One of my favorite things about Lightning in a Bottle is going for a walk. We walk so often daily it becomes mundane: to our cars, to grab a coffee, across the street. We forget that each walk is a tiny adventure. In the Neverland that is LIB we connect viscerally as we move through each other. We form a constant river of consciousness: flowing over bridges, brushing hands in gentle high fives, respectfully shifting through the crowd to rejoin your friends. Here we do not just numbly pass from one task to the next, so glued to our screen we barely look up. Rather, we reach out, touch, and say, “Hello, I’m here. See me.” And the gentle release happens when you trust that finally you are seen. You are heard. You are in a safe space. You are free.
These thoughts are natural and abundant in the village built and curated by the Do Lab at their annual festival in Bradley, California — tucked by a lake in central California. The central location allows those of the festival community to meet between larger cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. The vastness of the festival allows all attendees to feel the space to explore and adventure and create unique and individual experiences. The festival is a music festival; but, it is also a yoga festival, a food festival, a fashion festival, and an integrated and tactile community. It boasts multiple interactive areas including: VR; an art-walk, Amori’s Casino and Burlesque, a pirate ship, The Compass, The White Library, The Learning Kitchen, and so much more I’m sure I never saw.
In this container of curiosity it is impossible not to constantly want to explore. I found that by taking the time and arriving Wednesday with an Early Arrival Pass I was better able to flow through the festival. I had an entire day simply to set up camp. After setting up in the hot sun we were exhausted and went and sat by the lake. Barely anyone had even arrived at the festival yet and my best friend and I sat in silence watching everyone and everything around us. Two pixies hopped onto the bridge and met a young samurai in the middle. He complimented them on how fabulous they were. They squealed with joy and knighted him as a member of the Disco Universe— or something like that. The three had just met. They ran off together. My friend looked to me, she smiled and laughed. It was a bit silly, and overwhelming to remember we were allowed to just play. In this sanctuary it was okay to go about just like one did when one was five. Swim up to the stranger in the pool at the hotel and ask to play mermaids or pirates or volleyball. Instantly you were friends and you were in the same game. Lightning in a Bottle allowed us as adults to go back to that place I can only refer to as Neverland: that place where we do not have to grow up.
The next evening as the festival opened up to all ticket holders the grounds slowly began to fill up. The Lightning, Woogie, and Thunder stages were almost complete. Unlike other festivals the three main stages do not open the first night of the festival. Instead, the gates are opened Thursday and the two main bars, Pagoda and Favela, host parties to begin the festivities. We chose to attend the Favela Bar’s 80s prom party. I had seen Patricio, the curator of the Favela Bar, the year prior at the festival and knew that whenever he was playing we would have to be there. The prom was everything we had hoped for and more. Patricio and Kraddy played all the classic 80s tracks like Billie Jean and I Just Wanna Dance With Somebody. Then Rüfüs du Sol took the decks the played a surprise DJ set. The energy of the festival immediately started heating up.
By Friday I had already been in the festival environment for two days. I was flowing in rhythm with my new community. The extra time allowed me a greater sense of freedom and the stability in my environment kept me grounded. I began the day at the Woogie with Marques Wyatt, one of my favorite local Los Angeles artists. The rest of the day we just explored chasing the vibe. I had a few artists everyday I wanted to see; but, I had taken the pressure off myself to see every act. I wanted to explore and connect. This is what makes LIB truly magical. Any artist could be headlining and I would still attend for the space we create there. Rüfüs du Sol stole the show Friday night with their Lightning stage set. They had very clearly tapped into the vibration of the festival and were more alive than I have ever seen them perform.
Saturday, though there were a lot of great artists, I got the sense that it was curated so that everyone constantly felt the pull to explore. Throughout the grounds there was constant motion of attendees flowing over bridges from one stage to the next. Guy J and Hernan Cattaneo blew up the Woogie; however, I couldn’t resist the urge of constant motion and probably saw parts of everyone’s set that night as well as a crazy puppet show by the Fungineers. I also looked through an exquisite art gallery full of psychedelic works in the MOVA Gallery. I lay upside down in their 360 Dome Pro and gazed up at a girl playing with VR and watching crazy visuals play out on the ceiling. I bopped from area to area. Dancing, exploring, chatting with old and new friends. This is the night I felt most in the festival. It was as if we would always be here and always had been. It was magic.
Sunday was the hottest day of the festival and the day I was most grateful for water. the past two years the drought in California made it impossible for the San Antonio Recreational Area where the festival is held to flood the lake. Finally, this year the end of the drought allowed them to open the dam and it completely changed the landscape of LIB for the better. After we had dried off we spent sunset at the Woogie. First Julia Govor delivered us a sexy techno set that was as hot as the day had been and kept us dancing all the same. Monolink stepped up next and delivered his live set which I have had the pleasure of seeing three times. As the sun set and he closed with “Burning Sun” I felt I was home. At Burning Man everyone greets each other the first few days and welcomes them home. I realized this place now, at LIB, feels like home too. “I had no past as time was moving backwards/ Just the burning sun reflected in my eye.” This home didn’t exist just in one place: at Lightning or on the Playa or at any one moment or festival. The connected sense of curiosity and adventure that makes up this sense of home lives inside of me. I can carry it wherever I go, always. As his set expanded into a live set from Stephan Bodzin, which was on the most fun and crazy sets I’ve ever been a part of, I filled up with joy. A joy I still feel today one week later.
Coming back from a festival is always jarring. People in the real world are not as open, not as curious, not as accepting. It does not feel as safe to go for a walk as it does at LIB. It’s easier to close off to everyone rather than open up the channels of curiosity to those who seek it. I am learning to leave my heart open to “home”. I am a part of something greater than myself through this community. I am part of a movement that is all about love. I want to spread that with my whole heart. I want to create more safe spaces in our world; which, has at many times this year felt so full of hate. I am so grateful to the Do Lab for creating this space in which I could rediscover “home” for myself, for some odd reason I am sure I am not the only one.
This year on June 10th Lightning in a Bottle will hold it’s first ever Super Early Bird Sale. If you know you want to be at this event after reading this tickets will available at a discounted rate. This is not the festival you need to wait for the lineup to commit to. No matter the musical lineup the environment is the real headliner of the festival: it will be something undeniably beautiful.