saying something good or not. Once you get that and you have the feeling that “This guy is saying something good.” then go try it out and then if it works for you take it, use it. I’m just sharing something from my heart because I love you…because you are me and I am you…because we are brothers and sisters of the same mother, Pachamama…Mother Earth.

One of the 14 workshops at Shambhala was Soniko Waira’s Heart Map Experience. The purpose of the workshop was to assist us in our personal growth and collective connection. It’s based in ancient shamanic teachings and modern mind techniques bringing out our visions to the conscious world. Soniko’s vision in this time of transition is based on people becoming conscious human beings. The word “conscious” refers to an individual sense of recognition of something inside and outside oneself. It comes from Latin conscius which means to be awake or awakened to an inner realization of a fact and truth. A shift or evolution in consciousness implies working towards a higher state of awareness, which means to become more aware or it all. It implies to see the world and oneself more objectively, without blinders or rose-colored glasses on.

Sitting in a circle as incense was being smudged within the center of the circle, Soniko spoke on how life is sacred and we should remember the sacredness of life. It’s not always easy and our minds are preoccupied with work, family, and other things, but that is something that’s been the case for ages and it’s one of the reasons why ceremony was created. Soniko explained the power of ceremony and how it can help us realign with the mindfulness of all life being sacred.

Incorporating symbols into ceremony is especially powerful and Soniko went into great depth about the 8 pointed star and the circle, where all possibilities lie….in the womb of creation. The circle…this circle of life, is very healing and that is another important reason for ceremony. It’s a place where healing takes place. Anyone that’s ever been a part of a Native American sweat lodge or an indigenous Ayahuasca ceremony knows just how healing ceremony can be. Symbols work even if you’re unaware of their power. They work on our psyche. Everything from the 8-pointed star to the flower of life, symbols hold tremendous power as a means for transmitting information that can get imprinted onto consciousness.


When you help others you’re helping yourself. Coming together in ceremony and using symbols as a way to commune with the earth, each other, and the universe, we help each other. When our intention for coming together is for healing, then healing will happen and be magnified by every other person holding the same intention. It was great to see someone like Soniko bring the ancestral knowledge of ceremony and symbol to Shambhala and expose a generation that lives in a culture devoid of meaningful ceremony. We have definitely lost something with the loss of ceremony. The disconnect from nature in society that exists today, that womb of our existence from which we came, is troubling and dangerous. The greater the disconnect, the greater the suffering and destruction of both ourselves and this one planet we call home. Everything is alive in some way. No matter what configuration and manifestation of consciousness self-organized elements of Reality exist in, they are alive. Like Soniko said, everything in this universe is made of vibrations…everything sings its own tune.

A Realm of Enchantment in Modern Festival Culture

Photo by Kevin Hendryx
Photo by Kevin Hendryx

We know it’s a bold-sounding statement, but after Shambhala you will never be able to see alot of things the same way again. It will profoundly change your outlook on things thanks to elements that come together making Shambhala what it is. You will walk away inspired, revitalized, and filled with a joy and zest for experiencing life outside your comfort zone in a way that invites more openness into your life. You will feel a greater pull towards being more genuine in your interactions with others. You will be more comfortable with expressing your true self and personality, discarding the self-imposed veils. You will start living the life you envision for yourself.

Burning Man has become a household name in today’s festival culture and is frequently brought up in comparison to other alternative culture gatherings. However, there is a glaring difference between something like Burning Man and a festival like Shambhala. Since ancient times it was believed that there were four elements of which anything can consist or upon which the fundamental powers of everything are based on. These are fire, water, earth, and air (with space/aether being an occasionally called the fifth element). We believe that if a conscious and transformational festival or gathering wishes to truly embody the new paradigm consciousness, it will incorporate these elements.

Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert which environmentally lacks two major things: water and vegetation (trees don’t grow in deserts, after all). Short of terraforming, it wouldn’t be possible to bring in the elements intrinsically lacking in the natural environment of the desert Burning Man calls home for a week every year, leaving a disequilibrium of the elements (fire taking a dominant role at Burning Man). Shambhala has all the elements represented and manifested. There’s lush growth of ancient-looking trees, a refreshing river big enough to raft down, fire dancing and fire spinning by talented performers, and nurturing of the spirit through meditations, yoga, healing bodywork, and inspiring workshops. Where there is balance, there is harmony. Shambhala brings the elements of earth, water, fire, and air together in an interwoven matrix of magic generation that has a harmonious quality to it.

Photo by Kevin Hendryx
Photo by Kevin Hendryx

I’ve been to upwards of 20 festivals in the past 5 years and you tend to get used to seeing a similar experience that festivals provide, slightly diminishing the magic you feel inside when you go, yet excluding the very first festival I ever went to, never before has one evoked such strong emotions of joy in my life as Shambhala had. There’s truly something incredibly enchanting about it. Alot of things coalesce to bring about that sense of magical wonderment and Shambhala is in a unique position to see them all come together to create a space and experience that leaves a very strong impression on peoples’ souls.

Are you a forest nymph that likes to swim in sun glitters while basswaves permeate every particle of your being? Are you wizard that likes to play with Reality and elevate your lucidity into the domain of transcendental bliss? Are you someone who would like to enrich your life with greater depth and sense of meaning? Shambhala is where you should be next year.

Photo by Leah Gair, 2014
Photo by Leah Gair

Shambhala 2015

It didn’t take long for Shambhala to release some details about next year’s return of the festival to the Bundschuh family’s Salmo River Ranch. Dates will be August 7-10, 2015 with early entry possible starting August 6. Tickets will become available November 1 so you can buy your ticket to entry to this magical wonderland very soon. We would love to see all of you come and be a part of the incredible spirit that is being cultivated and nurtured at Shambhala because it’s a spirit that brings back the genuineness and collective family feel that is our true nature. Lots of Shambhalove to you all!

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