[FESTIVAL/PHOTO RECAP] How Lightning In A Bottle Is Paving The Way For Transformational Festivals
“Lightning In A Bottle – a perfect moment captured in time.”
It happens briefly – a perfect moment. You scan the crowd, a thousand happy, smiling faces, like fire ignited in the split second flashes of the stage lights. You close your eyes to revel in the feeling – an orgasmic sense of pleasure devoid of any sexual urgency other than that of intertwining in the throes of sonic ecstasy with the thrashing human being next to you. How do you – how can you – express and paint an accurate portrayal of a weekend like that spent at Lightning In A Bottle? A million perfect moments forever remembered but impossible to fully describe. Words fall seemingly short for such an expansive experience, and photos – even at 1,000 words apiece – can’t dole out the justice it deserves. At best you can peek into my experience, my perspective, through the voyeuristic hole of my story. So I’ll continue to write, my story augmented by the 125,000 words of photographs, and try to communicate the power that transformational festivals can wield and how Lightning In A Bottle is blazing the path for bigger and better – and more conscious – festivals in the future.
Lightning In A Bottle is a new breed of festival, surpassing the bygone era of music-only events where audience members pay top dollar to gyrate in cramped crowds for augmented, personally-integrated experiences that focus on how the human being – and the community – leaves in a transformed space.
“It’s like training wheels for Burning Man.”
Well, yes… and no. I heard the quote repeated over and over throughout the 5-day transformational festival, and while true to some extent, found that it under-credits what The Do Lab has created in a desert lake bed in California. Lightning In A Bottle is one of those events where you can have whatever experience you’re looking for, and in that respect it’s a lot like Burning Man. Interested in DIY Mysticism or Quantum Hypnosis? There’s a workshop for that. Looking for some morning rejuvenation? How about a tantric belly dance or meditative partner yoga. I personally enjoyed the presence and reflection of yoga with reknown yogi Gigi Snyder and The Human Experience.
Early birds and night owls alike could rest easy in the fact that their experiences were not to be deterred by time of day, as the late night festivities offered bountiful rewards for those looking for them. Amori’s late night Casino and Burlesque transported me through space and time to a dystopian-era future full of misfits and flame-conjurers while Super Tall Paul’s Jive Joint and the Grand Artique weaved in a nostalgic, and altogether poignant point of difference to the traditional festival scene.
Lightning In A Bottle offers a more structured transformational environment than, say, Burning Man. The producers behind LIB have created a lot of intention in the curated experience of the festival, and in that sense offer a guided tour through the process. The space and atmosphere has been created to sustain both a community-based society while allowing for the default, economy-based crowd to thrive (more on this below). And let’s not forget that LIB still lives within the realm of a music festival; and while it’s breaking new ground on what exactly that means, headliners like Flume, Tycho, SBTRKT, Lucent Dossier Experience, Bakermat, and Earth Harp keep the musical experience central to the weekend.
There’s no denying that the type of people in attendance at a festival lends a great deal to the type of atmosphere and experience you get from said fest. It’s no question then why Lightning In A Bottle is held in such high regard among the festival community – it’s a far stretch from the kandi kids and toned selfie takers of EDC and Ultra. And I’m not taking a dig at those festivals, it’s just a point of difference of which the former has helped to build up the community while the latter has not. At Lightning In A Bottle you can be free to be yourself, there is no judgement here (or at least it is kept to oneself), and the primal nature of our inner child can come out to play. It’s evident in the festival couture that paints the audience in hundreds of textured hues and imprints, evident in the high fives crossing the bridge, in the infinite amount of hugs, and, perhaps more than all, in the conversations that take place. Save the shallow TMZ talk for Coachella, we’re here to talk about consciousness, sustainability, great music, and great people doing great things.
“The best barometer for how good a festival is is how many kids are present.”
-David Block (The Human Experience)
At the end of the day, Lightning In A Bottle is still a music festival and the amount of energy spent into curating each stage throughout the weekend is a testament to how well the LIB producers know their shit. Take one look at the lineup of this year’s event and the experienced ear will take note of all the heavy hitters sitting below the headliners that were not to be missed. However, stage lineups were not based on popularity of artist, but instead hand-crafted for a full on musical experience based on genre which led to prolonged listening sessions that lasted well beyond any one artists’ hour long set.
Hands down my favorite spot of the entire weekend, the Woogie Stage brought all the tropical and deep house vibes into the mix at LIB. My favorite sets of the festival took place here as deep NY duo Bob Moses took me on a journey followed by summer beat makers Thomas Jack and Bakermat – the latter of which threw down one of the best live sets I’ve ever heard. Period. Featuring a funky birds nest upfront, the Woogie Stage was the place to find your groove until the early morning.
Those looking for a harder hitting sound found their way to the other side of the venue at the Thunder Stage. Boasting names like G Jones, KOAN Sound, Phutureprimitive, SNBRN, and RL Grime, this is where you came to find the more traditional, if not heavier side of the EDM spectrum. The location of the Thunder Stage on the Western-most side of the grounds made this the place to be for a sunset performance, catching the final rays of the day as they bounced brilliantly off the yellow-orange-purple nylon covering the area. Notable performances here include all the names above as well as a phenomenal midday set from Soulular, D.V.S.~, Griz, and Govinda.
Perhaps the biggest and most extravagant performances were put on at the de facto ‘main stage’, better known as the Lightning Stage. It was here that I experienced some of the most immersive performances of the festival. This was where William Close set up his infamous Earth Harp (of which I highly suggest you look up if you have never seen it live), where Flume blasted off on his infinity box, and where Lucent Dossier Experience debuted their brand new show to the world. Notably, the Lightning Stage felt far less crowded than main stages at many other festivals, and prime spots were to be had for stellar performances by AlunaGeorge, Tycho, ODESZA, SBTKRT, and Polica.
Of course, there was much more music to be taken in than on the main stages, and for those who spent time perusing the late night shenanigans of The Jive Joint and The Grand Artique were met with the supremely engaging experiences curated by the likes of Super Tall Paul and Funky Rag Time Jam Sessions under the Oak Trees.
This year’s Lightning In A Bottle was home to hundreds of works of art, as well as the 9th iteration of Lightning In A Paintcan from the Do Art Foundation, the public art non-profit of The Do Lab. Throughout the weekend, blank canvases were turned into stunning arrays of paint, imagination, and storytelling as artists painted live installations while enthralled festie goers gawked in disbelief. Installation art is an integral part of the Lightning in a Bottle experience and ranged from smaller mixed-media paintings to larger than life structures and architectural pieces.
In addition to the beautiful canvases dotting the landscape, of special interest was the large white art dome curated by the insanely talented Android Jones. Collaborating closely with Russian Hare Krishna’s in Thailand fluent in digital projection technologies (yeah, he’s a cool guy), Android Jones immersed visitors into a world of enlightened art by projecting his work onto the entire area of the structure. Once inside, you could absolutely lose yourself in works of 3D murals, infinity boxes, and kaleidoscope imagery.
The Festival Grounds
For such a large festival, getting around was the least of our worries for the weekend. Situated next to the dried-out remains of the San Antonio Lake, Lightning In A Bottle’s first year in Bradley, California was set against a stunning backdrop that brought returning attendees to a new location for 2015. Utilizing the once sprawling shoreline of the lake, LIB was able to pack a large amount of stimuli into a relatively small amount of space. It’s all about your Tetris skills, as LIB boasted more than 20,000 campers and a festival grounds that hosted 5 musical stages (including The Jive Joint and The Grand Artique), 2 musical bars, 2 yoga tents, a village, a late night burlesque and casino, The Learning Kitchen, and countless other nooks, crannies, and works of art. Did I mention the ingenious use of a retired boat ramp as a full-on life sized Skee Ball?
The Transformational Side
What makes a festival a ‘transformational’ festival? It’s a good question to ask because everyone leaves with a different imprint of how they have personally transformed. In reality, every experience transforms us, so what makes Lightning In A Bottle so different?
First and foremost, transformation comes from discovery. Discovery of new people, places, meanings, and, most importantly, discovery of yourself. LIB offered this opportunity in spades. From the workshops and speakers to the eclectic musical lineup and art-based community, there was something new to discover around every turn.
In default, we live in an economy-based society, whereas Burning Man, for example, operates on the other side of the spectrum in a very community-based society. Lightning In A Bottle offered a unique glimpse into the convergence of those two worlds – a place where economy and community are fused together and those reliant solely on the value of a dollar could live in a reality where money was not the most precious currency. That understanding, in and of itself, is worthy of a transformational experience and brought those acclimated to large box retailers and % off signs into a new realm of possibility.
The Greenest Festival in the Country
As festivals continue to grow and attract more and more people, the issue of sustainability continues to weigh on the forefront of event producers. Lightning In A Bottle is dedicated to remaining a sustainable, environment-friendly festival through it’s green initiative. LIB is audited every year on its environmental performance and is the only festival to have received the Outstanding Award by A Greener Festival from 2010-2014, making it the Greenest Festival in America. From their water initiatives (free drinkable water on-site, hell yes!) to their renewable energy and carbon offset programs, LIB is constantly working to leave no footprint behind while educating the public on how to do the same.
The Do Lab have created an unforgettable experience with Lightning In A Bottle, and it’s with the utmost confidence through my personal interactions with the staff and producers that I can say it will only continue to get better. LIB has raised the bar for what a modern day festival should be considering and they have created a community of like-minded individuals who leave the event empowered to better their lives and their world. If only more festivals could say the same perhaps music will really become the spark that initiates global change in our society – thankfully people are taking note, and that day might not be so far away.