Shambala Festival 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Jamie Skey | 03 September 2009

Overall - 7/10

Now celebrating its 10th birthday, Shambala has grown from a tiny back garden shindig into a multi sensory, interactive extravaganza. And, heroically, all these years later it still clings on to its independent roots.

With so many events jostling for the greatest August Bank holiday ‘market share,’ Shambala is with a doubt the festival gurus’ first choice. Its sell out crowd proves that many loyal punters have made the pilgrimage to Northamptonshire despite Reading’s pulling power and Climate Camp in London.

Shambala is not a music festival per se. More of a creative launch pad for artists of all persuasions. Poets, radicals, painters, musicians, and wordsmiths flock together to ignite the creative spark in those who want to be inspired.

And for the under 10’s, it is the summer holiday fun camp of their wildest dreams. With DJ and dance workshops, science shows, trampolines and comic book art shows, the ‘Kids Field’ alone looks like more fun than the rest of the festival put together. In fact, the kids seem to own the place, gambolling through the grass like tiger cubs let loose.
Getting there and back - 8/10

Every year the organisers keep their cards close to their chest, not releasing a line-up or a location prior to day one. An address is sent out to ticket holders, ensuring no extra riff-raff weasel their way in.

Given that one has a map or a sat-nav, the location is a cinch to find. No signposts or lengthy directions needed! People arriving by coach or train are sorted too. Shuttle buses run every hour on the hour between mid-day and 5pm Sunday and 9am and 1pm Monday.

The site - 7/10

On first inspection, the site at Kelmarsh Manor appears to be too big for the 5,000 capacity, at times making crowds look sparsely peopled. However, on Saturday night when the revellers flock in their droves, one realises that the site is a perfect size, just big enough to make it feel impressive and small enough to ensure cosiness.

Atmosphere - 8/10

During Friday day and on through the night, the vibe seems half charged. By about 2am,the site is but a windswept ghost town. Speaking to a wide-eyed, jaw chomping teen down by the communal fire, it seems most people are recharging their batteries for ‘Shambala Saturday’, where, apparently, everyone goes wild.

And the wide eyed teen tells no lies. Everybody comes out of the woodwork for Saturday’s fancy dress parade, an ocean of painted faces, wigs, capes and cartoonish get up. And as the kids settle down for the evening, parents rave hard into the night, fuelled by a rainbow of contraband goods.
Meanwhile, some partied out people huddle under tents and round fires to fight off the wintry cold. Acoustic guitars strum long into the cold nights as fair trade coffee and saggy spliffs are continually passed to the left.

Music - 7/10

Overall, the music plays second fiddle to the arts and crafts, the workshops and the all for one anarchist vibe. But there are plenty of party bands to skank, groove and writhe to.

The line-up is fully loaded with reggae and ska artillery, with festival circuit favourites King Porter Stomp and reggae legends Zion Train playing across the weekend. Moreover, there are sounds that stretch the musical gamut – funk, jazz, folk and world all bubble and boil inside Shambala’s magical cauldron of fun.


King Porter Stomp - 7/10

King Porter Stomp is essentially a festival band, playing all the land pretty much every summer. The eight piece funk-soul-dub upstarts get the Rusty Garden tent steamed up with their groove laden bass lines, funk brass hooks and body politic delivery.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble - 7/10

Eight brothers make up this nine piece jazz infused hip hop horn explosion. Their groove nods towards 70’s detective cop shows where handle bar moustachioed detectives slide across car bonnets. All the while it retains the hard edge of street level rap. HBE have the Lakeside swinging all Friday night.

The Green Man - 8/10

Saturday is cold and wet, but The Green Man mesmerises those packed into the Wandering Word tent with his fluid, multi-layered sound-scapes. He weaves loops of guitar, bass, beats, sax and flute to create a warm, soulful tapestry.


This West-Midlands digital art collective, who have been working with Shambala for the last eight years, transform the woodlands area into a futuristic barren land, filled with smoke and multi-spatial sounds. The whole space vibrates a deep green as lasers fire off into the stratosphere and back, hypnotising the souls who are pulled into its tractor beam.

Sharyn is a long-time environmental and human rights activist with strong Shambala ties. In the half darkness of the Rebel Soul tent on Sunday evening, the account of her time as an aid volunteer in Gaza is harrowing but deeply inspiring. She reads excerpts from her new book, which gives vivid insights into the recent attacks, relaying the terror of aerial bombardment first hand.


There are no negatives as such. Apart from Friday night being a bit sparse on the party front, as many bedded down in preparation for ‘Shambala Saturday.’

Random events

Hot air balloon
On Sunday morning around 6am, as the sky is a clean clear blue, two men lift off in a hot air balloon right next to the crazy golf course. The hundred or so bystanders whoop and wail as the men fly into the bright morning sun.
By Jamie Skey

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