Near the perimeter of a vast, dry and dusty expanse in the San Joaquin Valley lies a festival oasis known as Lightning in a Bottle (LiB). The five days of music, art, camping, yoga, culture, learning and so much more ended just last Monday.
Attendees grooved to electric beats, splashed amongst giant animal floaties in Lake Webb, attended various avant-garde workshops, and had an overall extraordinary (or out-of-the-ordinary) experience.
You might ask what made this otherworldly festival stand out from the superfluity of EDM festivals these days? Well listen up, because we’ll break it down for you right here.
As you may know, Lightning in a Bottle is produced by a company called Do LaB. Do LaB is also responsible for other happenings like Dirty Bird Campout and the Do LaB stage at Coachella.
What makes Do LaB stand out, however, is not necessarily the type of music at their events, it’s not the nature of their attendees, and it’s not their ability to throw a damn good party. For me, what makes Do LaB stand out from any other festival production company is their signature creativity and their attention to detail.
Do Lab was able to feature an amalgamation of structures, art pieces, and interactive environments that tied the LiB space together in one big cosmic, psychedelic bow.
For me, the musical lineup was just the cherry on top to the mind-bending stages and environments that Do LaB and their curated collaborators built.
House music enthusiasts boogied at the Woogie stage, which featured giant glowing amorphous alien-like umbrellas.
The dance floor rumbled and trembled to bass-heavy acts like Opiou, SOOHAN and CloZee at the spikey, colorful and fabric-laden Thunder Stage.
The Lightning stage took the form of a more traditional main stage format, surrounded by an open field and several big art installations. Popular acts such as Toro y Moi, Disclosure and Santigold gathered large crowds.
Along with their musical lineup, the festival boasted not two, not three, but six other lineups. These lineups included learning and culture, yoga & movement, art, learning kitchen, performance & interactive, and food vendors.
Each environment, art car or performance was a unique spectacle that drew active participators from the crowd and created a sort of village of its own. Many of them seemed worlds apart but still somehow they all fit together.
The sheer variety of eccentric and wildly themed nano-villages is perhaps why the festival is often likened to a baby burning man.
Imagine stumbling across a glowing pineapple art car, a tree filled with plasma globe flowers, or a naughty glitter spank-a-thon at a Unicorn Palace.
Imagine sipping Pu-er in a tea house while listening to a 4-piece orchestra play in front of a furry, horned muppet-like statue on wheels.
Imagine walking into an unsettling yet nostalgic scrap wood antique fort only to find a desk with a fountain pen and an unsigned contractual document asking you to sell your soul to the devil.
Well, yeah, all of that really happened at Lightning in a Bottle. Or at least I think it did.. I’m still trying to to piece it all together.
The aforementioned magnitude of offerings culminated in crores of interactive installations, performances and art that borderlined on wacky, strange, esoteric, erotic and downright creepy.
I wIll admit that I didn’t quite understand the goals behind some of the installations and performances other than to provoke curiosity and provide entertainment. However it was clear that the festival wasn’t only about fun and games.
There was plenty of space for learning, growth, inspiration and action. I truly appreciated the long list of inspirational workshops, classes and talks that were held in those spaces.
I’m sure that Do LaB would have it no other way that their classes took place in anomalous environments. For example, headlining luminaries presented lectures in a giant pineapple looking structure called The Beacon. A colorful crustacean shaped tent space housed vegan and organic recipe classes and taste testings in the Learning Kitchen.
I especially appreciated Paul Stamets’ talk “Into the Mycoverse: An Immersion Talk on Magic and Medicinal Mushrooms”. He delved into trippy topics like the similar structures of our neurons to the universe and mycelial networks, as well as presenting controversial theories such as the Stoned Ape Hypothesis. I wouldn’t be surprised if he convinced 90% of the audience that mushrooms can save the world.
Many other workshops around topics such as social justice, healing, environmentalism, indigeneity and community were presented by leaders such as Vandana Shiva, Desirae Harp, and Kevin Powell.
Lightning in a Bottle offered respite amongst a world that is seemingly at the pinnacle of destruction. To contrast with that sigh of relief you get when surrounded by like-minded individuals, the festival was in stark juxtaposition with its surroundings.
The event took place in Bakersfield, California, which has one of the highest crime and murder rates in the state. As you drive to the festival, you can’t miss the miles of irrigated monocrop agriculture and industrial oil fields.
With LiB’s core values of community, honoring the land, citizenship and celebration, I am curious how the gathering impacts its local ecosystems and social systems.
How is the gathering affecting the Latinx community of Bakersfield, which consists of over half the population? Will the various lectures and workshops wake up participants to the migrant farm workers in Bakersfield who suffer from pesticide poisoning?
Will the festival bring increased revenue to local businesses in the area? Will the saturated police presence at LiB hint participants to the heavy policing of oppressed communities in Bakersfield?
Will participants question whether the water they swim in and the dust they breathe in is contaminated by the hundreds of millions of pounds pesticides used in agricultural fields that border the festival for hundreds of miles?
Only time will tell.
I’m skeptical about the efficacy of merging substance-induced partying with the liberal conference-like model of educational workshops and talks. Despite my reservations, I find it ironic yet genius that LiB is bringing privileged EDM bros into this type of sphere. It has the potential of waking them up to the harsh modern realities of their participation in capitalism, colonialism, and globalism.
LiB offers a platform for visionaries to speak their truths. But should that platform be made accessible to more than the majority audience of valley girls, festies, ravers and burners? In the future, it would be cool to see more folks attending who can’t afford the $300+ tickets.
The festival could be more inclusive by inviting youth, PoC, elders, and organizers from Bakersfield and the surrounding area. After all, why shouldn’t everyone have the opportunity to see this interesting combination of partying while simultaneously “staying woke”?
If the locals don’t want to come, LiB could offer something in return for occupying their space. Just sayin’.
I digress. Despite my somewhat critical curiosity, there are several things that Do LaB continues to do right. For example, the festival organizers work with the local Northern Chumash Tribe Council to make sure they throw their event respectfully. The festival does pick up the mounds of trash left by attendees.
LiB encourages participants to practice consent, to be respectful in how they act and what they wear. Years ago the festival banned the wearing of culturally-appropriated Native American headdresses. Those are just a few examples of how the festival is pushing the bar on conscious celebration.
As participants, stepping into a festival that practically begs us to be more conscious means we have to take the responsibility to do better. We have to regenerate the environments that we dance on and the plants that we trample. We have to actively resist the powers that seek to keep us in the dark.
We need to go vote, and not just in presidential elections. We need to take responsibility for our carbon emissions. We need to spend as much, if not more, money donating to charity as we do on festivals.
I think that’s what the community at LiB is trying to teach us.
As more and more people become aware of this unique event, I am optimistic in its ability to bring positive change to the world. At the same time, I am curious of its real-world impacts on California’s environments, communities and young minds.
Out of all the events I’ve attended, including the handful of “transformational” gatherings, nothing yet has exceeded the amount of delightfully weird creativity that I found at Lightning in a Bottle 2019.
I left the festival not really sure what just happened, filled with an overload of inspiration and pleasant bafflement. I wonder what the other attendees will make of their experience. Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Colin Eldridge