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These Photos of Sober Ravers at Shambhala 2016 Prove You Don’t Need Drugs to Have Fun

Behind the scenes of the Canadian electronic music festival's substance-free zone Camp Clean Beats.

All photos by Johnny Erwin, Oliver Pirquet, and Adam Rabb

Having recently celebrated its 19th anniversary, British Columbia's Shambhala Music Festival has become a world leader when it comes to harm reduction, providing pill testing and sanctuary care for those who choose to use drugs. There's plenty of medical and security staff on-site, including non-profit group AIDS Network Kootenay Outreach and Support Society (ANKORS), who are constantly expanding their services as new challenges arise like the province's current fentanyl crisis.


While this is good news for the many who choose to indulge in mind-altering substances at these events, the festival also caters to those who don't need to get drunk or high to have fun, including individuals with histories of addiction. In 2013, Shambhala introduced Camp Clean Beats, a supportive drug and alcohol-free camping area with optional recovery-based meetings. Given the current ongoing conversation about North American festival safety, it's perhaps no surprise this year saw over 30 participants, CCB's highest attendance rate yet.

We spoke to a handful of attendees and the initiative's co-founder Mandy Lawson to find out what it's like to experience the electronic music festival in the Kootenay Mountains completely sober, and why it's important for safe zones like these to exist.

Mandy Lawson (Camp Clean Beats co-founder and coordinator)

Hometown: Nelson, British Columbia

Years Attending Shambhala: 10

She Says: "Camp Clean Beats is a clean and sober camping area for people who want to party but not do drugs or drink during the show. That's including weed. We still party, we just don't party that way. We provide three recovery-based meetings a day, you don't have to belong to a 12-step program.We provide a drop-in place for people who are curious about what partying sober means. If you want to party sober, there are supports here.

I used to do drugs to try to get that connected feeling, go out and dance, not get it, do more drugs and still not get that feeling. Then the next day I'd feel empty inside and be filled with remorse and shame. Today I can go out on the dancefloor and feel connected to my friends, my higher power, and it sounds so cheesy, but the bass."



Hometown: Whistler, British Columbia

Years Attending Shambhala: 1

He Says: "Having Clean Beats here was really encouraging for me. You want to listen to yourself, and you want to listen to people who are around you that are wiser than you, and have been clean longer than you. That dynamic of having a community that can think outside your own head for you sometimes is good. For me, this is a huge passion, I love dancing, I love electronic music. To be able to come to these big electronic shows and know that I'm going to have a good time and be sober is a huge thing. You don't have to not have a life any more just because you're sober and clean, in fact, my life has become much better as a result."


Hometown: Victoria, British Columbia

Years Attending Shambhala: 4

He Says: "My first Shambhala, Clean Beats was actually camped near me, so I had to walk by it on my way to the stages and see these people doing it all clean. So I knew there was that aspect to the festival, I just couldn't stop because I was simply an addict, and I didn't know what taking one of something meant. Finally when I went to rehab for my addiction and started getting rooted in recovery, I knew Shambhala would be a possibility at some point, because I knew that Camp Clean Beats was there.

I still see people that use and I don't judge them for using. I don't look at them like they're less than me because they're using, or with jealousy or envy. I see people using in the same way that I imagine someone with celiac would see a piece of pizza that looks delicious. They know it's not for them, but it does look delicious!"


Andrea Nelson (Camp Clean Beats staff)

Hometown: Nelson, British Columbia

Years Attending Shambhala: 9

She Says: "I got sober ten years ago when I was 20. All my friends were raving and going to parties, so I just started going to Shambhala and I was sober, just drinking lots of Red Bull and eating mini-donuts.I met Mandy and she couldn't believe I was doing it on my own. She told me about Clean Beats so I came out last year, I think it had been like seven years since I first came out sober.

It really was a lot different for me being in a group of sober people. A lot of us separate and go do our own thing when it comes to going to the shows, but being able to come back to a base camp like this is really supportive. It feels like a home, we have a living room, and know when the meetings are. There's a sense of belonging somewhere within the festival—I got a lot out of it last year."


Hometown: Salem, Oregon

Years Attending Shambhala: 1

She Says: Since I got sober almost four years ago, I haven't been to a music festival or a rave of any sort, because of not being sure of the environment. Having been big into the rave scene starting out about ten years ago, it was a big part of the culture for me, to see how far you could push it and to get as high as possible. I barely remember half the times I went to raves before. Shambhala has this amazing spirit and communal aspect to it, and to get to retreat back to a place where there's sober support was really super important for me. I'm one of those people who wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Clean Beats having this safe space.


I know everyone's names that are camping here. We get to share really intimate things in these meetings about ourselves and our experiences, not only here, but about our lives and it connects us all. I think there is something really intimate about people in recovery, that we crave interpersonal communication and interpersonal relationships. We don't have to miss out on such a big part of being young and having fun just because we choose not to do drugs and alcohol any more."