This past weekend in Bradley, California festival culture had its annual family gathering at Lightning in a Bottle (LIB). This festival in its seventh official year has grown into a movement with roots in many cultures and as it grows it extends its arms to embrace more of those truly seeking connection.This is not a place of discrimination, but a place of deep understanding of other and of self. It is a festival about awakening. This year, for the first time in history, LIB sold out. This left the community of dancers, yogis, chefs, and children alike wondering: will lighting maintain it’s authentic voice amidst this larger crowd?
Last year LIB changed my life; yet, it was not until returning this year that I realized the full extent of this festival’s power. I had spent my time at CRSSD and Further Future, baby festivals in both age and size when compared with LIB. At each of these I found a strong sense of community and of awakening. I realized the smaller communities feed and are fed by the vast festival atmosphere that is LIB. The shared intention for peace and growth in the world vibrates and encapsulates the entire lake bed in an energy field of warmth and community. Walking from our camp in “the Burbs” on Friday into the festival was the start of our joining the already simmering conversation around us. As my friend and I walked up stairs and across bridges and past tent after tent, we slowly grew quiet as we took in the enormity of it all.
We arrived at the Namaste, the smaller of the yoga stages and settled in for Surya Morning Reverie with Mark Morford, a yogi from San Francisco. As I lay in child’s pose with my arms open, palms up, and facing the glowing sun I entered the shared vibration that was LIB. Mark reminded us to set an intention for the festival. He acknowledged the party, “Alright who’s hungover this morning? Who is going to be hungover tomorrow?” We laughed. As we continued our practice he gently reminded us to remain awake throughout the festival, through the sensory overload, through the drugs, then he sent us out into the sun.
Walking from the yoga area back to the Woogie, Thunder, or Lightning stages you heard the echo of the word consciousness bouncing across the bridges and these voices reminded you of your intention as you crossed from party to party. And what an epic party LIB is. From the Woogie to the Lightning there is this deep sense of freedom unified in community. People carry around totems allowing themselves to identify not only as individuals but as family units within the festival. Most also share a larger family represented at LIB. On Friday, for example, the Woogie stage, the house centric treehouse stage, was overcome with the Dirtybird family. Sacha Robotti clearly felt the love displayed on the flags and banners all around as he destroyed the crowd and started the party off with that wiggle that just won’t stop. Detroit was represented here even amidst Movement.
Then there were all the Desert Hearts family members, pledged to the sounds of Mikey Lion, who congregate on a Native American reservation outside San Diego once a year (and, of course, at the Burn). There was the Ship Fam, the Holy Ship heavy weights, who posted up on blow up couches front and center at the Thunder Stage. These cool cats switch between mellow house tones and heavier bass beats as they cruise the Bahamas once a year for a massive HARD boat party. All these other festivals, including Yoga retreats in Joshua tree, that take place around the US have roots here, at LIB.
Beyond those larger groupings were all the squad-families with monkeys on sticks, and flowers surrounded by lights: anything to say we are together, we are a community. Many boasted an individual symbol as well as a Dirtybird Flag or Shipfam shirt, uniting them back to the larger whole. As the Woogie continued to warm up Friday going into Lane 8, one group was caught smacking a bag of Franzia, a popular brand of cheap boxed wine, and taking turns letting it pour into their mouths as the sun set. Then there was the group who carried in a copy of the DaVinci Code and baptised a small plastic baby they had birthed from green play dough with white wine. The totems and odd family rituals create this millennial tribal community. We form clans from this urge to find family and come together as one. It’s a visceral sense of connectivity. It’s freedom. LIB is an adult experiential playground where anything becomes possible.
As I wandered the festival that evening alone from stage to stage I recalled my own intention for the festival: to connect through others in this experience. I stood beneath the sails of the Lightning stage and I began to find my voice and talk to strangers. Immediately everyone began revealing similar intentions to connect, to vibrate together. We spoke of festival culture and of the change this festival poses to others. When many of us begin in dance music culture it is about the party. As I waited for Big Gigantic to come onto the MainStage Friday night a young Frenchman named Hugo told me, “This is the only festival I’ve come back to. I like that it’s not just about getting fucked up. The drugs are there; but, it’s conscious.” Then we raged together as Big Gigantic combined old school jazz and saxophone with dubstep to create this entirely new sound.
I made my way back towards the Woogie for a finale of techno with Steve Bug and some funky house from Andhim, I stopped to grab a drink. I chatted with curious spirit about intention and drug use: “I think they should enhance the experience not be the experience,” she said as she sipped her Moscow Mule. We smiled at each other knowingly. We both knew how we had grown into this, how we had made the mistake of going too hard at other festivals, how this festival had shifted that mentality in us. I realized, it was possible this festival had something to do with that shift throughout the entire community.
Lightning in a Bottle is not like EDC where you walk by people so numbed out they lie on patches of grass with vacant expressions to be prodded back into consciousness by police. No. Lightning is not Coachella where bros shotgun beers and play molly pong all day. At other festivals it is solely about the party. It is when the festival goer asks him/herself what is my heart truly searching for that he/she finds the true sense of community which is LIB. It is the what PLUR has grown into. It is about peace, love, unity, and respect. It is much broader than the drugs. It is true transcendence. This is a shift I noticed at CRSSD in the return to house music roots. I sensed it at Further Future, where conversation fueled connection through expansion. LIB serves as a cornerstone to this movement and an example for all festivals looking to expand while maintaining such a high level of authenticity.
This festival has grown enormously in the last couple of years and is welcoming many new family members into the community. The Do Lab grows out of Coachella and thus invites in people who come from that culture of numbing out. It serves as a lesson to the newcomers that there is more to the festival than raging. Lightning is not the festival you walk away from hungover— it’s the festival that acts as an alarm clock into your own life. Cultured members of the community are encouraged to welcome first timers and encourage this sense of enlightenment. It’s a festival about teaching and about learning. As one of the founders Didi stated, “The reality is we just want it to be happening and for more people to be aware of it and be experiencing it. It’s about exposing this type of event, this type of culture, this type of mentality to as many people as we can. It’s a movement more than anything.”
This connective energy was pervasive through shopping the festival’s vast array of boutiques to dancing in any of the tiny arranged areas like the deep house centered Favela bar or the Wild West environment of the Grand Artique. This is the only festival I’ve attended where children have an entire area to themselves. This combined with the awakened state of attendees allows electronic music lovers the chance to share the music and lifestyle with their children. As I walked away from the sun setting over Lee Burridge’s set at the Woogie on Sunday night and took the first steps away from the festival my attention was grabbed by a father and son shuffling together. I realized how deep this community truly goes. This is a festival for families— whether it’s a literal family with children, the family recognized by your totem, or the all encompassing family of LIB.
The festival encourages a true sense of unity. It grows from individual, to the unique squad, to the community that is LIB. The best representation I have for this is when my friend Jake brought a huge package of glow sticks to the Lightning Stage. He began to attach them together. The other members of my squad and I began to help him attach the pieces not really sure what we were making. Suddenly this snake we created began to move through the crowd and strangers knelt with us to help us crack and attach the glowing sticks. When we stood up and Jamie XX began to play we watched the snake make its way through the crowd and off into the night. Lightning is this connection through self to other, and through other to the larger whole, and finding that vastness within self again. It is the quick interconnected moments that fly off into the night connecting us, never to be forgotten.
I encourage anyone who is a seasoned festival goer to make it out to Bradley next year. This community is ready to grow larger and larger and embrace more and more vibrant souls. There was this fear that like Coachella literally “selling out” the event would equate with figuratively “selling out” to the mainstream festival atmosphere. This weekend the community of authentic human expression at LIB proved this would never be the case. As the yoga instructors, lecturers, and friends reminded us over the course of the weekend we are meant to grow roots. Lightning has strong roots in intention and integrity and no matter how large this festival grows these roots will remain. That is why we all return to celebrate under the lightning sky.
…And if you’re looking for a party sooner than a year from now Check out Woogie Weekend July 8-10 in Silverado California. Staying true to the vibe of the Woogie this weekend features a live set from techno mastermind Rodriguez Jr., as well as dj sets by: Claptone, Eli&Fur, and Blond:ISH. Because who wants to wait an entire year to wiggle?
Photo Credit: Jacob Avanzato (courtesy of The Confluence)