Behind the scenes at Shambala 2019

Event Industry News was invited to the rolling countryside of Northamptonshire to visit the friendly faces behind Shambala.

With a week yet to go until doors (so to speak) opened, there were still tents to be erected, water pipes to be rolled out and the arrival of porter loos was imminent.

Chris Johnson, operations director and one of the five co-founders of the festival, greeted us onsite with dairy-free cuppas in each hand (in reusable camping cups, of course).

The festival

Now almost 20 years old, the festival has a humble beginning of five friends gathering 120 people and throwing a party in a field. Over a two-decade period, the ranks of the music event have swollen to accommodate a hungry 15,000-strong fanbase.

Organisers have agreed that, while 15,000 is a sustainable and profitable size, there is no need to push for a bigger event. Though they utilise very few marketing techniques, the festival still sells out with months to spare, even before the headline acts are announced.

“We could sell the show twice over,” Chris said, commenting on the growing demand demonstrated to him and his team every year when the August show sells out in January.

Chris demonstrated a very humble nonchalance about the success of his and his friends’ venture, even with 20 years of success offering him ample bragging rights: “We have no need to grow it, so why bother risk it just because we can?” he said with a very why-fix-what-aint-broke attitude.

Sustainability

Alongside running Shambala, Chris is also the co-founder of the not-for-profit think tank, Powerful Thinking, and is on the board of festival industry collaboration, Energy Revolution. His passion for the environment takes root in everything he does and Shambala is no different.

Creating mixed opinions, the festival announced it was going meat- and fish-free in 2016 and became dairy-free this year, to reduce its number of carbon emissions.

“It’s about educating people, too. We want to inspire people to make changes,” Chris said stating that 50% of the audience went on to make changes in their diets after attending Shambala.

The festival is also 100% renewable, an achievement that took around four years in the making, and has reduced its carbon footprint by 80%.

Rain

With several, large-scale events being cancelled due to poor weather last month (it still hurts, Boardmasters), Chris and his colleagues were well aware of the risks the weather posed.

However, when we spoke to him, he seemed confident their “wet weather contingency plans” had them covered. He stated that extra wood chip, stone and trackway could be brought in to help vehicles get on site, and workers had recently been laid off the wet grounds to help preserve it.

“We have a very dynamic build and strong relationships with suppliers,” he said, though revealing the “moisture” had been a problem for the build in recent days.

Next year marks the festival’s 20th birthday and organisers have already promised to celebrate in style.