Hands down, Shambhala is my favorite music festival. It was the first festival I went to and if I ever stop festivaling it will be the last one I attend. A third year in a row attendee, each year gets better and better. These are my top 10 memories from 2015.
1. Day Onesie
Day Onesie is my oldest ongoing memory of Shambhala Music Festival. I honestly didn’t really know onesies were a thing before my first trip in 2013. I remember trying to find all sorts of guides and packing lists for this crazy party I was heading to (I hadn’t been to a camping festival yet.) Somehow I ended up on a post about this unofficial (yet very official seaming) party within the party at Shambhala called “Day Onesie.” The premise was straightforward – the first day of the festival was to celebrate all things Onesie. As my trips to Shambhala evolved, so did my Onesie game. But more importantly than what I was wearing, is that I gradually began to find my festival family one (wolf) onesie & totem at a time. The most memorable moment from this year’s annual onesie celebration was the dance party that took place at Sam Demoe’s set. The Living Room stage offered a little more dancing room than the absolutely packed Amphitheater which was overtaken by G Jones and his legion of bassheads.
Speaking of totems, if you consider yourself a person who thinks totems are stupid, I would like to challenge your notion. While massive signs in your vision of the stage are annoying, there’s definitely an acceptable middle ground. Totem culture is a thing. I didn’t realize the movement I had been participating in for the last couple years toting our Bill Murray “You’re Awesome” staff around every festival we go to. For me, it was always a measure in practicality. For all the craziness in a crowd, I love the peace of mind of being able to pick a floating Bill Murray face out of the crowd to find my friends. Upon my first evening at Shambs this year, I was on the receiving end of a history lesson about Totem Culture.
A frolicking reveler came up to me in excitement. “It’s Him, guys it’s really him, Bill is here!,” he cried. Minutes later he was digging into his pocket and out came a cell phone, on which-with an impressive display of quick scrolling- he pulled up a picture of me with the totem from the year prior. I laughed, remembering I had taken a picture of this very dude taking a picture of me. An onlooker took a picture of this discussion happening and said here, now you have one from the future too. Woah. The onlooker asked me if I was familiar with Totem Culture. I asked him what he meant, and he proceeded to tell me a story about a buddy of his, artist/DJ Mat the Alien, who allegedly created the first music festival totem. The first totem at Shambhala at least. It was a piece of cardboard on a stick and it said, “Really Good.”
Later that night we had all three of our totems in vicinity and my friend Joe yelled for a Staff Meeting at the top of his lungs. We gathered and bullshitted (audibly) for a few minutes while some people, at first perplexed but then laughing, realized what was going on. I even heard two people call for a side bar to discuss how much they were enjoying our staff meeting. That felt good, little things like this reminded me that I was connecting with the festival in a grander sense, not just whoring for attention but that participation that had been lacking in my recent festival experiences. I was feeling the fun again. A great reminder to myself that not all fun at festivals comes from instruments, speakers and subwoofers.
3. Birthday Parties & (a) Friend Within & Dirty Birds
On Thursday night we sang my buddy Joe happy birthday and ate a cake his lovely girlfriend BeeYonka had made and somehow got all the way to Canada safely from the Bay. Impressive right? Good job Bee.
On Friday it was Jazzy’s birthday. With our camp of 40 wolves lagging too hard, we set out for the evening early enough to catch Friend Within at the Pogoda. I have heard some Friend Within remixes on soundcloud but had no idea how much I was going to enjoy their set. Jazzy described it afterwards as “excellent party music,” and that it was indeed. We danced on the catwalks between the BOOMING PK speakers and DJ booth. We watched the revelers file into the Pogoda for The Dirtybird Takeover that would be on the rest of the evening.
We met a dude from Australia. He was at the festival by himself. I got stoked on that thought, thinking back to how it wasn’t that long ago I was cruising these very catwalks all by myself.
4.Porta Potty Reflection
Bathroom graffiti goes above and beyond at Shambhala. You will see some of the most inventive bathroom humor of your life. On the flip side, wedged somewhere between unicorn and fart jokes was a message that has stuck with us for weeks after the festival.
I’ll admit that I didn’t have the most open interpretation of this message. I chalked it up to some hippie granola speak of somebody trying to make more of their acid trip than really was there. But then I chewed on it for the last few weeks. Similar to another memory coming up a little further down, the person that wrote this really had the best intentions. I feel bad for my initial reaction but just like the message itself, it was a forum for my group of friends to talk about drugs and festivals from a different perspective. I learned from it.
5.The Sunflower Shambhala Guy
I’m not sure you could have walked through downtown Shambhala without seeing this guy. I’m really struggling to find the best words to describe him. Essentially, he was, well …. Awesome. He was standing on a little chair clad only in yellow trunks and hat shaped like the sun with a cutout for his face. Looming behind were sunflowers from the organic garden. He had a couple of sunflowers in his hands too.
He wasn’t directing traffic. He was just like, kinda dancing and rooting any people who passed by. He was serving as Chief Awesome Officer for Shambhala and honestly that guy should get paid more next year. He was the embodiment of good vibes and Shambhalove … the life force of this festival.
In the time I spent typing this up, I’ve come to see that Sunflower Guy of Shambhala has his own Facebook page and his fans are racking up exponentially fast. Type in “Shambhala Sunflower Guy.”
6. Partying Safe
I’m not going to sugarcoat it, one of the least desired aspects of music festivals are people who get too fucked up. I’ve been that person before, it’s not a good look. Worse are the overdoses that are far too frequent at American music festivals, especially those of the electronic variety where drugs seem to flow loosly. Our government isn’t going to provide harm reduction measures any time soon, but it seems like it’s time for American festivals to take a clue from what goes on at Shambhala.
Shambhala may declare those dear alcoholic beverages of ours a prohibited item but the festival makes partying safer with harm reduction services. ANKORS provides a testing tent to check toxicity levels of party favors. I’ve been seeking a way to festival in a one sober fashion for a while but I’ll be the first to tell you, I’m not all the way there yet.
At two points in the festival my friend group happened onto substantial “ground scores” – random substances in colorful baggies. Instead of haphazardly ingesting them like, you know, playing Russian Roulette with your life, Shambhala makes it possible to test the substances. From there, the people working the booth can tell you about what you were planning on taking and if it’s toxic or not. They also offer advice specific to whatever you may have brought them. This is something unique to Shambhala and despite how foreign this concept sounds, Shambs really ought to be applauded for this. There were no overdose deaths at Shambhala. There were also no accidents leaving the festival, which speaks to party responsibly.
Shambhala also allows guests to hang out on the Monday following the event if they chose. Instead of rushing high people off a venue grounds, this festival has the foresight to send their loyal fans back on the road sober and safe.
7. The Magnets
My friend Matty aka the mastermind behind DandyLion designs (super dope laser etched wood pieces) usually makes really cool things to give away at festivals. He writes inspirational messages and reminders of things we often forget and then hands them to strangers in the crowd. Sometimes it’s to give somebody a boost, other times they are simply killing it and deserve a token of appreciation. There really is no rhyme or reason, other than Matty’s mantra “Give to Live, and Live to Give.”
I’ve seen people cry tears of joy when he gives them an awesome pendent out of the blue. For real.
This time around, Matty had something different. We were in Fractal Forrest with a few hours left on our adventure. He was holding this oddly shaped object. Before I could ask, he placed it in my hands. He told me, “ Take these magnets. Feel them out, play with them and put all your good energy and intentions into them. Also take a little juju out for yourself. When the time is right, feel out the magnets you are most drawn to or the one that chooses you and pluck it out and keep it for yourself.”
Woah. Kind of exactly what I needed on the last night of Shambhala. What a great mental and spiritual exercise right in the middle of the dance floor.
“There is always going to be a positive and a negative. Go for the positive sides of life,” he said.
I took my time with the magnets. I put them in between my two palms, closed my eyes, and danced to the beat while I reflected on my life. The mental note I ended on isn’t important, it’s the idea that people like Matty are out there that legit feel their purpose on this planet is to make other people’s lives better. He’s been an inspiration to me since the day I met him and this was a beautiful moment to remember forever. Thanks Matty!
8. AC Slater
Sometimes we project what will be our favorite set of a festival before we even get there. For better or worse, I feel like I tend to do this. Don’t get me wrong, I bring an open mind to sets I go to, but AC Slater was right on point. I had every intention to not miss this set, despite having listened to his mixes on repeat for the days leading to the festival.
That combination of heavy hitting, but smooth booty basslines had me from the first track he played. AC Slater sounds like a mix of Hannah Wants and Jack Beats. The wolves at the set with me congregated in the middle. Some were getting tired as the end crept in but I shaked my ass on a tree stump for the better part of an hour and a half to what Slater refers to as “NIGHT BASS”. Every few minutes, my friend Richard blew bubbles filled with vapor, confusing and amazing those around us.
9. Pirate Swing
We knew the secret guest was Zed’s Dead and we were down. I didn’t like being sardined into the Pogoda, incapable of moving let alone dancing. We almost made it to the towers but I asked everybody I was with if we could turn around. I wasn’t comfortable with how cramped in we were about to be and asked if people were down to catch Jesse Rose in Fractal Forest with me.
We audibled for Fractal and that might be my favorite pivot of the festival. It felt like hardly anybody was there, and I’ve wanted to catch Jesse Rose ever since I heard his set from the night (now defunct) NORAD nightclub in Denver closed down.
Jesse Rose played a set of funky house sounds that erupted into what Matty aptly described as “Pirate Swing.” We were on the most psychedelic of all pirate ships and Rose was swinging the wheel like a bat out of hell. We danced on one leg, we dosee doe’d.
10. Mat the Alien & The Librarian
I have fond memories of first discovering Mat the Alien in 2013 on the last night of the festival. I was cruising around with my buddy Jonbo (one of 3 people who were on the shuttle to the festival with me, happens to be from the same neck of the woods as I) and we stumbled into Mat’s set. A trippy combination of glitch, bass and well Alien sounds instantly caught my ear.
In 2014, my friend Richard and I caught Mat’s set (on Saturday I think, but at Sunset I remember) and we watched this girl appear to loose her mind in the best of way possible. We affectionately refer to her as Alien girl. She was wearing these crazy green Alien eye sunglasses and was producing some dance moves that seemed other wordly. I try to reproduce them from time to time but fear I’ll never quite get to her level.
This year Mat the Alien was playing B2B with The Librarian. I knew it was going to be the last set of the festival I could catch before rushing back to Spokane to catch our flight. I didn’t want to leave anything on the playing field. I stretched my back a little bit, then pledged to myself to channel Alien Girl (she is my spirit animal sometimes.) The sun was breaking over the Salmo River Valley and it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen at Shambhala. Mat the Alien appeared to be throwing t-shirts to the remaining warriors on the dancefloor. I rushed up to get one, (have you seen Mat’s “Really Good” t-shirts? They are dope) and locked eyes with the Librarian. He threw me the balled up white piece of cloth.
To my surprise this was no t-shirt. No, no, no. Instead what I untangled were two, white athletic socks. I laughed hysterically, unsure if I had just been completely trolled or if it was all just a big joke. Either way it was excellent and that moment serves as a little microcosm of what Shambhala is all about. Never take yourself too seriously, love your neighbor and smile.
Thank you Shambhala for the priceless levels of fun you have provided me for the last three Augusts. I’ll be forever greatful.
Photographs by Alex Quadrini
Written by Matthew May
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