To call Shambhala a festival is almost an insult to itself, categorizing it with all the other fests out there who don’t even come remotely close to delivering what Shambhala does. After attending dozens of festivals, I can say with confidence Shambhala is by far the best. Boasting the best lineup I’ve seen in years, the most imaginative and careful production, the warmest, weirdest, and most exotic vibes, and the nicest, most interesting and colorful attendees, all safeguarded by the best security/festival throwers, Shambhala is on a level of its own.
Day One brought a Dirtybird takeover at the Pagoda Stage, located in the downtown area of the festival, along with the Amphitheater Stage and dozens of clothing and food vendors. Ardalan started the takeover on the perfect note with a high energy tech house set filled with on and off-label tracks alike, featuring his own remix of Billy Kenny’s “I Eat Beats”, and his other co-produced track, “Mr. Spock”. Various members of the label started to show up in the DJ booth to support him and get down to the funk. Next up was Friend Within who threw down more houser tracks than Ardalan, but equally as impressive, culminating in my one of my favorite tracks of all time, “The Mechanism”, which he produced with Disclosure.
Following was Cause & Effect, composed of one of my personal favorites, Chris Lorenzo and Kane. The duo seem to be the “bros” of the label, but not in a bad way. They threw down the bassiest tracks of the day, like Chris Lorenzo’s new song with fellow Dirtybird player Justin Jay, “Storm”, their own original, “Get to the Chopper”, Hannah Wants & Chris’ infamous track, “Rhymes”, “The Tickle”, released on Dirtybird, and dozens of other wompy, Night-Bassy hits, raising the energy to a new level. Kill Frenzy was up next, throwing down his more minimalistic and sex-fueled tech house tracks, like his original, “No Panties”, and “All Night Long”, mixing in his own edit of “I Got The Power”, and later dropping in hints of label boss Von Stroke’s classic “Dood”. J. Philip took over the decks laying down some minimalistic acid house before I ran off to catch Ganz’s set, only to find another DJ behind the decks, An-Ten-Nae. Little did I know this was about to be the best surprise of the festival.
To put it simply, is one of the most inventive, fresh, and gifted DJs I’ve seen in quite some time. His sampling is unreal, and he creates live remixes, combining layers and tracks of nearly every genre in ways no others would. I stood there with my mouth physically open for most of the set, surprised and delighted by each new, interesting, and unexpected track he threw in, all while crazy dancers performed on stage underneath an acrobat twirling through a huge woven spiderweb. It was at this moment I realized that there’s truly no place like Shambhala. Mr. Carmack took the decks next, and although he mixed the best I’ve heard him out of the five times I’ve seen him, it was nothing compared to An-Ten-Nae.
I ran back over to the Pagoda stage to catch the rest of the Dirtybird takeover, closing it out with Justin Martin, Claude Von Stroke, and Dusky, all who threw down. Justin played some of his classic songs, like his remix of Henry Krinkle’s “Don’t Go”, his VIP of his own track, “Don’t Go”, and dozens of other hits. Claude showed why he reigns King over the Dirtybird team, seamlessly mixing his own tracks, like his new remix of The Chemical Brothers’ “Go”, a new live edit of his remix of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”, where he managed to remove most of the vocals, pushing the track more out of the hip-hop realm, and played both tracks off of his latest EP, “Barrump” and “Make A Cake”, which both won over the crowd.
For my friends and mine’s Day Two, we decided to bring our pool toys we bought at WalMart down to the river and hang out. We trekked deeper and deeper down, encountering all incredible people, all so happy and appreciative to be at the festival. People were either letting the current take the down the river, making friends along the way, or tied themselves to branches and rocks to stay near friends on the shoreline.
Everyone was sure to clean up after themselves and keep the river pollution free, truly respecting the land around them. Up closer towards the start of the river stood The Living Room Stage, which provided a score for those splashing around, next to towers of pyrotechnics. We head back to the camp to get ready for the first few acts of the night we wanted to catch, including the light and fun house tracks of JackLNDN, the more thoughtful and subtle house of the dazzling Kidnap Kid, who does a fantastic job of reading the crowd. We caught the beginning of Descructo’s powerful G-House set, leaving right after he threw down “Party Up”, a track that’s been played in nearly every G-House set for the past year to go catch Worthy’s set, who was strangely not included in the Dirtybird takeover. He played massive the house and house tracks, culminating in his huge track, “So Delicious”, which has been on repeat on my iPod for the past few months. Next up was Kry Wolf, one of the sets I was most excited for out of the whole weekend, which definitely lived up to my expectations. After seeing Kry Wolf a month ago at a nearly empty Slake, I was yet again met by a confusingly empty crowd, including a dude who had brought his own folding table to post up for the set. Despite the nearly empty audience, Kry Wolf threw down some of the biggest Jackin’ House songs of the weekend, like “Work” by Billy Kenny, and his own track with Claude Von Stroke, “Turbosteppa”, among many others off his own labels, “Food Music” and “Sounds of Sumo”, making one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
We ran back for some of MKs delicious and melodic house set, featuring his new vocal house single, “Bring Me To Life”, before Saxy, funk master Griz took the decks. Like usual, he alternated mixing electro-funk & house tracks with live Saxophone layered overtop. He played dozens of his own classics, with and without sax, along with improvising over other artists’ tracks, like Saint Motel’s “Just My Type”, one of the most fun moments of the whole festival.
Up next was a “Mystery Headliner”, something I didn’t even realize was happening until murmurs shot through the crowd, guessing who it would be. All of a sudden, the familiar white “ZD” popped up, and the crowd went wild, realizing Zed’s Dead would be the surprise performers. Anytime I’ve seen Zeds Dead they’ve played the crowd with their genre-bending dubstep, and this set took their music to the next level. Combining their house-ier tracks like “Lost You”, with their more dubstep heavy songs like “Collapse”, Zeds Dead was one of the best surprises at Shambhala. This performmance convinced me that every festival should have a surprise performer.
Now I could go on and on for pages about all the incredible musical acts I saw from Sunday to Monday morning, like the cirque-du-soleil on acid performance by Lucent Dossier, the pounding Jackin’ House of Jack Beats who had one of the best sets at The Fractal Forest that weekend, AC Slater proving why Night Bass deserves all the hype it gets with the bassiest and hardest tracks, or Pretty Light’s set which physicaly blew my mind, delivering the best mixing I’ve ever seen out of him, completely shutting down all his critics by seamlessly blending his musically genius tracks like “I Can See It In Your Face”, his remix of Pink Floyd’s “Time”, and his bass-heavy “I Know The Truth”, but this is getting a little long winded, and it was by this day that I truly realized that the music is only a fragment of the Shambhala experience.
What truly sets this festival apart is the energy pulsating through the fans, performers, staff and security alike. I did not come across one person who didn’t look like they wanted to be there, and were having the time of their lives. The volunteer-based staff system they have set up is the best I’ve ever seen, because no one there hates music and festivals and is just there because they’re being paid to – completely miserable. Every interaction I had with anyone was completely pleasant and helpful, from the security telling me about photo procedures, to vendors selling me food, and all the wonderful attendees I crossed paths with. Even the artists loved Shmabhala so much they stayed the whole weekend, catching their freinds’ sets, something I haven’t seen at any other festival.
Shambhala also does an incredible job of keeping everyone safe. While I rarely noticed staff searching through the crowds to try and get people in trouble, there was always a helpful and genuinely concerned and caring staff/security member when someone needed help – they maintained the perfect balance of helping when we needed and keeping their distance when we didn’t. Since Shambhala is a dry festival, it became very obvious very quickly that a lot of drugs were being taken here, but the staff knew exactly how to deal with this. Offering free drug testing and a quiet, judgement-free sanctuary incase things got too intense, Shambhala didn’t promote drug culture, but instead handled what people were going to do regardless, quite perfectly.
To put it simply, if I could only go to one festival for the rest of my life, it would hands down be Shambhala.
Dreaming About Next Year,