Festival Photography by Gilles Bonugli Kali – www.gbk.photos
Song: A Letter to Mela by GAEA performed live at the Temple Stage Saturday night
In 1999, twin brothers Jesse and Josh Flemming decided to throw a birthday party with 150 of their closest friends in the woods of Angels Crest, California. Flash forward 17 years later and that birthday party has metamorphosed into Lightning in a Bottle– the second largest transformational festival in the world with over 20,000 attendees.
Lightning in a Bottle’s switch from private party to full on festival began with the official founding of the Do LaB by Jesse, Josh, and their younger brother Dede in 2004. Now run by 75 creators, this L.A. based artists collective and events production company strives to “design, build, and nurture festivals and event experiences that inspire authentic connections to ourselves, our community and the environment.”
The sold out festival boasted an eclectic array of activities that included yoga, live entertainment, music, interactive art, lectures on sustainable living, crafting workshops, a family zone, and gourmet marketplace dinners. I was impressed by the entire production value of the festival- especially that the port-a-potties at LIB were the cleanest I had ever encountered at a large festival. Kudos, event producers!
The DoLaB’s artistic direction touched all aspects of the festival- from the curation of intricate stages to beautiful live performances that left viewers in awe of the range of human talent.
One of my festival highlights, was the Lucent Dossier Experience at the Lightning Stage Friday night. I first saw Lucent Dossier perform at the Sacred Spaces camp at Burning Man 2015 where they gave an incredibly moving performance. I was looking forward to seeing them again at LIB, and they didn’t disappoint. Their 60 minute show was a mind-blowing combination of ethereal singing, circus arts, burlesque, aerials, and fire performances that took 5,000 entranced viewers on a surreal journey. Everything was perfectly curated from the performers’ fantastical costumes to the timing of the heavy bass which vibrated through the floor in time to the live music.
At night, mysterious mood lighting transformed the festival into a magical wonderland where anything seemed possible.
Outside of the transformational activities, Lightning in a Bottle offered a wide variety of musical acts that were spread out across huge stages with incredible soundsystems.
With a lineup straight from a Resident Advisor event listing, the wonderlandesque Woogie stage was my favorite party spot of the festival. The stacked DJ lineup featured well known talent such as Lee Burridge, Guy Gerber, Four Tet, Josh Wink, and Francesca Lombardo.
During the day, the colorful columns of the Woogie stage doubled as shade structures and misted water vapor onto dancers- offering them a much needed reprieve form the scorching heat.
If dancing at massive stages wasn’t your thing, you could check out the smaller stages such as The Favela Bar, Amori’s Casino and Burlesque, Jive Joint, or The Grand Artique which had a varied program of speakers, DJs and live performances.
One of the things I loved about LIB was the Burning Man spirit of the festival. Similar to Burning Man theme camps that curate their own entertainment programs, there were several small communities formed within the festival which gave attendees the chance to participate in fun activities like drawing workshops, Psychedelic Disco Bingo, karaoke under the bridge, or 80’s Prom Night at the Favela Bar.
Wandering around the festival was no easy feat. Traveling from one end of the festival site to another was a serious workout and involved walking up and down steep hills and staircases that made me feel like I had signed up for a Stairmaster training session. However, exploring in the heat was all worth it when you ran across random events like this insane Derby Race:
Frankly, my first night at LIB, I was worried that the festival wasn’t going to be worth the 3,000 miles I had traveled to attend. As I looked around, I wondered, “Where are the costumes?!” I’d been so used to my fabulous costumed Burners in New York City that I was dismayed to see that the extent of costuming for most LIB attendees were harem pants and trippy t-shirts. Although there were vending booths by local designers like Ritual and Shuba Designs that sold unique festival fashion, LIB was a lot more hippie than the festivals I’d attended on the East Coast or Further Future.
By Saturday night however, none of that mattered. I had come to realize that while costuming is a means of self-expression for many New York Burners and festival attendees, festival-goers on the West Coast really don’t care how they look. They’d rather be comfortable in a tank top and shorts than trip people out with elaborate costumes.
Human interaction and dancing wildly was the chosen form of self-expression at Lightning in a Bottle. Except for Burning Man, I’ve never met friendlier people. Traveling from one end of the festival to the other was a journey not because of the distance, but because of all the new friends you would make along the way. Where I’m from, lack of eye contact and avoiding conversations with strangers are the norms unless you want to be accosted for money or hit on. However, at LIB, I encountered a new model of human interaction that should become the standard everywhere. I was surprised that people could be so welcoming and friendly without an ulterior motive.
Hugs were the norm when you met someone new and all across the festival, I saw random acts of kindness.
Aside from Burning Man, I’ve never had so much fun people watching at a festival. The prevalent theme of LIB seemed to be “how weird and freaky can you get?” The DoLaB proved themselves expert at creating event spaces that encouraged non-conformity and allowed attendees to let go of all inhibitions.
The entire festival was pervaded by a spirit of openmindedness, learning, and self-expression. From what I encountered, LIB wasn’t just a festival that offered ticket holders a space to party and dance to good music. Rather, it was a conscious living gathering rooted in the intention of renewing your sense of self, and inspiring you to change the world. There were over 100 workshops and lectures scheduled that ranged from “Writing as Activism” to “The Technology of Prayer.”
In a world where we often interact with our computer screens more than actual humans, festivals and dance events like Lightning in a Bottle are needed to restore our faith in humanity and help us rediscover our inner child. A sculpture by Alexander Milov that I saw at Burning Man 2015 best encapsulates the incredible LIB experience. The sculpture symbolizes the conflict between man and woman, as well as the outer and inner expression of human nature. When their inner selves begin to shine at night, the two children represent the purity and sincerity of childhood which is our true human nature. Throughout the festival I saw this same innocent spirit expressed by adults who felt free to act like children: skipping across the grounds, giving free hugs, and laughing uncontrollably.
I left Lightning in a Bottle with the intention of approaching life with the same openminded spirit of love that I saw embodied within the festival. Imagine the possibilities if we lived in a non-judgmental world that encouraged self-expression and human connection.
It’s been two weeks since the festival’s culmination and I’m still glowing from my experiences and the people whom I connected with in that magical wonderland 🙂