Shambala offers atmosphere, smiles, inclusivity & community spirit

Shambala Festival 2011 review

published: Wed 31st Aug 2011

around the festival site (1)

Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th August 2011
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
£119 for adult weekend
last updated: Fri 2nd Sep 2011

Shambala 2011 is unable to make its mind up on the weather. The showers and sunshine seem to set a pattern for the weekend. Sometimes heavy showers confine us to the nearest shelter, but wherever that is, there is something fantastic going on. Shambala's workshops offer a multitude of things to get involved in. We participate in '90's dance workshops, learn about permaculture, and our 10 year old learns traditional ways of making fire (responsibly). We watch teenage lads learn to Can-Can, and we make soap and draw cocks. One of our daughter's masterpieces resembles a phallus, so we enter it into the competition. To our amazement, she picks up a 3rd prize!

around the festival site (1)
There are literally hundreds of workshops running throughout the weekend - rubbish craft, calligraphy, jewellery making (learning from a silversmith), and clay sculpture building, knitting, blacksmithing circus skills, making cardboard furniture, the list goes on and on.

During sunnier moments we enjoy kicking back and watching a drumming workshop, Kamikaze Trapeze or people playing the didgeridoo while sampling one of the great ales the festival has to offer. The bars at Shambala seem brilliantly stocked. Three of our party have earned themselves a ticket by staffing one of them and although they opt to work their 15 hours in a single stint, their enthusiasm, like all of the other bar staff I encounter over the weekend, seems lifted by the seas of smiling punters they serve all weekend. A variety of ciders, ales, spirits and cocktails and wines are available at any of the bars across the site. Although this is a festival and everyone is here to enjoy themselves, the 'casualty' count at Shambala seems pretty low. Though it's not my place to judge others for their chosen methods of enjoyment, it's pretty difficult to explain to smaller children the states that some adults choose to get themselves into. The issues we faced with explaining nitrous balloons in previous years seem to be a thing of the past in the main part.

around the festival site (3)
An excursion to the beautiful woodland area of the festival is a must for all festival goers. A beautiful haven with streams and sculptures, this is an amazing play space for all of the kids in our group. As we wander through the woods, we walk through a door, held in a frame and with walls of trees surrounding it. Wandering though, we enter a dressing room and then walk through to a camp fire surrounded by arm chairs.

A stage appears in the woods this year. Built into the trees, and with speakers dotted around in bushes, the ambience is enhanced with projections onto an incredible projection screen, fastened to trees and displaying magical images. As we sit in the calm area in the woodland, our kids playing, Cecelia Ndhlovu comes on to play in the treehouse. She plays the Mibira, the national instrument of Zimbabwe. It looks like a thumb piano played inside a large drum. The resonating sound mixed with her haunting voice is trance-inducing, as well as one of our musical highlights of the weekend.

around the festival site (1)
Other highlights include Red Snapper, whose bass-fuelled jazzy sounds are often backed with broken beats from drummer Rich Thair and seem responsible for holding off the rain on an otherwise rain-soaked Friday.

Lamb stomp through an amazing set in the main stage headline slot on Saturday evening. Playing predominantly from their new album 'Five', stand out tracks for me are 'Gabriel', 'Another Language', and 'Existential Itch'. Singer Lou Rhodes beautiful white dress proves to be a little on the chilly side for her as it billows in the wind but I couldn't find fault with their set. Andy Barlow's keyboards, drumming and general production work make Lamb the musical highlight of the festival for me.

Another notable performance was from The Correspondents, whose lead singer looks like the scary ghost of Harry Potter while belting out hip-hop over swing beats. ItÂ’s an unlikely combination but it works amazingly well.

Lamb
An unexpected delight for me is the Shambala Beatbox Orchestra. Seven beatboxers take to the stage and try to outdo one another and then collaborate for what is an incredible sound. I understand why they were programmed as an orchestra. Their vocal and range of instruments is incredible. Beatbox isn't usually my kind of thing and before this set I would have understood the skill involved but never really have enjoyed it. Not now, the closing ensemble, a Reggae-fuelled track with killer bass and incredibly life like horn section won me over.

Coda performs live dubstep at Chai Wallah's. It's no mean feat considering the bass requirements but the venue is rammed and bouncing for their set. Also performing at Chai Wallah's is Joe Driscoll. Having seen Joe perform at a festival a few weeks earlier, I bring along a couple of friends along. Before long, tapping feet become stomping feet as he deftly shatters the illusions of what a one-man band is all about. Recoding, sequencing and looping beats, riffs and breaks over each other and bringing them back into play over one another, he really is a talent and I'm pleased to have converted a couple more followers for him.

around the festival site (3)
Musically, our festival is brought to a close by Dizraeli and the Small Gods. Combining well written, poignant lyrics with beautifully played double bass, a scratch DJ, pipes, guitar, and beat boxing from Bellatrix (earlier of the Beatbox Orchestra). It a winning combination and ensures that our musical experiences of Shambala end on a high.

Unlike most other festivals music is not the main part of Shambala. Most of the line-up is not announced before the festival begins, so more wandering and musical discovery is the order of the day.

Willy Mason
Our kids revel in the relaxed atmosphere and the opportunity to have the freedom that we had as children. The family aspect of festivals is a melting pot that is difficult to cook. Many try and fail but at Shambala it seems to succeed effortlessly (though there is a great deal of effort going into ensuring that the kids are never short of something to do). A kids' field chocked full of things to do doesn't even begin to cover all that keeps our nippers entertained for the weekend, though there they enjoy circus skills, are entertained by the wonderful poet John Hegley and his amusing animal alphabet, and a particular family favourite; Biddy Bingo! There are also crazy bikes, trampolines, water play and puppet shows. Face painting and various kids workshops and we're barely scratching the surface.

There is a Family Yurt offering a place to bath the younger kids, a place to drink cocoa and listen to stories by a fire and sing songs. It seems like Shambala has it all covered.

around the festival site (fancy dress)
There's even a Teen Tent offering the opportunity to remix and DJ as well as performances from rappers and bands in a more intimate atmosphere.

Another of the more important aspects of festivals for me (if not the most), is food. Shambala seem to carefully select their food stalls to ensure a tasty mix of food types. Pizza, curry, Greek food, burgers, pasta and oodles of veggie options are available across the site. Sadly there aren't enough meal times to try everything but we give it a good attempt.

around the festival site (2)
For me, the things that set Shambala apart from every other festival are the atmosphere, the smiles, the inclusivity and community spirit. Dressing up is not really optional here, you would feel more out of place wandering around not dressed up, and although the fancy dress parade is timetabled for Saturday, most of Shambala is done in fancy dress.

The carnival atmosphere is in evidence throughout this wonderful weekend and although I've tried to give a balanced view of our weekend, I struggle to find any negatives.

Excessive 'tagging' of everything is a real threat to the festival organisers, and something which ruined some of the art installations and costs a fortune to remove. That downer out of the way, I really can't think of anything negative to say about Shambala. It is wonderful and one of the highlights of our calendar.

We'll be there again next year for sure. I won't urge you to join us, please wait until we've bought our tickets first because it's horrible really, you wouldn't like it :).

around the festival site (1)
review by: James Tayler

photos by: Phil Bull

Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th August 2011
a secret location in the Midlands, Northamptonshire, NN6 9LY, England MAP
£119 for adult weekend
last updated: Fri 2nd Sep 2011


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