I took U.S. Route 101 northbound out of Los Angeles not knowing what to expect from my first Lightning in a Bottle experience at San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley. Lake San Antonio is one of the hidden gems in California. It’s located in nature, halfway between SF and LA. I had heard plenty of stories from friends that previously attended, but was certain that once I entered the gates things were going to get interesting.
Dede Flemming, one of the founders of LIB, validated my expectations during an interview before the festival took place.
“LIB just has so much unique programming aside from all of the music,” Flemming said. “You could spend four or five days here and never go to a music stage. We’ve created so many areas of the festival the are devoted to talks, workshops, panel discussions, yoga, meditation, food education and more. Also, a lot of intention is put into every aspect of the festival and what the attendees experience is like from start to finish. The main thing, however, is the openness that people feel and experience here and it allows them to put their guard down and let go. This enables people to interact more and create instant friendships and strengthen the LIB community as the weekend progresses. That’s something that is lost in our daily lives in the larger communities that we live in. When people leave they hang on to that spirit and they can reflect back on how special their experience was.”
As I drove through Ventura, Santa Barbara, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Santa Margarita, and Paso Robles, anticipation surrounding how the next four days were going to play out grew, especially considering that the 11th annual festival sold out. This meant that there were going to be more than 20,000 people roaming around to the beat of their own drum. Whether that means getting wasted and dancing their asses off until the sun rises over the hills, or connecting with people from the other side of the world, Lightning in a Bottle is a place where people desire to embrace the beauty of the unknown.
The moment I turned left onto New Pleyto Road towards the entrance to the campgrounds, I got the feeling that the entire weekend was going to be absolute madness. That’s probably because I almost ran over a handful of people dressed in unicorn outfits high on God-only-knows-what. Then again, maybe they were just really, really happy unicorns? Temperatures were also incredibly arid and hot, and I knew that everyone escaping their routines to be present during the four-day camping, arts, music and yoga festival intended on liberating themselves from the shackles of society.
Like I said, I had no idea what to expect.
Initially, you think to yourself, “How the hell am I supposed to survive four days of this?!” Let’s be honest here: festival camping life isn’t for everyone. But once I arrived at my designated campground and got situated, everything sort of fell into place. Rad Quest tent sold exclusively at DICK’s Sporting Goods? Check. Shade (this umbrella works wonders when you’re beneath the hot sun)? Check. Plenty of water? Check. Sunscreen? Check. Good vibes? Check. Ice-cold beer? Double check.
As soon as you step onto the festival grounds, you realize the time, thoughtfulness and creativity that the Do LaB put into making it all come together. Everything — down to the stage design and lighting — was on point. If you think you know what it’s like to truly witness the power of what imagination and collaboration can do to transform a space, you haven’t seen what the Do LaB is capable of.
Everything had a place and a purpose. With over 300 classes and experiences to explore and share, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a culture and mentality you won’t find anywhere else. To say that LIB is a transformational experience of expression is an understatement.
“When we’re here we could be anywhere because there are very few outside influences. It’s pure nature,” explained Flemming. “We’ve added some goofy and fun interactive stuff this year. We’re having the first annual LIB Soap Box Derby Race that will surely be ridiculous, and if you can find something called The Bowling Alley I would guess that you’re going to have a good time.”
Immersive micro-environments, three main stages (Woogie, Thunder and Lightning), non-stop music, lectures, organic cooking classes, yoga, installation art, and meditation are enough to get you lost in the moment. Everyone around you is high. Not just on what are most likely illicit drugs, but high on life. On being alive. The energy is so contagious that you find yourself dancing to a beat you never moved to before.
As the sun rose, some people were still dancing from the night before, while others could be seen crawling out of their tents to enjoy some morning yoga. Every night, those same people sat around and watched the sun dip below the horizon and turn everything into a golden, glittering landscape. The meditation lookout was the best place to see a sunset.
Then came all the people who slept all day or hid in the shade to avoid the scorching sun. Then came the howling. Then came the glowing neon lights moving from stage to stage along the dusty pathways. Then came more unforgettable memories, even for the kids that attended. While you may think that a music festival isn’t an appropriate atmosphere for children, Lightning in a Bottle is different, offering various activities and environments to ensure they had just as much fun as their parents.
“Jesse, my brother and partner, spends so much of his year and his free time with headphones on and is always exploring the music world,” Flemming said. “I don’t fully know the method to the madness but it always is a pleaser. It’s not always about going after what is popular and what everyone else is doing, but searching for the stuff that is just coming up. LIB has gotten a bit of a reputation for being a place to hear the next good act.”
Beyond the main stages, there was a kaleidoscope of wonders. Even if you spent your entire Memorial Day weekend wandering off the beaten path, you’d probably never be able to check out everything you wanted to. There just isn’t enough time. Not to mention, it’s so easy to get distracted or spellbound by a particular act or environment that you forget what your plan was for the day.
The Do LaB tried their best… and guess what? They fucking succeeded.
“We have no idea where Lightning in a Bottle is headed but it has certainly come a long way since it started,” Flemming added. “In the beginning it was a birthday party with about 150 people. It’s grown every year and transformed tremendously along the way and is now a destination event that people travel to from all over the world.”
When thousands of people gather to experience what it’s like to let go, something magical happens. It’s something that is difficult to describe, no matter how many pictures or videos you capture of the experience as a whole. If you really want to know what it’s like you’ll just have to wait until next year and find out for yourself.
At the end of the day, what happens at LIB is something that you create for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.
Can’t wait until next year? You should check out Woogie Weekend, which takes place July 17th-19th. Located in Oak Canyon Park in Silverado, California, Woogie Weekend is the Do LaB’s newest camping music festival.