Hard to believe it’s already been 10 days since my crew packed up our dusty belongings and drove back to San Francisco from Bradley, CA – site of The Do LaB’s Lightning in a Bottle festival (LIB). It’s especially hard to believe the festival passed so quickly when the build-up lasted months. This was the third year Lightning in a Bottle took place on the central coast of California, having previously lived in Southern California dating back to the year 2000, and it’s a perfect location that allows for people from all over the state to make the drive. Of course that doesn’t include the many folks who came from far and wide – even the East Coast – to attend what is quickly becoming the premier transformational festival in the U.S. If you don’t feel like reading the rest of my words below, remember this one item: the Do Lab and its attendees nailed it – and will continue to nail it – for years to come with Lightning in a Bottle.
What continues to make LIB so magical is the concept that it’s a transformational festival. Yes, I’m attracted to LIB primarily because of the musical lineup, but I find myself enjoying the LIB experience so much more because of the many other things going on over the course of four days. The Do LaB transforms the seemingly barren valley where Lake San Antonio used to be a flowing body of water into a village of music, art, meditation, healing, soul searching, physical challenges, mental challenges, laughter, connection, stimuli for all the human senses, and so much more.
Just like it’s a challenge knowing what direction to take this blog post in, that holds true for LIB – it’s very much a choose-your-own-adventure type of festival. At most festivals, you look at the lineup and you look at the schedule and plan out which musicians you want to see perform. But at LIB, you quite literally explore. You determine which yoga session you want to go to or which seminar to attend, or in some scenarios, which cuddle puddle to plop yourself down into. You and your friends may not shower for four days – but that’s okay (it’s going to have to be okay when your deodorant melts in 95-degree heat).
I will say that I had the pleasure of being in the presence of a new friend all weekend and this was her first festival ever. Safe to say the bar has been set incredibly high. There are so many different things I could report on from the festival but what it comes down to is those who have experienced it already know and those who haven’t will hopefully get their chance in years to come. Allow me to highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly as well as some superlatives below.
The Good: The staff and the attendees
Unfortunately I had to spend some time supporting a close friend who wound up in the medical tent for a few hours on Saturday. I won’t go in to detail, but let’s just say most other festivals would have treated his case as a medical condition or possibly even a legal issue. At LIB there are Dance Safe staff members who are trained how to handle certain situations where a festival-goer may have ingested a substance that he/she reacted negatively to. Regardless of what your stance is on the consumption of various substances, I couldn’t be more grateful that my friend was in stellar hands throughout his time in the tent. This is really something all festivals should follow because like it or not, attendees come to festivals to escape reality and sometimes those escapes may take an unexpected turn. The staff members who took care of my friend were knowledgable, patient, and trustworthy. This really is an element of the festival that needs to be highlighted. Other staff members were super friendly – from the bartenders to the vendors to the security. As always, LIB staff and security were incredibly warm to me as I worked to capture images and moments from the festival.
Beyond the incredible staff, the attendees are what continue to make LiB such a positive experience. Every single person I met had a smiling face, an incredibly positive attitude, and a passion for the arts. Our campsite neighbors are now close friends and there’s no way the all around vibes of the festival could have been better. Open-mindedness, creativity, and positivity were all on display during LIB 2016.
The Bad: Unpreparedness
I spoke with and witnessed the accounts of many festival-goers whose first time it was at the festival. Many people don’t realize how extensive the festival grounds are – that it can take up to a half hour to walk from a camp site to a stage. Others don’t realize how brutally hot the days are and how chilly the nights can get. I’ll group general unpreparedness into the “bad” category. Sure, festivals like Coachella are hot and require lots of walking, but LIB is much more of a roughin’ it type of experience. If you do wish to take a shower, for example, you’ll have to wait in a line that can span 20 minutes to over an hour – and pay $8 per session.
Ultimately it’s up to festival-goers to be prepared to attend any festival, let alone LIB. Having attended the event last year I already knew what to expect, though you tend to forget how much walking you do. Shade can be hard to come by during the hot sunny days and if your tent isn’t out of reach of the sun, you can expect to be awake bright and early each morning after a likely long night of festivities.
I think it would be helpful if Do Lab made a greater effort to inform festival-goers of what to expect, or maybe could put together a first timer’s guide.
And here’s a pro tip: if you want to leave the festival in a timely manner, get out of there bright and early or you will be stuck for hours!
The Ugly: Trash
LIB is a carry in, carry out festival. This means you’re asked to carry out all your trash with you at the end of the festival. I couldn’t believe how many full trash bags were scattered about the grounds starting on Sunday night and into Monday morning when people began departing. There’s a lot of talk about how the festival has changed over the years, how the OGs don’t go anymore because it’s not what it used to be, and a whole new generation of LIBers are now in attendance. Maybe with the new generation of attendees the “greenness” has started to dwindle, but that’s no excuse. It would be helpful if LIB staff would enforce throwing away trash more (props to each stage at the end of the night for playing the “cleanup” song and encouraging people to pick up trash). But at the end of the day, people need to be much more respectful of the festival grounds… after all there’s a dried up lake bed at the base of the festival grounds.
Shoutout to that one girl I was walking next to who was picking up cigarette butts off the ground. No good deed goes unnoticed.
Superlatives – time to focus on the music!
Funkiest Set Justin Jay, without a doubt. I absolutely adore the youngest member of the Dirtybird clan – he always has a smile on his face and he plays sets that are an immense amount of fun. I’ve seen Justin Jay from coast to coast and each time is different and awesome in its own way. At the last two festivals I saw JJ at (LIB and Northern Nights), he brought a guitarist and vocalist and this added a whole new element of funk to the program. What amazes me is Justin’s ability to mix flawlessly despite adding real musical instruments to the show – a real class act. Justin Jay should always be circled on any lineup and concerts attended at any chance. His set at the Woogie Stage during the middle of the day Saturday was perfection.
Surprise Set of the Weekend
Ekali. The Vancouver-based Bass DJ/producer absolutely killed it. He had the Thunder stage getting wild as the sun went down on Friday. I had never heard of Ekali but one of our writers (shoutout Michal) recommended I check him out and I’m thankful he did. The set was absolutely perfect and though I’m a House junkie, everything about the wobbles rubbed me the right way at the time.
Biggest Disappointment of the Weekend
Crying Over Porcelain. I really had high hopes for Ooah and edIT, two of the members of The Glitch Mob who came together for this special set. Unfortunately the tracks they were playing were too chill and too downtempo and really didn’t set the mood I was looking for. Instead, I was hoping for something like Ooah’s Coachella set at the Do Lab stage a couple years ago. That shit rocked!
Most Expectedly Awesome Set of the Weekend
Big Gigantic, hands down. They never cease to kill it and they had the crowd eating out of their hands. I’ve seen Big Gigantic more times than I can count and while they have their staples, they always manage to bring out new tunes. Epic buildups lead to epic drops and that’s that shit we like! For those who still haven’t seen Big Gigantic live, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!
Best All Around Audio/Visual Experience
Lucent Dossier Experience. Holy Jesus… did I just see Jesus? This truly was a complete audio/visual experience with original music and incredible acrobatics. Some of the best pictures I took of the weekend came from this set because everything was so mesmerizing. I would definitely go see these artists in a more intimate setting to really appreciate everything they brought to the Lightning Stage.
Best After Hours
This really is a toss up. The first couple nights it was definitely the Favela Bar, which is set up to resemble a Brazilian favela (slum in the middle of an urban area – check out the picture below to see clothes hanging from a line). This unofficial stage always brought underground House music of different sub-genres to the forefront and whether it was during the day or late into the night there was a fantastic crowd there. Shoutout to those elevated tower houses!
I need to also call out Amori’s as a fantastic end to our LIB experience. There was so much going on in there including casino games, fire poi/other fire demonstrations, painting, burlesque, and a WHOLE LOT OF TRAP MUSIC. We partied at Amori’s deep into the night/early morning because every song was a banger. Very hard to describe the scene in there but it was surely poppin’.
Had to give a shoutout to the Last Supper Club. I was fortunate enough to have dinner there on Sunday and it came with a show. Again, hard to describe the theatrics that went on there but it was truly entertaining. The food was amazing, all cooked on an open grill, and included several courses with wine. After roughing it for a few days, this was a welcome meal and completely worth the price of $75/person. Community style was a treat as well and gave us the chance to meet some very interesting people.
Favorite Non-Music Event
Yoga of Bass. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. As someone who is new to yoga, but becoming dedicated to it, I knew I had to participate in yoga at LIB. On Friday there was a session called Yoga of Bass featuring FreQ Nasty (the DJ) & Claire Thompson (the instructor) happening at the Lightning Stage. The movements were conducted over a fresh bass music sound, with different parts having us dancing up to meet new people, and laying on our backs for meditation as loud waves of bass and no beats rolled through the speakers. It was deep, soulful, and a perfect way to start our days on Friday.
*Special Shoutout* – as always thank you thank you thank you to the amazing folks at the Do Lab and at The Confluence. We greatly appreciate you granting us access to cover this amazing festival and we are already looking forward to next year. And huge props for getting the after movie up in 24 hours!!