Shambala Festival, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year, has quietly built up a dedicated following through word of mouth alone. Anna Blackaby talks to Sid Sharma, one of five friends who run the festival, about its distinctive ethos.
Apart from the fact there is no advertising or sponsorship permitted at Shambala, anything goes.
It’s not unusual to see groups of people dressed up as Baywatch extras or hordes of Lollipop ladies wondering through the event, which is held every year at a secret location.
It’s difficult to know how to describe Shambala but Birmingham-born Sid Sharma, who has been part of a team running the festival since its inception, summed it up as a “vibrant, creative, warm, family-friendly event”.
Mr Sharma also emphasised the importance of Shambala in nurturing new artists and musicians, many from Birmingham and Bristol – the two cities which are home to the group of five who run the festival.
The Bristol connection comes through Chris Johnson and Mr Sharma whereas the festival’s other three partners – Dan Rafferty, Jon Walsh and Ollie Grassi – live in Birmingham. Mr Sharma said: “It is also a launchpad for up-and-coming artists and we work with Birmingham artist crews such as Modulate and lots of musicians from the city too.”
7 inch Cinema, the organisers of Birmingham’s Flatpack Festival, were involved in the early days of Shambala and Pip McKnight, one of the festival’s co-directors, said she saw it as a “springboard” for the company.
“It led to introductions with musicians and film people who we still work with today – The Cube Cinema and Rod Maclachlan whose installation ‘Paint Can, Reflecting’, featured in Floodgate Kino at Flatpack this year, being a good example,” she said.
Mr Sharma said Shambala had evolved naturally over the years to grow into a festival which expects to host 6,500 people over the August Bank Holiday weekend. “It has grown to what it is organically,” he said. “We have learned by our mistakes and some of those mistakes have cost us thousands of pounds. We run it through ethics and not by being corporate so we don’t have any advertising or sponsorship so there is no agenda apart from our own.
“It has been more or less word of mouth – friends and people come back every year. I think if people like it then they tell their friends.”
Shambala has been hailed as one of the best examples of an environmentally-friendly festival in the country and last year scooped two awards for its green credentials. It was one of only three UK events to be judged ‘Outstanding’ in the Greener Festival Awards at the UK Festival Awards and was also named ‘Most Sustainable UK Event of 2008’ by the National Outdoor Events Organisation for a host of innovative green initiatives, including using almost 100 per cent renewable sources such as wind, solar and waste vegetable oil.
Unlike other festivals, Shambala does not reveal the line-up of musicians it has planned but last year’s acts included Birmingham ska band The Beat, Jamaica’s Horace Andy and Israeli funk band The Apples.
Mr Sharma said: “Musically it’s always quite varied – it’s based mainly around worldy rootsy stuff but there is enough variety. It’s about the creative stuff that the crowd brings just as much as we put on – it’s about people trusting us enough to know that when they come then won’t be disappointed.
“We don’t try to compete with the other festivals because we don’t want to follow their business model. We want to follow a model that’s more community-based.”
Shambala Festival runs from August 27 - 30 at a secret site in Northamptonshire. Detailed information and directions will be provided with ticket purchase only.
Tickets cost £99 (adults), £59 (juniors, aged 15-17), £25 (juniors aged 5-14). Extra charges for cars, caravans, motorcycles. Available from website or from The Ticket Sellers at The Custard Factory, Digbeth, and at Selly Oak.