In Review: Lightning in a Bottle 2019

While it was easy to be drawn in from the list of headliners advertised for this year’s Lightning in a Bottle, the real magic of this “arts and music festival” lies in the immersive art experiences and sense of community that keep people coming back year after year. Doting headliners such as Flying Lotus, Toro y Moi, Masego, and Disclosure as well as a variety of DJs spinning in more intimate tents, the party lasted each night until the rising sun was met with a howl from all the attendees still dancing into the morning. The location of this year’s lakeside festival was Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area in Kern County, CA. As the sun rose and the waters warmed, the lake swarmed with people canoeing from shore to shore, doing yoga on the notorious LIB swing, balancing on floating art installations, and lounging on massive inflatable rafts in the shape of unicorns or pegasuses. The daytime scene is reminiscent of an adult summer camp. At any given moment attendees chose between participating in yoga, meditation, art lessons, cooking demonstrations, tea ceremonies, or immersive music experiences. While it’s easy to look at the lineup and plan your festival experience ahead of time, what makes LIB special is that it is not possible to experience everything. You have to pick and choose what your journey is going to be, which may mean letting yourself miss a headliner in favor of closing your eyes and escaping to the sound of a didgeridoo for an hour.

When the sun sets, the stages, tents, and installations transform into neon spectacles and the energy takes a shift. Groups boast decked out totem poles, fluorescent hula hoops emerge, and attendees flock to the stages to dance. The Do LaB, the LA-based artist collective known for creating experiences through architecture are responsible for the cutting edge, immersive stage designs that act as a container for the wild nights at LIB. While techno and deep house emanated from the usually jam-packed Woogie stage, headliners at the Lightning Stage might have been the draw for the younger crowd at this year’s festival than previous years. LIB founder, Dede Flemming explained that the festival recently has come embrace these younger audiences and recognizes its place to act as a compass for education of the next generation of festivals in the current place of the world.

The festival promotes its “six ways of LIB” as a set of ethos for this temporary, eutopic city. The guiding principles are as follows – celebrate life, create community, respect yourself/one another, actively participate, honor the land, and be a citizen. LIB was created by three brothers who were inspired by the ethos and community of Burning Man, the music and infrastructure of Coachella, and wanted to create an idyllic combination of the two. The first iteration of this idea was a rave birthday party for one of the brothers in the mountains for their immediate circle of friends in 1999. In 2004, the Fleming brothers first charged people to come to this intimate event for one night only, and then in 2006 was the first three day festival that is now known as Lightning in a Bottle. According to the founders, the festival functions so efficiently because it was founded on family, good friends, and creating art; and the core team is still those people. Emanating from the relationships of the staff, it is almost as if there is a lack of social boundaries that exist in the ‘real world.’ LIB is trying to create a community and a movement  – a microcosm of the way the world should be.

– Written by Emma Sher

– Photo by Don Idio