Inside Shambhala: The Camp before the Storm
Tuesday, August 7, 2012, Radio Toxic arrived at Shambhala Music Festival, a globally notorious music and culture festival located at the Salmo River Ranch, deep in the Kootenay area of beautiful British Columbia. Working as official Shambs press, and accompanied by some of our rad friends from the media team, we were allowed to arrive early, and the Shambhala vets suggested we work quickly to set up our basscamp deep in the thick of the forest. The canopy of the trees make the forest prime locale for camping: since Shambs is a festival that plays into the early morning, many campers crawl back into their tents around 8 or 9am, and when the sun reaches critical temperature only a couple hours later, they’re forced to abandon their bean-baking tent and crawl like Shambha-zombies back into the blazing day. Luckily, we were able to set up a full ring of tents around our basscamp, right next to the Labyrinth entrance.
The first day was calm: only press, media, volunteers, and staff are allowed on the grounds Tuesday (around 1,200 of the expected 12,000 attendees), so we had the added benefit of orienting ourselves with the landscape long before the crowds roamed in and the music began. However, as the as the day rolled on, thousands of keeners started to line-up at the gates; arriving almost a full 24-hours before the general public is allowed in with paid day-early passes, these keeners parked their cars and began prepping for what I heard is a mythically epic forest tail-gate party.
Still in our basscamp, deep in the tits of the forest, a few kilometres from the entrance, it felt like we were locked-up in a castle, with a riotous and steady-growing army of soldiers prepping to break the gates and siege in storming; but instead of battle cries, the battalion rallied together to send unified riotous cheers into the night. The assorted chants and cheers travelled across the acres of grassy fields rolling through the campsites like beckons, and after the energy resonated with all of us inside the ground, we rebutted with our own cheer, sent back through the forest, across the fields and to the eager line of cars, who would then reciprocate the energy in a new way once again. This incredible call-and-response lasted all night and was the first small glimpse into a surreal world of human connection; like a kid hearing a voice on the other end of a can-and-string telephone for the first time, I couldn’t help but find pleasure in the fantastic and simple form of seemingly-supernatural communication.
We woke up in our basscamp the next morning to a completely new scene: stepping out of my tent, I was surprised to see a whole new array of tightly cluttered tent communities around our site, and when I stepped out of the forest canopy, I was awe-struck to see the vast grass fields now housing countless clustered networks of tents, trailers, huts, and makeshift fortresses, all extending passed the foot of the hills and up into the cover of the surrounding mountains. The grand-scale of the grounds is astounding: approximately 500 acres, the grounds are incredibly expansive, and the landscape is dynamically defined by a long stretch of glacier-fed river, cutting a patch of forest housing downtown, several stages, and the strangely constructed physical riddle of The Labyrinth, and all of this opens to a massive field in the middle of the Kootenay forest. Being so removed from the city is a treat enough for me, but the bubbling excitement of festival returnees leads me to believe that something very big, and very incredible is about to happen, and I already feel great pride in having the opportunity to experience and contribute to this unique and renowned festival.