Shambhala In Your Heart

Two years ago we visited friends of friends in the Northern Thailand town of Pai. Once there we discovered not only the beauty of a new place but also sincere friendship at Shekina Gardens. We kept in touch with our new friends and recently reached out to them for a return visit. They told us about a 10-day festival called Shambhala in Your Heart, hosted by a Japanese community, based in Thailand. They said that the festival happens every February and suggested we join them there. We contacted the festival to inquire about performing and they accepted our proposal. Our friend and fellow bus rider, Jeffrey, contacted us and asked to join as well. He met us in Australia and we all flew over together.

We arrived in the small town of Chiang Dao on a warm Thursday afternoon and found our way to the festival grounds. We were greeted by the mighty, mist-shrouded Doi Luang mountain. Teepees and tents sprinkled the grounds, prayer flags blew in the breeze and happy hippies from around the globe frolicked in the stream. We met a new friend named Totto and asked her what Shambhala actually meant. She explained that in Hindu and Tibetan Buddhist traditions, Shambhala; is a mythical kingdom and suggested it was like being safe in the palm of the Buddha’s hand.

The days were filled with workshops in the arts, history, crafts, every kind of yoga that exists, sound therapy, and meditation. In fact, our friends from Shekina Gardens hosted a gentle and exploratory “Christ-centered” meditation every day in one of the Teepees. This was the first year they were invited to lead and we found the gesture to be quite progressive and affirming to our faith practice. It complimented the intercultural nature of the festival and enhanced what seemed to be a core ideology of an open and simple life for all, free from greed, destruction, and war.

One favorite workshop was about the history of the indigenous people, or the Ainu people in Japan. (Ainu” means “human”.)  Some attention was given to the plight of the Ainu people in Japan and how in 1899 Japan created a law that restricted the Ainu from participating in their own cultural activities. In other words, the Ainu people were stripped of their land, customs, and language in hopes that they would assimilate to Japanese culture. It wasn’t until 1997 that this law was lifted and the Ainu people were allowed to practice their own customs again. It was both enlighting and disheartening to learn of this considering the plight of our own indigenous friends in both Australia and the US and stirred in us an advocates heart. Most of the class, however, was on the rituals and beliefs of the Ainu people. We learned that they regard things that are useful to them or beyond their control as “kamuy”(gods). In daily life, they pray to and perform various ceremonies for the gods. We learned about the ancient practice of “stitching”. In this practice, Ainu women weave and elaborately decorate the traditional ceremonial clothing with symbols of the of the gods including “nature” gods, such as of fire, water, wind and thunder and “animal” gods, such as the bear or crow. Then we were given opportunities to learn the craft of stitching ourselves. It was a fascinating and inspiring way to spend an afternoon.

Another fun activity was just a short walk down the road to the sulfur hot springs. It was free to the public and offered a variety of tubs varying in temperature. Our new (10yr old) friend, David, from Russia, joined us one afternoon and we had a lively discussion about how much he loves fire. When I suggested he become a fireman when he grows up, he looked at me and said with disgust “I do not want to kill fire! I want to make fire big! Very big! I want to be fire!” Haha!! Watch out world!

In the evenings there was music, fire twirling, and dancing. At some point during the night, there were announcements. Three speakers took the stage, one spoke Japanese, one Thai, and one English. It was fascinating to watch them translate for one another. Most of the announcements had to do with interacting with and respecting the local village and culture; things like respecting the village by putting on more clothes (not cool to run around in bikini’s or shirtless in Thailand) or quiet hours starting at midnight. It was refreshing to watch these leaders setting a tone of humility and harmony by offering us wisdom to better interact with the local culture.

There were two performance stages. The kitchen stage ran during the afternoon and featured open mics, poetry, and spoken word. The main stage was in the middle of the grounds and ran in the evening from 5:30pm-midnight. The bands varied from singer/songwriters to full-on rock/reggae bands and most were from Thailand or Japan. There were also a handful of performance art/dance acts.

The Hollands! performed a rollicking set on a Wednesday night just as the sun was setting. We shared six songs and invited our friends Ro and Aya to join us on Morning Star, our last song. The crowd was enchanting as they danced, sang and encouraged us with their smiles. It was most certainly one of our favorite performance interactions. Besides our official performance, we also spent quite a bit of the festival jamming old bluegrass and folk tunes with other muso’s. Jeffrey really stood out at the festival with his mad violin skills! He was even invited to play a haunting set during the fire spinning show. It was fire and violin, quite the beautiful combination.

On a side note: We stayed at Koko Home. (There was camping at the festival but the cost to buy all the gear was about the same as staying at Koko’s, so we opted for comfort). We rented out the family room for four people, with a queen and bunks for about $1000TBT a night (That’s about $30USD) The room was clean and air-conditioned, which was refreshing as some of the days it got up to 98f. We also rented one moped from Koko and used it to shuttle back and forth. Koko and his family were amazing hosts. Koko spoke English well and invited all the guest, including us, to a home cooked meal and jam one of the nights. His wife made Khao Soi, which is a soup-like dish made with a mix of deep-fried crispy egg noodles and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, ground chilies fried in oil, and meat in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk. It is our new favorite and we will be looking for it on every Thia menu we can find it on!

PS. If you are keen to go to Shambhala in Your Heart and want more information on logistics,  Joanna’s “Blond Travels” blog was very helpful.

And be sure to like the festival’s facebook page.


Festival Life Down Under

20140122-144637.jpgThis past weekend we performed at the Illawarra Folk Festival in Bulli, NSW. Bulli sits just outside of Wollongong about an hour from Sydney. It was our first time in this part of the country and we were smitten. Beautiful beaches, rolling hills, and a dense eucalyptus forest sat as the main backdrop to the festival and reminded us of the Smokey mountains.

We were welcomed by warm weather and a wonderful host family; Andrew, Kathy, Erin, Jerad and their little toy poodle, Celeste. Andrew, a Scottsman and Kathy, an Aussie, met in the IT world, fell in love and the rest was history. Their two children Erin (15) and Jared (12) are homeschooled like our children and there was an immediate camaraderie between our families. Banjo and Jared were mates straight away and spent more time at the beach and gaming than at the festival itself.

At the festival grounds, we performed four sets. On Thursday we shared a half hour set in the Grandstand Bar, just enough to get into the grove.  Craig’s sister, Kerrie and her fiancé Tim came to the show. It was our first time meeting Tim. What a joy to see two people in love!

We also connected with Warwick and Alison Marsh, long time friends of Craig’s parents. Warwick and his family (five kids) traveled full-time in a converted bus, for years. They played music as a family, speaking out about social injustice and encouraging faith in family life. In 2002 Warwick & Alison established the Dads4Kids Fatherhood Foundation to encourage fathers and promote excellence in fathering. It was a privilege and encouragement to dine with them and hear their story.

Back at the festival, we had a second performance at the Nags Lounge. We had an hour set but it was cut short because of a glitch in the sound gear. There was also a drum circle in the tent next door that offered a bit of a distraction. However, we all worked together, including our sound guy, Tim and by the end we were able to redeem the show. Obviously, we aren’t just a band, we’re a family. So, when moments like this arise I’m always so impressed by my children’s ability to stand poised and push through. They truly are professionals.

Our third show was beautiful, everything just clicked. The sound was smooth, the venue was full and guests were very attentive. We performed a fantastic 45 min set in the Grandstand Restaurant showcasing our vocal harmonies, including the Russian Lullaby, Mockingbird, Old Man’s Town and Over Land and Leas.

20140122-144629.jpgOur fourth and final set was in the sweetest little venue on the whole grounds, La Petite Grand. It was a Sunday morning set. Being the first of the day, we weren’t sure how many folks would show up. But, the tent was full and everyone sang along graciously. We decided to do an old timey sing along set and sang Amos Lee’s, Black River, Orphan Girl, Will the Circle, Do Lord, I’ll Fly Away, You Are My Sunshine, Oh When The Saints, and more.

20140122-145638.jpgAn older Dutch chap, who introduced himself before our set, sang along heartily and on our last number he jumped up and spontaneously joined us on our Ukelele. Come to find out, he was an accomplished flamingo guitarist.I wish I could remember his name but I’ll never forget his sweet old face. Funny thing was we met a number of Dutch folks at the festival. It made me feel right at home, as my mom’s side of the family is of Dutch heritage. Who knows, maybe it’s a good sign, that we are meant to go to the Netherlands this year. Wouldn’t that be something!

Some of our favorites about the festival:

20140122-145615.jpg– The food venders were amazing! There was food from all over the world (except Mexican, which we missed and will probably be the first thing we have when we return to the US) When you ordered a french crepe, a french person made it for you. When you ordered a german brat, a german made it for you. I don’t how they found venders that were authentic, but it made for a really neat experience. My favorite vendors were the Balinese food tent, the ginger lemon drink served at the Hare Krishna tent, and the Chia at the Trantic Turtle (also a nomadic family).

-The variety of attendees made the festival so rich. There were newborns to 90yr olds, Brazilians, Danes, Irish, Japanese, Gypsies, Gambians, Americans, Aussies, and more. There were dancers, from belly to flat tappers, Hippies, Yoga instructors, Ukelele clubs, choirs, Hare Krishna’s, and everything else in-between.

-The music range was vast, but Klezmier seemed to be the flavor of the year. Rapskallion, from Melbourne, took the cake in this category. Their music was high energy and the show was full of gypsy, pirate, cabaret antics. In fact, they were so believable that you could imagine little street kids wandering through the crowd picking the fans pockets as they were distracted by the enticing wave of breasts and tambourine that shook on the stage. In a Moulin Rouge sort of way, the show was largely entertaining.

Our very favorite new discoveries included, Oh Pep! (Australian), The Latchikos (Irish), Afenginn (Danish), John John Festival (Japanese), Jaaleekay (Gambian) and Handsome Young Strangers (Australian). There were also a few fellow countrymen present, including The Underscore Orchestra (Portland, OR), Dom Flemons (Phoenix, AZ), and The White Top Mountaineers (Whitetop, VA). It was an honor to be included among these talented artists.

We also connected with friends, The Beez (German), who we met two years ago at Burke and Wills Festival. They are the real deal! Genuinely funny and absolutely amazing musicianship.

Our final night at the festival was cool and the moon was high above the clouds that washed over the mountains.  There were children dancing, stilt walkers bringing a spirit of merrymaking with their bubbles and big smiles. We shared one last meal with our host family while listening to Archie Roach. It was surreal to be serenaded by this living legend and a perfect way to end the festival. 

20140122-144524.jpgThe Illawarra Folk Festival originated at Jamberoo in 1985, and has grown to be one of the largest festivals in Australia run entirely by volunteers, including the upper management. We learned that the proceeds made from this festival are donated into the youth program as well as other fantastic causes. Good on ya Illawarra Folk Festival, good on ya!

If you find yourself in Australia in January, definitely consider putting this festival on your calendar. We sure are looking forward to our return visit!

The Hollands! To Perform at The Illawarra Folk Festival, Australia

The annual Illawarra Folk Festival is four exciting summer days of folk, world, roots, bluegrass, gypsy and Celtic music, as well as poetry, comedy and dance.

We have the largest lineup of international artists ever with our first bands from Japan, Brazil and Denmark. Click on the name for a webpage with their information and a chance to listen to them!

Afenginn Denmark • Andy Irvine Ireland • The Beez Germany • Dom Flemons USA •Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys Canada • Harry Manx Band Canada • The Hollands! USA • Jaaleekaay Gambia • John John Festival Japan • Klezmorim Brazil •London Klezmer Quartet UK • Underskore Orchestra USA • Whitetop Mountaineers USA

There will be another 140 national and local acts including these folk:

Belle Jar • Bernard Carney • Bruce Mathis ke • Dave de Hugard • Enda Kenny Band • Frank Povah • Glenn Skuthorpe • Greg Champion • I Viaggiatori • Kavisha Mazzella • The Miss Chiefs • Rapskallion • Rough Red • Shellie Morris • Spyglass Gypsies • Tai ko no Wa • The Timbers • The Wollemi Band and many more to come!


  • Limited camping at the Bulli Showground will be available with Season Pass only so book early!
  • Motel, hotel accommodation enquiries with Destination Wollongong, tel: 1800 240 737 or online, MORE DETAILS.