Shambala Festival 2018 – Adventures in Utopia

I’m so glad I finally got to return to Shambala festival in 2018! I first dipped my toe in 2013, however I volunteered with Oxfam and had done a run of Boomtown Fair, then Beautiful Days, then straight on to Shambala all as working festivals, with only a day off in between. It meant I was super tired by the time we made it to Shambles and I wasn’t able to enjoy it nearly as much as I should have. I’ve been meaning to go back ever since and I could finally make it happen this year!

This review has been a long time coming, taking much longer than my review posts usually take, so for that I must apologise! The reason being a combination of being busy but also being terrified of writing this one! Shambala has taken the crown this year of being my favourite festival of 2018, and I wanted to make sure I did it justice. The people, the ethos and the escapism really are second to none, and I also ate better at this festival than I have at any other so far ever before, which is amazing because Shambala is meat-free! Vegan & veggie foods only! Let’s crack on, here’s how my weekend went:

Thursday – coach from London, arrival, exploring, Swingamajig!

For this year’s Shambala, I did something I hadn’t done for any festival since 2009, and travelled to the site by coach 😮 . I usually drive to festivals but make sure I liftshare to minimise pollution. This time, Eldon and I had decided to travel up by coach because it was just the two of us going, and because the coach tickets are so heavily discounted, it was much cheaper than petrol + parking, and less hassle! The only ‘downside’ was I had to learn to pack light, which I have never been good at. Luckily, Eldon is the lightest packer ever so he was able to help me carry some of my things 😛

We arrived at London’s Paddington station for just before 8am, and joined the queue. Everyone was friendly and lovely while we waited. It took a while to organise the loading onto the many coaches, but at about 9.45am we were off. The coach journey was perfectly pleasant! For once I could snooze, relax, chat, read a book… Rather than have to drive and concentrate! We arrived on site near Northampton just before midday (having stopped once on the journey at a service station for a pit stop), we had our tickets scanned and wristbands given as we got off the coach, but then queued for security which didn’t take too long.

A screenshot of the Shambala 2018 map from the app

Once we were in we headed towards Pink campsite. We were early enough to get a great pitch not far from the path, and my Regatta tent was up in minutes. We’d chosen Pink campsite as our friends John & Loty were bringing their camper van and would be parked in Blue. We chilled at the tent until we got the text that they had arrived, then I donned my Burnt Soul catsuit and we headed over.

John & Loty had made a bunch of camper van friends the previous year at Shambala and had parked up with them again. They had an event shelter between their vans, it was an excellent set up! Totally tempted me to bring my camper van for next year. We had a great time getting to know their neighbours, adding more glitter to our faces, and having a mini photoshoot in the sunshine! In the first of many instances over the weekend, Loty let me borrow one of her sparkly clothing items, and I topped off my catsuit with a Loonigans cape.

We headed into the main festival area for the first time in our new big group. First on the agenda was some food, of course I headed straight for The Happy Maki for some vegan sushi, then we went for an explore. Within minutes we were greeted by the Police Rave Unit, which made me super happy because I hadn’t seen it since a Boomtown maybe 3 years before? It’s essentially an old police riot van (that still looks very convincing!) that’s been kitted out with epic speakers, and has a team of DJs and ravers dressed as police threatening to arrest you if your dance moves “aren’t wonky enough” haha! We had our first bounce of the festival to their naughty basslines.

It was then time to check out an electro swing band I’d wanted to see for a while, Jaye & Foe. I’d discovered them on Instagram a few months before, they’re based in Dubai but were in the UK for a few festival appearances. I’d missed them at Boomtown a few weeks before so made sure I didn’t this time! They were playing the Swingamajig tent which quickly became one of my favourites venues of Shambala. It’s curated by Tom Hyland of Electric Swing Circus, and always had the best music!

Jaye & Foe played a fantastic set, we made sure we were right at the front dancing away. Jaye’s voice is gorgeously rich, and paired with fast bopping beats it made for a great time.

We then spent the rest of the evening at Chai Wallahs, however we were all pretty tired and wanting to make the most of the next day, so we called it a night relatively early, around 1am.

“Freedom Friday” – Sharon, Drag Bingo, OMG It’s The Church, contortionist burlesque

Eldon and I woke up bright, breezy and ready for our first full day of Shambala fun! We decided to go for a breakfast walk, and headed towards the healing field for a chilled way to start our day. The healing field is tucked away behind the lake and is just gorgeous… with massage tents, amazing hot chai, and various meditation/happiness workshops. We sat with a cup of chai around the fire pit, and watched a tai chi lesson that was happening in the middle of the field.

On our wander back towards the tent, we spotted there were people paddleboarding on the lake, and checked our timetables to discover that it was in fact paddleboard yoga(?)! I wish I’d known, I am most definitely signing up to this in 2019!

Our lazy morning continued with breakfast at Smoky Tentacles; the Moroccan shisha tent. We had delectable veggie sausage and halloumi wraps, and shared a peppermint loose tea pot. I have the best memories of Smoky Tentacles from over my years of festivals. It really is a fantastic place to sit on cushions, chill out, and have some shisha. They have always sold the best selection of hot drinks, and the addition of their breakfast wraps really was a game changer for my friends and I!

Back to the tents, and Eldon really wanted to join in the #FreedomFriday dress code, but hadn’t brought anything with him. Of course, straight away I dove into my backpack and selected one of my dresses for him to wear. I paired it with my sequin blazer, fashioned some faux-breasts out of tights and a bikini top, and voila! Eldon had transformed into Sharon, and if I do say so myself, she looked magnificent:

Loty & John had text us to say they were up and awake, so we went and joined them at their caravan. It was time to put makeup and glitter on Sharon, and Loty bestowed her a fantastic Headspace Headdresses one-off hat. We were all dressed to the nines when we headed into the festival to start the day!

First port of call was Drag Bingo, where Loty’s pals Anna & Beth joined us, and which ended up being one of my top highlights! It’s exactly what it sounds like, drag queens hosting a bingo session, and it was wonderful. Eldon/Sharon participated in a catwalk at the beginning, then we were treated to hilarious games, and drag performances from Backalley Sally and Carmen Monoxide, whilst we attempted to play bingo – I clearly am not very lucky however as I barely got any numbers, or maybe I was too distracted!

Leaving drag bingo with huge smiles on our faces, I bumped into Jaye from Jaye & Foe, which was a lovely surprise! She even recognised me from Where’s My Tent? – that really blew my mind! She told us they were playing another set that night at 4am, so we added that to our to do list!

Our festival favourites, Oh My God, It’s The Church! were on the main stage next, so we grabbed some chips with cheese and gravy as a quick refuel then made our way over.

The Church were a highlight as always! I love bringing people to their first service, and Loty & John’s faces were priceless the whole way through! It was great to see them on such a big stage play to such a huge crowd, with their full live funk band. This summer they’ve started adding original hymns to their set list, and ‘Preacher’ is a personal favourite!

By the end of their set we were well on our way to merry. We walked round to Chai Wallahs and stood out the back near the bar, taking lots of pictures of our super sparkly gang, and we made lots of friends, including a fabulous couple dressed in drag for the day. I wish I remembered their names because they were so lovely!

We spent a good few hours dancing away near Chai Wallahs, I had a couple of Espresso Martinis that they were serving at their bar, which I was very pleased about! After a sunset photoshoot, we popped back to L&J’s van to top up our alcohol and plan the rest of our evening.

Loty’s friend Beth is a circus performer, and she was performing her contortionist burlesque at midnight at The Social Club, so of course after more drinks at the caravan, we all went along to support! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but wow this girl is talented! I couldn’t even do the splits if I had 4 months to train and a gun to my head, but Beth is possibly the bendiest person I have ever seen! Her performance was just great, a mix of cheeky burlesque and incredible contortion. Bravo girl!

We waited for Beth after her show, then all headed into the Enchanted Woods for some neon-lit dancing between the trees. This area was just magical! The DJ booth was a treehouse and there were some many nooks and crannies to explore that held hidden surprises like artwork or interactive installations. We lost track of time dancing, drinking and making new friends til around 3am when we ran back over to Swingamajig, having realised it was time for Jaye & Foe‘s second performance of the weekend!

By this point we were super tiddly but Swingamajig was so so good! The whole tent was bouncing, it was one-in-one-out to get in, and Jaye & Foe gave us a fantastic set. After one last gin & tonic, we called it a night at 5am having had one of the best festivals days of my summer!

Saturday – Sensory Speed Dating, the parade, and the Enchanted Woods

Saturday morning we slept right through… we woke up around midday and were struggling a little. Eldon went and got us camembert crumpets from Strumpets with Crumpets and brought mine to me in bed which made the whole thing more bearable. We decided to go and have a shower, and chose the communal Heatwave Spa rather than queue for ages for the individual cubicles of the Posh Wash showers. This did mean we were showering with lots of other naked people, but something about Shambala made me realise we’re all just bodies! Who cares! It was quite freeing actually! Barely a queue and you could use the saunas too. I will be doing this again!

We soon felt refreshed and energised, and finished getting ready at the tent. We wanted to make sure we looked good, because the first thing on our itinerary for Saturday was Sensory Speed Dating at the Guerrilla Science tent. Not entirely sure what we were in for, but we were intrigued!

Sensory Speed Dating was packed, and was essentially a talk between a scientist and a fantastic presenter, which had some activities we had to complete. It was fascinating! We paired up with different people, put on a blindfold, then tested how our senses made us feel by doing things like feeding each other, whispering in each other’s ears, and touching hands. It was really fun to learn the science behind our physical sensory reactions. Sadly neither Eldon nor I found festival love, as it was 80% girls there and both Eldon and myself prefer the boys 😉 But we still really enjoyed it!

As we left Guerrilla Science we were in the perfect time and place to watch the parade! The theme this year was Avant Garden, and the costumes were just incredible! The parade happens every year and Shambala encourage people to dress up and join in, but the quality of fancy dress here was better than I’ve ever seen! I will seriously have to step up my game for next year because I’d love to walk the parade!

We got a text from John & Loty to come and meet them for some food, so we headed towards the main stage. We made one pit stop though, as I spotted the Red Sea Travel Agency, a new area for 2018. This was a period positive tent, that aimed to made those girls experiencing “that time of the month” during the festival had a calm place to chill. They had nice toilets out the back so you could change your sanitary items, and particularly promoted the Moon Cup to help reduce waste if you wanted to chat about it. It was super lovely and had amazing areas to chill that had cushion that looked like pads, including eye masks. Eldon was mildly terrified but I loved it! I thought it was great that Shambala provided this space.

We met John & Loty in the main food area near the main stage, and I decided to get vegan To-Fish Tacos from Club Mexicana. They were served with red cabbage, vegan sour cream and salsa verde, and tasted uh-may-zing. My only disappointment was that they weren’t serving their vegan cheeze sticks that had blown my mind when Luisa had first introduced me to Club Mexicana at Vegan Nights London.

Next on the agenda was The Roots Yard which is a reggae stage with some fantastic artwork around it. We spent a couple of hours here dancing and taking photos in the sunshine. I really loved the chilled nature of Shambala… not always running to see the next act, just going with the flow and enjoying being in the moment!

At 8pm it was time for Manou Gallo on the main stage. This was a recommendation from a friend which turned out to be amazing! Manou is a bass player from the Ivory Coast whose groovy rhythms make her the front woman of contemporary Afro-European music. It was so interesting to hear the bass being played as the main instrument taking the melody, with rhythm guitars backing it up. She was definitely one of favourite discoveries of the weekend!

As dusk fell we decided to explore the Enchanted Woods further, as we’d heard they had some installations a bit further in than we went the night previously. The woods were much bigger than we first thought, and soon enough we came across a small clearing filled with light art installations! Our favourite was the Illumaphonium, which had rings of light you could touch and they would play a sound! I was transfixed:

Next we found the LED tree which mesmerised us for a very long time. I’d seen something similar at Noisily, but this one was all compassing, you could actually stand in amongst the LED ropes and you felt surrounded! We played with them for ages, taking some really cool photos in the process!

It was while we were playing in the LED tree that my favourite moment of the weekend happened, and it is the perfect little story to give you an idea of why Shambala and the people that go there are just the loveliest people on Earth. I asked a girl to take a photo of us (the above one!) and then we got talking because she had done her face paint the same as Eldon; UV daisies on her cheeks! She told us she had dressed as a meadow for the fancy dress theme, so we called her Meadow, and then she told us it was her birthday, when it was about to turn Eldon’s birthday at midnight! She introduced her sister who I spoke to for a while. The sisters bestowed some presents to us! Meadow gave Eldon a pack of seeds so he could plant his own meadow at home, and the sister gave me a tiny painted pebble as a good luck charm! How sweet of them!

Meadow on the left, then Eldon with his matching facepaint, then Meadow’s sister, and Loty

We enjoyed our time in the woods for a few hours, alternating between dancing, and sitting on the circular hay bales making friends. At midnight we all sang Happy Birthday to Eldon, and our new friends sang too. We laughed so much my face hurt the next day. Everyone was so lovely. At 2am we nipped back to Swingamajig to watch Mr T & The Minions, another favourite of mine, and had a toe-tapping good time, and then we returned to the woods for a little while longer before we crashed around 4am. Another perfect day!

Sunday – Eldon’s Birthday – cock drawing, Gentleman’s Dub Club, and the Spectacle

We woke up on Sunday to the sound of rain, but it was Eldon’s birthday and we were in a good mood! It was my turn to go and get breakfast, so I went to Olivier’s Bakery to get us some yummy baked goodies including tomato & onion focaccia and pain au chocolats. After we’d had our breakfast in tent and got dressed, we were excited for the Sunday Supplement Cock Drawing Club, so made our way to the Random Workshop tent.

Cock Drawing Club is exactly what it sounds like! Everyone sits around, takes a newspaper, and comes up with creative places to draw dicks on them. It’s incredibly therapeutic. Then you all hang your masterpieces up for the world to see! Eldon very much enjoyed this, especially when all the cock-drawers sung him Happy Birthday once more!

I even got papped by a Shambala photographer and I’m on the Shambala website! You can see it in situ here

As is typical on Sunday’s at festivals, we were much hungrier today than we had been! So after we’d filled our quota of penis doodles, we grabbed a Posh Dog – I went for the Deli Dog which had olives, sun-dried tomatoes and feta on it, and then we also shared a portion of dumplings from Dorshi. Both were incredible. I honestly have never eaten better at a festival, and everything was vegan or vegetarian!

Now refuelled, Eldon and I took a wander around the craft fields but sadly nothing took our fancy, then stopping at the Buzzard stage for a look around. I’d seen this area in Croissant Neuf at Glastonbury; it has a pond and little suspended pods you can sit in. A lovely place to relax and some great world music too!

As we passed Guerrilla Science I spotted another familiar attraction; the exotic petting zoo they had at Secret Garden Party. Eldon loves snakes so I had to insist he held one on his birthday! I chose to hold a bullfrog instead as I liked his little face! But they also had huge millipedes, scorpions, iguanas and tarantulas. Such a random thing to have at a festival but we loved it!

It was time to meet Loty & John for Gentleman’s Dub Club on the Shambala (main) stage. Yet another favourite of mine. I love their high energy, bouncy dub tunes, and singer Jonathan always gets the crowd going. Their song “High Grade” is always a particular highlight, and the one that the crowd knows without knowing they know it – if that makes any sense at all 😉

After GDC we wandered back into the Woods, this time to follow a rumour that there was a secret area right at the back. For once a festival rumour was true! As we walked through the woodland path all the way to the very end, we discovered a tent with a small opening, and beyond that a passage into a clearing. I didn’t manage to get many photos in here but I’ll do my best to describe it! We’d discovered a Brownies camp, with lots of people dressed up in Brownies uniform. There were little teepees holding various treasures or badges, one was “Tree Tugging”, one was a Camp Out with a bunk bed in it. When we arrived they were performing a funeral for “Brown Owl”, and lifted her into the next life, carrying her on a stretcher out to the back of the tent whilst chanting. You just can’t make this up! One of many moments that made me fall head over heels in love with Shambala festival.

After we spent some time chilling with the Brownies and having a drink or two at their bar, it was time to get a good spot for the Sunday Spectacle. I’d heard many good things about the fantastic firework display and circus performance they put on at Shambala, but it completely exceeded my expectations!

The circus was arranged by Cirque Bijou, the same team that I’d seen at Camp Bestival, but this display was incredible. It started with some stunning aerial performances in hoops out in the crowd to a slow build of music. Next, a tightrope walker wobbled high in the air to a space mission countdown, and fireworks erupted behind him. The following performance was a combination of epic fireworks, a violinist lifted into the air who played upside down, and a burning sun effigy that exploded onto the lake. I’m not ashamed to say I cried whilst watching! It was a fantastic display that really exuded emotions!

After the Spectacle we were all a little teary, but wanted the make the most of our final hours. A brief dance in the woods, followed by watching Beth’s final performance, took us to midnight and of course I just had to see Too Many T’s at the Phantom Laundry. What the perfect end to our festival! My favourite lads absolutely smashing it on too small a stage for sure… I had to fight to get inside the tent as we were a couple of minutes late, and then, not exaggerating, the entire place was bouncing and literally shaking the floor! It was incredible!

We stayed up a little while after the T’s to have a final dance and a wander, but Eldon and I knew we had an early coach (9am) so hit the hay around 2.30am. We set our alarms for 7.45, and managed to roll ourselves out of bed and pack up quickly enough. Shambala run an EcoBond system, and we’d collected and sorted our rubbish all weekend into binbags and recycling bags. However we hadn’t really produced enough for a bag each… so we spent 10 minutes litter picking around the tents (though there really wasn’t much to find!) and then went to the Recycling Point to collect our £10.

Beautiful orange and pink sunset over the Shambala campsite. Hundreds of tents as far as the eye can see.

As we left the site I couldn’t believe how clean the campsites were! The festival all weekend was super clean but the stark contrast between others fests and Shambala on the Monday morning was huge. I don’t know how they do it but they clearly get the best/nicest/most considerate attendees! We made it to the coach for 9am and it took us all the way back to London easy peasy, and I could even have a snooze! Such a luxury when I usually drive home from festivals!

Shambala you were incredible!

The best festival I went to in 2018. I don’t know how you do it, but you clearly attract the right people with your incredible vibe!

I will definitely be back in 2019!

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