After my incredible experience at Shambhala last year, I jumped at the chance to attend this year. When the lineup came out, it was filled with gems from across all genres, but wasn’t as fully stacked as last years. At first I was slightly disappointed, but then I remembered how rushed I was to catch all the sets I wanted to see – running from stage to stage, not fully experiencing all the most important parts of Shambhala. I rescanned the set times and realized I was happier with it this way. There was almost no time where there wasn’t someone I was ecstatic to see, yet there weren’t too many overlaps that would force me to speed through the festival.
One early morning (after a rough night of my 21st birthday might I add) I woke up, took an uber to JFK and began my adventure to Shambhala 2016. My friends and I arrived late into the night on Thursday evening and were slightly disappointed to find that we would have to camp in perfect lined up rows, which made us feel slightly secluded from our neighbors. Last year it was more of a free for all parking situation, where you could scan out which people you wanted to camp next to, and nestle in wherever you chose, creating more of a community vibe. We begrudgingly began to set up, but ended up next to an incredible couple from Australia who flew all the way to Salmo River just for the festival. Things were starting to look up. We head into the festival just for Antennae’s set after being completely blown away by his performance last year. We were slightly disappointed with his set this year, not because it was bad, but because his sound has shifted into a direction that I don’t enjoy as much. We explored around for a little but soon settled in for the night, wanting to not exert ourselves too much the first night, especially since so much laid ahead for us.
The next morning we woke up, and head out for the river with our floats and speakers. The river this year was completely restored from last year, and was flowing from just below the living room stage, down farther than we could see. The river was filled to the brim with smiling faces, absorbing not only the beautiful day, but the amazing energy of all those around them. It was a full blown party all the way down to the end. In typical Shambhala fashion, everyone was quickly gaining new friends around them, joining floats together and sharing food, music, and some other stuff that goes without saying.
People were coming in and out of the river to catch sets all along the festival, bringing their new friends with them or even running off alone from their group, surely making new friends wherever they ended up. We head back to the camp to get ready for the night, ate a little food at the dozens of vendors stands, and head back in to catch the first sets of the night.
As all the performers and attendees talk about, everyone really throws down for Shambhala, putting months of work into what they know will be an incredibly memorable set. Day one brought energy rousing sets from nearly every performer I caught. Nora En Pure layed down a set bridging the gaps between the mainstream and the underground, followed by SNBRN who brought slightly more bass. Justin Martin created a tech house wonderland at the Pagoda, proving why not only himself but the label he represents so fully – Dirtybird – has the reputation it deserves. AlunaGeorge delivered a refreshing live set filled with energy from not only Aluna as the front woman, but her two live performers as well. Over at the Amphitheater, Sam Gellaitry, a newcomer to the scene with a lot of hype lived up to my expectations, mixing hip-hop with future bass and enchanting remixes and originals. Next came on The Gaslamp Killer, with a highlight set of the weekend. Explaining the genre of his set is pointless, and is much better understood seeing him live, which every music fan, electronic or not, should do once in their life. He mixes with a truly one-of-a-kind characteristic. His approach, behavior, design, and form are all so unique and mesmerizing, it’s truly impossible to leave his set in the middle, and want him to stay on forever – which he did in a way, appearing throughout other sets all weekend, sometimes improvising through their sets (to their requests or not). Boys Noize and Eprom closed the night out with heavy, bassy, and hard-hitting sets, bringing the energy to a climax.
Day Two saw highlight performances from Questlove, Beats Antique, Amine Edge & DANCE, Cut Chemist, and Rezz, all bringing different sounds than you’d typically expect from them, but happily welcomed for their innovation and preparation for the festival. Sunday into Monday brought not only the best sets of the weekend, but truly some of the best sets I’ve ever experienced. By this time the energy was so incredible and contagious throughout the festival, I think it was actually impossible to have a bad time. I started my day of music off with a legendary set by a legendary DJ & Producer, Nightmares on Wax. The sun was still up, and all around me I couldn’t see anything but smiles and moving feet. People kept locking eyes with complete strangers in awe of the set, hugging and laughing throughout his three hour set that kept going for an extra half hour because no one, including the organizers wanted it to end. A little bit later I went to catch The M Machine, not expecting much. Boy was I wrong. They delivered a nearly perfect high-energy set, filled with classics, mainstream hits, underground bangers, and IDs that the crowd completely ate up. I rarely enjoy a set filled with that much electro and progressive house, but I had so much fun. Next came my two favorite sets of the weekend, and the two sets in my Top 10 of my life – Felix Da Housecat and Green Velvet. Both took place in the Fractal Forest, which is probably the most unique and special stage at Shambhala. Something about the lazers shooting between the century old trees, the projection mapping onto the trippy screens, the huge pyramid, and the 360 degree layout of the stage really transports you to a different world. I can’t remember a time where I was having more fun in my life, and I was surrounded by complete strangers. The energy flowing throughout the crowd was otherworldly, and can’t ever be captured with words, pictures, or videos. These sets will stay with me for the rest of my life, showing me how much power music can have over you. CloZee, xxyyxx, and Destructo finished off the night, and my 2016 Shambhala experience on a high note.
As you can clearly see from my excitement about the music, that would have been enough to surpass any other festival, but strangely enough, the music isn’t the most impressive part of Shambhala. There’s something about the festival that no others can compete with. The stages stand up all year long, not moving a single inch. The guests return each year without question, without even being too concerned about who’s playing, because they know how special the experience is. It seems that the festival will continue forever, whether the organizers decided to stop it or not (which they surely won’t). Shambhala exists no matter how many people play, or how many people come to party. It seems like no matter what, people would return and throw their own party here just because it’s such a tradition. Shambhala is so much more than a festival – it’s truly a gathering; a celebration of friends, music, and life.
Walking through the stages and endless little nooks and crannies of surprises, you don’t see a single sad face. Smiles are brimming from ear to ear, which may be helped by some invested substances, but I’m certain they’d be there even if they were sober. The statement sounds infinitely corny, but you really do get high off the energy of the festival itself. I found myself in the middle of the fractal forest during Felix da House Cat’s set, looking around at all the people around me, feeling like everyone was on the same exact drug, brimming with as much energy and happiness as possible. There was electricity in the air, and I truly don’t think I’ve ever had more fun than in that moment, surrounded by seemingly strangers in the middle of the woods. There’s just so much magic flowing through Shambhala that’s impossible to explain until you’re there yourself.
I’ll say what I said again last year – if I could only go to one festival for the rest of my life, it would surely be Shambhala. The organizers put so much care and attention into every single detail, every single stage, every single installation, every single secret passage and secret stage you can discover, and into the always amazing and diverse lineup. Nearly every single DJ who performed took a moment of true appreciation for having been asked to play there, saying things like “This has always been my dream to play here”, “There’s a reason why every DJ across every genre wants to play here”, and “I pray this isn’t my last Shambhala, I’m coming back next year even if I’m not playing” – which I truly believe because all weekend the performers were seen wandering through the different stages, both behind the booth to check out friends sets of in the crowd, absorbing the amazing experience, unlike other festivals where the performers normally leave after their set.
Without sounding like I’m being paid thousands of dollars to say these things (which I’m absolutely not) I can’t stress enough how magical the festival is. If you’re gonna take off work and pay money to go to a festival, definitely make it Shambhala.
Already putting in my time off for next year,