It's official: this year, California's Lightning in a Bottle has joined the likes of Coachella and Glastonbury as an internationally-significant festival. LIB, the brainchild of the Do Lab, has risen from its humble beginnings as a private birthday party into the most prominent event of the transformational festival scene. The exposure afforded to Lighting in a Bottle by the Do Lab's Coachella stage, which grew in popularity alongside the 2010s electronic music boon, must have helped it reach this peak, but it's the festival's distinct sensibilities that have made it such a hit.
After trying out various sites including Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado and Lake Skinner in Temecula, they found San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, CA, a former lake with a lot of character and beauty. The site provides a fine canvas on which the production team meticulously builds and dresses their pop-up city to make it the most compelling world possible.
Each stage had its own flavor. The Woogie dazzled with a technicolor array of industrial piping bookended by inverted spiraling cones, while the Lightning stage came shaded with white sheets that were reminiscent of sails from an old ship. But the themes of the stages extended beyond the structures to the areas surrounding them, creating a vibrant, evolving playground for the festival to reside within. Everything about them, from the shapes to the colors, was bold but tasteful. Neighborhoods would form from the related areas, like the Thunder island which paired the festival's bass tent along the Pagoda bar, bringing similar musical vibes and scenic landscape views.
Lightning in a Bottle's crowd was a strange mix. Longtime attendees and veteran festival patrons congregated alongside a cohort of fresh-faced and eager newbies. I spoke to a lot of people whose main festival background before LIB came from Coachella and EDC, and saw their approaches to the festival evolving over the weekend.
This crowd mix demonstrated to me how Lightning in a Bottle has become a gateway festival to the more eclectic side of the festival scene. I heard some people lamenting about how Lighting in a Bottle has become "mainstream". I'm curious to see how LIB's crowd changes over the coming years, and how the festival will adapt. New ways of encouraging convergence between attendees will probably help to keep the familial atmosphere even with this expansion.
The first day brought a spectacular showy performance from William Close & The Earth Harp Orchestra at 11:45 pm on Friday night. The Earth Harp would make a more subdued reprise appearance soundtracking yoga by the main stage at noon on Saturday, a testament to the festival's range of attitudes. Saturday's can't-miss set was provided by Minnesota b2b G Jones, who propelled into an outrageous set layered thick with bass that never relented through its ninety-minute span that felt like a half-hour.
Finally, Sabo & Goldcap brought Sunday's defining set, opening the Woogie stage at 1:30 pm with a three-hour set before moving to the Favela Bar and continuing on until almost 9 pm. This set rounded out a massive weekend for Sabo. By our count, he played no less than eight sets throughout the entire festival. The night before his Sunday afternoon Woogie island shakedown, he took an early-morning 2:30 am slot in the Village, along with earlier yoga sets. If you were at Lightning in a Bottle, you were almost certainly touched by one of his many sets over the weekend, and for this, among many other achievements, we're naming Sabo our MVP of the festival.
There's a lot of details that I've missed. I met some really cool people at the tea hut and joined them to serve tea during sunrise. I enjoyed a class where I learned about making healthier soups, and participated in an ecstatic shamanic dance workshop. I heard from a philosopher arguing against anti-technology sentiments and suggesting that humans can apply technology to foster greater spiritual connectedness. I worked for an hour washing dishes at the fried rice tent to earn a meal.
These are some of the experiences you don't find at traditional festivals. The allure of transformational festivals is the possibility to explore in free space filled with open-minded people. Lightning in a Bottle represents an opening into this festival scene for the average festival person, and that's a great thing for us to have.
* The two-day and early-arrival passes add a new dimension to the experience. From the moment you wake up Saturday, probably a bit tired from the first couple days, tons of new and energetic people are pouring in and setting up camp to join you for the weekend. It feels like the festival organically grows, and it was rejuvenating to witness.
* Another thing I want to mention: the temporary bridges built for this festival are amazing. Friends who came in prior years tell me how difficult navigating the hilly site was before the flat bridges existed, and by making it more convenient for patrons to move around quickly, Lightning in a Bottle became more accessible and popular.
* Big shout out to Patricio, who kept things smooth at the Favela Bar stage all weekend before jumping on the decks for a stoking b2b with Marques Wyatt. This floored me as Patricio's energy egged on Marques and sent his set into a frenzy for the final twenty minutes of the festival.
* If you're looking to go deeper, then check out the Do Lab's next festival, Woogie Weekend, which opens today. Tickets are still on sale for the festival, which runs from July 8-10 in Silverado, CA.