Shambala 2016 Review

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One of the things I love about Shambala is that the organisers obviously love it as much as I do. The extra thought given to details at this festival is simply incredible.

This year they put on so many extra little stages and acts that I’ve decided to concentrate on the new things! If you want to see what else is on offer – I would love it if you would go and read my other reviews. I reviewed Shambala in 2013, 2014 and 2015 as well (this is how much I love this festival).

The Music

Shambala surpassed itself this year with the sheer quantity of different stages and different music. We didn’t visit the main stage as much as previous years as there were so many other places. The new stage in the healing field was a lovely place to just hang out, eat cake and listen to some beautiful chilled out singers. Another new venue, Madame Bayou, was full of the most fantastic Mississippi jazz, and with straw bales to dance on was fun and exciting especially at night. Barrio Afrika, a venue in its second year, was my favourite as I really love african music and drums as it’s great to dance to. Swingamajig is another favourite, with live bands playing electro swing and kicking up a storm. From sea shanties to reggae to a dance DJ box in the enchanted woods, you could find pretty much everything here.

The Kids’ Field

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The kids’ field at Shambala is a lovely place and it’s hard not to spend the whole day here. The entrance artwork was designed by a child this year who had won a competition, and it was a wonderful piece of work.

There are stages, workshops, things to climb on, things to jump off, a place to build with hammers and nails, trampolines, bikes – and every activity in the field is free! Our favourite tent as usual was Big Top Mania. True their shows don’t change very much but they are excellent and I love to see some circus acts with a sense of humour! The trapeze workshop is fantastic but fills up quickly so it’s best to get there a bit early. The talent show there is always entertaining and it’s lovely to see the children grow their confidence, and festival children are often very talented.

Big Top Mania
Big Top Mania

Food

Shambala had made an incredible decision to go vegetarian this year. This made it one of the most sustainable festivals in the UK, as eating meat is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Some might say it was a brave move, but it didn’t stop the festival selling out, and I think would attract people to go – as Shambala is not just a music festival, it’s a festival full of ideas and debates too. I still eat meat but I have reduced the amount we eat and I understand the concerns of those that don’t, and it is always interesting to debate these things.

My verdict on it is – the food at Shambala was superb, as usual. If anything there had been more effort made to provide a variety of options. We decided to be true to the festival’s ideals and went meat free for the weekend. None of us really missed it, and it meant the children just ate more fruit.

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I did walk past many people complaining that they were missing bacon! It seemed to be the main conversation of the weekend, and most people I met mentioned it at some point. I think it’s a great thing to do and I sincerely hope they stick with it next year. My only comment would be that they could really do with a kids’ cafe serving child friendly meals as the food was possibly a little bit too tasty for my children – they prefer food to be much blander! A baked potato stall would have been great (I haven’t seen one for a while, have they gone out of fashion?) Although for families with more adventurous children every single food stall was required to provide child size portions which made trying different food much easier.

I must give a special mention to the fresh fruit ice lolly stand by the kids’ field – such a brilliant place for it and wonderful to be able to say yes whenever they asked for them. And as usual we visited the onsite bakery every day for fresh croissants – such a treat at a festival.

The Bhangra Bus Cafe

Our favourite food place at the festival was  The Bhangra Bus Cafe. I do love a good curry, especially if I’m eating vegetarian food – and I can honestly say that if this cafe was next to my house I could easily give up meat. Serving up thalis, curry and chapatis to eat at seats on a real bus – well that’s both me and the children happy. True they only ate the rice and bread but given a bit of time I’ll get them onto the rest of it!

Garden of Feed’en and Insect Bar

Another new venue that we spent some time in was the ‘Garden of Feed’en’ – which had workshops and debates about sustainable food. There were several benches to eat undercover which was incredibly useful during such a rainy festival, and it was in a great location for food – it was in between the Bhangra Cafe and the wood fired pizza, and also contained one of the great debates of the festival – whether or not insects were the solution to the current problem of other forms of meat being unsustainable. Next to the Garden of Feed’en was the Insect Bar – serving up some genuinely lovely vegetarian food with ‘added protein’ of crickets and meal worms. The insects really acted as a garnish and were much like a sprinkling of roasted nuts – but they did show that we could get our nutritional needs without the need for more damaging meat farming.

My incredibly fussy children were encouraged to try them, and as they were at a festival they tried some meal worms! And then came the surprise – the fussiest of my children, and one who usually refuses to eat meat, loved the worms! As they were giving away small tasting portions we visited them every day – and at a vegetarian festival my youngest was getting the right amount of protein and iron possibly for the first time since she started solid food!

Many people didn’t agree with the Insect Bar, saying that a festival that goes vegetarian should go fully vegetarian – but I have to agree with them that as their aim is sustainability then it is good to explore all options – especially as a lot of current vegetarian food such as soya and quinoa actually exploits people to grow it – and growing insects could be done in a much smaller area and feed many more people. It’s an interesting idea and one that definitely needs further debate, and Shambala is a place for ideas and debate – that’s what makes it such a fantastic festival to visit with children.

Permaculture and Healing fields

The Permaculture area had been moved this year and given more space which made an old hippy like me very happy! There were many more workshops, as well as nature walks and even some goats. This was one of my favourite parts of the festival, and this is where I would head to if I got some time away from the kids.

In one of my adventures around on my own (while the children were happy building things with their dad in the trees) I wanted to go on the foraging walk but at that point the rain turned into a brutal downpour. Seeking shelter in the nearest tent I ended up watching a workshop on growing mushrooms, where everyone ended up with their own jar full of growing spores. I asked about the walk and was told to ‘look for a bearded man in a wedding dress”. This was so ‘Shambala’ that I didn’t mind that once I found him the walk had understandably been cancelled. I spent the time of the downpour joining in with a bit of wood whittling and chatting about the world.

Another area that had been expanded was the healing area – this year they had added a music stage and a cinema tent. This was a wonderful addition for us as it was much quieter than the rest of the festival and became a safe place for us to take the children in the evenings. They also had a friendly campfire there, and one evening there was some beautiful singing on the stage with a film about a family who decide to live an alternative lifestyle, which my children were happy to cuddle up under a blanket and watch – it was a lovely end to the day and a reminder that the festival has so much to it that every day at Shambala can be different!

Sustainability

There are two main types of festivals – the commercial festival which is all about the music and making people spend as much money as possible, and the type I love – the one that is about a certain alternative lifestyle and community, and which seeks to also inform and encourage debate. Some like Glastonbury have a bit of both, but Shambala is thoroughly and unashamedly the second type. Their efforts to be as sustainable as possible are not just commendable, but pioneering. They promoted sustainable energy, with solar powered and cycle powered stages and charging points. They reduced litter by charging a deposit on reusable cups, banning plastic water bottles, and having free water filling stations. And they have now possibly become the greenest festival in the UK by going vegetarian. Not only that – throughout the site there’s information on community projects and campaigns, and so many debates and workshops on sustainability you could spend the entire festival soaking up knowledge and chatting to like minded people. The people of Shambala festival make it truly special, and it was wonderful to meet and share ideas with so many of them.

The Enchanted Woods

Cinema in the woods
Cinema in the woods

While walking in the woods we saw an area sectioned off by large coloured plastic strips which once we were through revealed a magical area full of lights and cushioned seating in front of a cinema screen. The cinema showed short films, animation and documentaries, and there seemed to always be something interesting on. It was a great place to relax for a while as the children played on the gorgeous wooden rocking seats.

The art installations in the woods were wonderful again this year – there were many different interactive installations to charm and amuse people of all ages. With musical instruments, lights that reacted to touch, a shadow puppet theatre, a video kaleidoscope box you could put your hand in and see videos of many hands, and all sorts of other strange and beautiful creations, the woods were a magical place to be both day and night time.

Shambala Springs

This year the children were finally old enough for us to do a family spa session so I made sure I bought one in advance. It’s definitely worth buying these as early as possible – the favourite times are Saturday and Sunday mornings (because you get a shower included!). When we looked these were already sold out so we bought a session on Friday morning. We were extremely fortunate, as Friday morning was hot and sunny, which made an amazing time to visit the spa.

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Shambala Springs was a fenced off area with hot tubs overlooking the lake, a wood fired sauna and cold pool, showers, hammocks, a volleyball net and a cocktail bar. This turned out to be a little bit of paradise for all of us. For £39 for the whole family, we had an hour in our own hot tub (the family one is cooler than a normal one so more like a hot bath), a soft drink or tea/coffee, and a further hour in the area of the spa. Needless to say we spent the whole two hours there. The children had a fantastic time. They even tried a go in the sauna (limited to 5 minutes as they were still quite young), which my littlest particularly loved, and I decided to have a glass of champagne in the sunshine, as we spent our whole summer in the UK and you have to appreciate it while it lasts!

A small caveat for those people who aren’t comfortable with nudity – Shambala folk aren’t ashamed of their bodies so don’t go in if you don’t want your children to see naked people!

Woodland Tribe and Bush Camp

There was a whole separate area given over to The Woodland Tribe, which had also expanded this year to include a large tyre swing and hobbit huts as well as the usual zip line, cargo nets, campfire cooking, woodland skills and wood building. It’s very difficult to spend less than a couple of hours there, so it’s best to allow at least half a day to explore. This area is for aged 6 and up, although it would be fine with a supervised toddler, and the cargo nets have sessions for younger children – you need to ask the staff there, they are very helpful.

Our 9 year old went to the overnight bush camp again this year (she insisted) and we left her at 4pm on Friday to pick her up at 10 am on Saturday morning. They built their own shelter to sleep in, sat round the fire while cooking their food and telling stories in the dark, and she loved it.

Smoking Puppet Cabaret

Much Ado About Puffin
Much Ado About Puffin

I need to mention the puppet cabaret tent, as although it wasn’t new this year it was truly wonderful again. We took the children to see ‘Much Ado About Puffin’ which used a variety of different size puppets to show perspective, and was completely magical and entrancing. Then later on without the children I came back to see the adult shows – which were rude and hilarious and made me laugh until I couldn’t breathe.

The Finale

Shambala had changed the large bonfire finale of previous years to a more artistic show, which was much better for our children. There was a balletic circus display over the lake, with lights and music followed by fireworks, which kept them entranced. Our advice to families is not to try and get into the large central field, but to look for another spot around the lake – we managed to find somewhere relatively quiet so that the children had a great view.

Weird and wonderful…

Shambala is a crazy place full of creative people. One of the best things to do there is to go through the thick program and pick out some of the weirder things on offer – you will not be disappointed! One of the most interesting workshops we went to was written in the program as ‘Build your own society’ which piqued my interest.

When we got there, the children were separated into farmers, inventors, chefs and soldiers, with one child voted the Queen. In this game the only things they were given were paper and pencils. Each turn the groups could decide what to do – the farmers decided what to grow, the inventors decided what to invent and the chefs decided what to cook. Then the chefs gave orders for food to the farmers and the farmers could buy inventions from the inventors. Each round they decided what to do, and each round they had to make sure they had something to eat so they didn’t starve. But beyond that they were only limited by their own imagination.

I wondered how long this would occupy my children as it seemed such a simple concept, but the game developed and expanded until one set of children decided to order weapons from the inventors and use them to overthrow the throne and another set of children decided to build a spaceship and leave Earth! In the end they had run out of time in the tent they were using so a group of them continued outside – I have never seen children become so interested and involved in such an intellectual exercise and yet this is the sort of thing that Shambala offers in spades if you look for it.

The Waiting Room was absent last year and had been missed by us, so we were happy that it had returned with all it’s usual craziness. Not a place for children, it only opened at 8pm but was an interesting and thought provoking place for a visit after the kids are asleep. I’m not even going to try to describe it, it was too odd, but if you love a bit of interactive theatre it’s the place to go!

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This year they introduced SUP yoga on the lake. SUPs (or stand up paddle boards) have become popular in recent years as they offer a fun way to exercise – the boards are extremely stable so no chance of falling in! At £25 a session it wasn’t cheap but was certainly entertaining to watch and looked like an interesting session to try. If you didn’t want to pay there was also lots of free exercise workshops, including laughter yoga which relies on the fact that ‘forcing’ yourself to laugh around other people causes genuine laughter, and laughter makes you happier and healthier (and also burns calories!).

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There were many fun dance workshops again, including a Thriller one, which ended in a night time flash mob of zombies in the woods. We were lucky enough to be in the woods when the flash mob arrived, and suddenly being surrounded by dancing zombies in the dark was one of the highlights of the festival.

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Jumble sale

Throughout the festival there were large games to play on, and interactive displays and shows where children were always welcome. There was a jumble sale shop where you could swap one thing for another, which was a lovely idea. There was a piano in the pub that anyone could sit down and play. There was a travelling cinema screen playing bits from old musicals. I could go on and on.

One of the reasons I love going to festivals is that I miss travelling. I used to travel a lot before I had children – I’d save a bit of money and then go as cheaply as I could, so that I could see new places and experience as much as I could. A really good festival feels like a holiday in another place – and Shambala is like this. This year especially (possibly because the children are a bit older and not so difficult) I learned and experienced new things myself. And I know my children did too. They’re still telling everyone about their experience in the sauna, and that they ate worms!

I have run out of superlatives for Shambala Festival, and 2016 was definitely one of their best years. All I can say is, at 4 days it’s still not long enough for us, and it’s become the highlight of our year. We can’t wait for next August!

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For more information about Shambala see our Factsheet here.

Or visit the official website, including early bird tickets for 2017 on sale.


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