Montana is a twenty-six-year-old pipefitter who lives in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Apart from a yellow parasol, electric-blue short-shorts, and flip-flops, she’s got nothing on. She and her boyfriend drove over thirteen hours to this 200-hectare farm in southeastern British Columbia’s Kootenay region, to find Shambhala, an electronic music festival that draws 10,000 visitors for five days every August.
Colourful tents and throngs of concertgoers stretch through the forests and cow pastures of this wide, sweltering river valley. In the milling crowds among the vendors’ stalls, one guy holds a sign that reads, “Will trade ketamine for acid.” Others wait in line at the free on-site drug testing lab to have zip-lock bags of various powders and fistfuls of pills checked for potentially fatal ingredients. It is Montana’s second time coming to the festival, and she says she will return every year for the rest of her life. “This is the real world,” she explains. “It’s everything out there that’s messed up.”
In Tibetan Buddhist lore, the idyllic realm of Shambhala is removed from the corrupted, so-called real world. While some followers have speculated that it might have a hidden physical location, it also serves as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment. But the Kootenays’ Shambhala belongs to a very different tradition. Inside the site’s heavily patrolled gates, virtually everything—apart from alcohol, fires, aggression, and minors—is tolerated for around $400 after parking and camping fees.
In 1969, some 300,000 hippies gathered for a free outdoor concert at the Altamont Speedway in the San Francisco Bay Area. While the Rolling Stones played, a man was stabbed to death in front of the stage by Hells Angels hired as security. Initially dubbed “Woodstock West,” the show that saw four deaths, rumours of rape, and notoriously bad acid has since come to signify the end of an idealistic era, when it was believed that divisions between race, class, and gender could all be collapsed, and when heavy stock was placed in the word “peace.”