In a world where music festivals have become dime a dozen, with oversaturated markets and a shallow talent pool, it has become increasingly challenging to create an authentic experience that fully captures the ever-evolving cultural zeitgeist. As other festivals attempt to define and sell this spirit of the times to the masses, Central California's Lightning in a Bottle manages to capture this once in a generation magic, just as their namesake denotes.
Taking place over Memorial Day weekend just outside Paso Robles, CA; Lightning in a Bottle was designed from the ground up to illuminate even the most jaded of eyes.
Upon entering the gates, this festival will transport you to a mystical wonderland comprised of dreamlike environments, otherworldly costumes, and massive, breathtaking art installations.
The ethos of Lightning in a Bottle promotes self-expression, non-judgement, environmental and spiritual consciousness, healthy living, and gifting or bartering over traditional commodification and currency exchange. These principles, clearly inspired by those of the Burning Man community, are apparent in every aspect of the festival and its audience.
You could literally wash dishes or prep food in exchange for a meal at the food vendors if you were light on cash. The old-time General Store on site would trade you food or essentials in exchange for telling a funny joke, a story, or singing a song. Just imagine what you could trade for a hit off your G Pen...
The entire festival site is presented as various fully immersive environments, including many of the stages. These transformative, mind-bending spaces are designed to encourage interaction and take you out of your comfort zone, let loose, and dive head first into a new experience. Many festivals attempt this, but few are able to achieve this level of participation.
Like a giant playground for adults, there was something for everyone. From a full-scale Old West town and trading post dubbed 'Frontierville', to burlesque and improv stages, themed bars, a massive bowling alley-sized skeeball game on the side of a hill, a round building comprised of various doors that led to other doors (!), and a whole galaxy of multicolored interactive installations you could climb into, onto, out of, walk through, dance on, or get lost inside.
For those looking to escape to more serene surroundings, relaxing and introspective environments were set up throughout the festival site to encourage reflection, rest, and bring balance to the madness and energy occurring in every direction.
Some of these areas included large, beautiful shade structures, a meditation lookout perched atop a hill overlooking the festival (perfect for a sunset session), various quiet gardens full of succulents and shade, a tea temple, yoga and dance-fitness classes, large fire pits, a Learning Village and Temple full of workshops, talks, and various inspirational events...the possibilities and options seemingly endless.
And of course, this is a music festival after all. The pacing of the schedule and abundance of non-music related activities seemed to showcase the festival's immense array of features first, with the tastefully curated and very impressive music lineup clocking in at a close second.
This is not a bad thing, as many festivals are programmed to encourage fans rushing from one stage to the next all day, with stops at strategically placed merchandise, beer, and food concessions along the way. This is not the case at LiB, where the pace is more akin to exploring a theme park or art walk at your own speed, with opportunities to stumble upon acts such as Flume, Tycho, SBTRKT, and Panda Bear, arguably the cream of this season's festival crop, along the way.
Taking us into the underworld of aerialists, fire dancers, singers, and musicians, Lucent Dossier Experience dazzled the audience with their unique spectacle and assortment of cirque performers. From costumes and lighting, to music and aerial apparatuses, they hypnotized us with their untamed creativity and talent.
It comes as no surprise that Lucent Dossier Experience is a product of The Do Lab; who is also known for bringing their own visions to life and creating jaw-dropping experiences. Now a staple of The Lightning Stage, they continue give performances that aren’t worth missing and are a group that is paving the way for more performance art and aerial arts to become commonplace at festivals.
Each stage served as its own giant piece of art. Even the soundboards, scaffolding, guardrails, lighting and sound equipment were fully decorated in various colorful fabrics. It truly seems as if the aesthetics of every inch of the festival were taken into consideration, and if something looked too ordinary, it would be covered in enough colorful material to make it extraordinary.
This concept was turned up x 100 at The Woogie Stage...which honestly was so impressive that it deserves its own section in this article. The Woogie served as the deep/tech-house/techno stage of the festival and fittingly so, as the DJ booth is literally a tree house...BUILT INTO A GIANT TREE.
I repeat...they built a beautiful, colorful, fabric-wrapped elevated stage platform around a tree, surrounding by giant mist-spraying shade structures that would glow at night. It was incredible.
As someone who thought they had seen it all when it comes to festival stage concepts, this rightfully blew my mind. This stage was home to some of the most tasteful and refined sets of the weekend including Bob Moses, Wolf + Lamb, and a brilliant closing set from a living legend, John Digweed.
All in all, this was one of the most enlightening and interesting festivals we have had the pleasure of experiencing. From the eye-opening and educational features, mesmerizing art, great food, and impeccably programmed music lineup, Lightning in a Bottle exceeded already high expectations across the board. This article cannot properly describe all there is to see, feel, and hear...you will have to go discover the magic yourself.
Can it be next year already? We'll see you there. Otherwise, keep an eye out for The Do Lab's newest festival, WOOGIE WEEKEND, taking place at Oak Canyon Park in Silverado, CA July 17-19 2015! Tickets are on sale now!
More of our favorite moments captured below:
Photos and Article by Chris Major