2. Pre-music Shambhala, and The Basstease
Wednesday has come, which means that everyone with a early-bird pass has officially entered the grounds, and although the music doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow, the incredibly welcoming natural landscape of the farm, paired with the eccentric and meticulous crafting of the downtown area forces anyone entering to adapt to a very unfamiliar environment, removing them from the conditions and associated feeling of their regular life, subconsciously and literally releasing them into a brand new world to experience. The grounds are naturally scenic to begin with, but the production crew has spent weeks–and for some, even months–building upon the grand aesthetics by erecting 6 incredible main stages, each with a unique atmosphere, functionality, mood, and overall life of its own. The space between the stages is as essential to the experiences as the stages themselves, and an absurd amount of effort has gone into every inch of the walkways, passages, and areas of congregation.
Walking along the main path of the farm, I was initially startled by the intended eye contact of passerby’s warmly issuing the greeting “Happy Shambhala.” A resident of the shady side of downtown Vancouver, I’ll quickly admit I’ve grown wary of stranger’s random approaches–probably because in rough urban areas, seemingly-kind intentions are often double edged somehow–and I reacted the same as I do there: by acknowledging the remarks with a nod, and continuing forward in determination. However, just like the expressive costumes donned by the festival-goers, I’m beginning to realize that positivity and community is the norm here, and anything else only alienates you from something clearly greater. It quickly became apparent that in a place where strangeness is whole-heartedly encouraged, being socially reserved is the only thing that makes you a stranger.
The day wore on, as nearly 80% of the grounds filled up with avid early-birdies, and the vibe of positivity began to swarm to an electric buzz. Veterans come fully equipped with festival gear (utility belts, old-fashioned bicycles, functional underwear, tails and top hats), while others dress in extreme forms of expression (neon robes, bunny suits, stilts, and an array of other consumes), while the first-timers wear their disbelief and excite openly. By mid-afternoon, my nodding acknowledgment of “Happy Shambhala” turned into an honest “thank you,” as I couldn’t help but express some sort of gratitude for so many people’s warm welcoming.
Evening came, and the energy of the grounds began erupting in small bursts around camp, like plumes of smoke preceding an earth-shaking volcanic eruption. Small clusters of parties began gaining strength, and elaborate light and structuring of communal party campsites served as beacons of energy to those anxiously looking to express the feelings the grounds and crowds sparked within them. Team Toxic tried to stay united, but the incredible energy leaves all in a manic state of excite, as you bounce from one amazing costume, to a reunion of old acquaintances, to a giant neon swing in the woods, to power hugs from good friends, to late night relaxation and cooling in the stream–and everything in between.
Around 4am I decided to call it a night–though I certainly didn’t have to, considering how many people protested rest like a norm–and I slowly made my way back to my tent, graciously reciprocating every smile, hug, and “Happy Shambhala” I received. I hung out with the fam in Basscamp for a while, and then laid down in my tent, ready for another calm night in the absolute dark of the forest. Then, something incredible happened: from deep in the woods, I heard a low, amorphous buzzing, like the mainframe of some type of massive forest computer booting up. The buzz rose to a full on rumble, that shook across the forest floor, rumbling passed our campsite, across the field, and up into the mountains, where it resonated and spread titanically across the perfect grand acoustic chamber of the valley walls. The all-compassing power of the frequencies seemed to hold me, as I physically felt the sonic presence of the tones settle in my chest with a deep resonating buzz, and I couldn’t help but feel like an alien tractor beam had settled on my tent, and was slowly pulling me off the forest floor. As soon as it began though, it ended, and after a few moments of awe, the entire grounds erupted in a massive cheer of jubilation and avid anticipation: this was merely a test; a bass test. No chords or notes were played; it was simply the force of the bass that they released onto the grounds like an ancient spirit liberated from the deep enigmatic woods of Shambhala. Tomorrow the music begins, and I’m ready.