Shambhala is an orgy of weirdness that thousands of fun-loving freaks describe as a life changing experience. Festival-goers range from dishwashers to CEOs, but they all share one common attribute—they party hard. I was told that to truly understand the festival, you need to experience the Shambhalove for yourself.
I decided to buy a ticket, and some unexpected Shambhanxiety quickly settled in. Would I be exposed as a boring norm, spending the entire festival hiding in my tent because the drugs were too strong? Or maybe worse, might I get in touch with a different side of myself that I didn’t know existed and leave the festival a soother-sucking idealist hippie, blinded to the realities of the world by the hue of my rose coloured glasses?
The day before the festival, my anxiety worsened. With the majority of the province already covered in smoke from some of the worst forest fires in the province’s recorded history, a new 100 hectare forest fire was discovered a mere 20km from the festival. The authorities had issued a pre-evacuation notice, noting that festival goers should ensure they have a designated driver in case the situation worsens. By the next day, the fire would more than double in size to 250 hectares.
My mind was plagued with images of thousands of people trying to escape a rapidly spreading inferno while tripping out on acid. On psychedelics, it’s important to maintain the right frame of mind. I’ve had bad trips before, one in specific because a friend cut his hand with a pocket knife out in the wilderness. The wound was far from life threatening, but the fear and stress mixed with the hallucinogens made it one of the worst experiences of my life. If hellfire scorched the festival grounds and I was forced to abandon my possessions and evacuate for the sake of my life, it would be hard to stay positive. Despite my worries, onward we went, putting our lives in the hands of the authorities.
When we arrived at Shambhala, smoke and dust filled the air. Masses of people were carrying tents and supplies, dressed in little more than rags covering their genitals and bandanas covering their mouths while the heavy, persistent bass thumped in the distance. The heat was almost unbearable. Despite these conditions, spirits were high.
Drug dealers roamed from camp to camp, offering an assortment of products. These dealers looked vastly different from the image of a stereotypical drug dealer. Instead of thuggish brutes, they were frail hippies, wearing little more than a fanny pack; someone you’d be happy to hang out on the beach with but would hate to hire.
After we were settled, we headed into heart of the party where I noticed a sign recommending earplugs, and selling them for $20 a pair. Surely they wouldn’t have the music so loud that it would damage my ears, I didn’t even sign a waiver. I decided the earplugs were a scam.
Shambhala is technically a music festival, but without the right drugs, the heavy electronic dance music is impossible to enjoy. As such, an argument could be made that it is actually a drug festival. I paced myself the first night as we had three full nights of partying ahead of us. When the drugs wore off, I looked around and quickly realized this was no place to be sober. Everyone looked absolutely twisted, each in their own world, yet somehow connected, dancing like maniacs for no-one but themselves. I felt out of place. In a world of freaks, the normal man is the weirdo.
On my way to my campsite I walked past an official looking tent where volunteers offered to test your drugs. Despite having already tested my drugs the old fashioned way, curiosity drew me in. I learned that my cocaine was cut with ephedrine, side effects being an increased heartrate and insomnia. My MDMA was also un-pure and was likely to cause me to clench my jaw. It felt like he was a drug psychic with supernatural powers, or maybe he was just cold reading me. Although I didn’t test the acid, I’m sure he would have told me the side effects would include feeling like the moon, sun and stars were aligning, and that I was fulfilling my life’s destiny.
Sitting by the river the next day, I noticed what might have been a piece of ash falling from the sky. Shortly thereafter, an official-looking person handed me an official-looking flyer which stated that the winds had shifted and the fire had grown. We had one more night of partying, and then they were sending us home a day early.
We had two days’ worth of drugs left, and one day to do them. Sometimes it takes doing all the drugs and dancing in the woods with 15,000 people to realize that, in a world where a spark can wipe out an entire forest—where love, the most powerful force on earth, somehow keeps losing the battle to greed, hate and fear—one can take infinite solace in the fact that there is nothing you can do about it. As the world burns around us, for lack of any other reasonable thing to do, we may as well dance.
Soon after I made the above realization, the DJ stopped the music to give a speech. “I see so much love out there today” he explained to us. “But there is so much hate in the world” he reminded us. “Love is stronger than hate!” he continued, while everyone waited impatiently for the music to start again. His speech went on for ten more minutes, finally concluding with the message that we should all treat each other better. Everyone agreed. In reality though, tomorrow these drugs will wear off, and we will all be going back to our meaningless jobs where time is money, sharing is losing, and people are problems. Blanket statements about how we should all treat each other better aren’t helpful; unless you are offering tenable solutions to an identifiable problem, please shut the fuck up and drop the bass.
We danced through dawn. At 6am as the sun rose all of our dancing was rewarded with the most glorious gift that only the almighty could have offered: a rain-shower. A cheer rose through the crowd as the exhausted dancing mob once again became energized. In a province desperate for rain, we all felt like we had somehow helped it along. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not believing me, but at that moment I felt the touch of God. So this was Shambhalove. I did another bump of coke and felt God’s touch again, even more perceivably than the first time.
The next morning, news spread that the rain had helped to contain the fire and the evacuation was no longer in effect. The party would unexpectedly continue for one more night, as originally scheduled. Having already mentally committed to going home, I had mixed feelings about staying. My ears were ringing from the 12 hours of damagingly loud music from the night before; everyone’s voices sounded tinny, slightly robotic. Dehydrated and lacking serotonin, I pulled myself out of bed, chugged a litre of water, forced myself to eat a handful of trail-mix, and dropped a tab of acid. We didn’t drive all this way to go home early.
A week later my Shambhangover had almost come to an end. The ringing in my ears was nothing more than a faint hum—a ship blowing its foghorn way off in the distance beyond the horizon, out of sight but unmistakably present. Next year I’ll shell out for the earplugs.
Text by : Jonathan Baum
Pics by : Brian Hockenstein