“Let the beauty you love be what you do;
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the Earth”
Between the epic amounts of live music, menagerie of performers - from stilt walkers to fire dancers and back to the artists live painting as part of The Do Art Foundation's 'Lightning in a Paintcan', the Lightning in a Bottle music festival has consistently and gracefully walked a thin line between Burning Man, where the festival draws it's transformative inspiration, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where The Do Lab's been curating their own bass heavy, freak friendly stage for the past decade. Originally held in the sprawling Live Oak Campground in Santa Barbara where Lucidity Festival has been located for the last several years, Lightning in a Bottle's been jumping around Southern California from Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado in '10 to Lake Skinner in Temecula for last year's festival - all in search of a location they can continue to call home. With the new location nestled in the picturesque hills of Monterey County, halfway between their devoted underground music communities of the Bay Area and Los Angeles - it feels like they've finally found it on the North Shore of Lake San Antonio.
As with any year, this location wasn't without it's challenges - this wasn't a festival that happened to have a camping option, this was a pretty rough and rugged camping trip that seemed to organically create a music festival inside of itself; and unlike previous years, the camping was intertwined with the festival grounds.
So, whether this was your first LIB or your third - everyone was met with new environmental challenges. Some people came prepared to let loose at a festival for five days, and just happened set up some tents while they did it - others came prepared to really rough it and set up camp for the weekend and happened to enjoy a festival while doing so.
As we waited in line for the mass exodus on Monday afternoon, dirt stained smiles and glistening eyes gave away the Thursday crowd that'd planned for Lightning in a Bottle for months - alternatively, complaints of heat exhaustion, distances to the stages paired with an overall lack of filth emanated from attendants that showed up with a last minute ticket Saturday morning unprepared for the mayhem and the magic. From Thursday when the majority of campers arrived through Monday afternoon when the majority left, we dealt with a high of 100°, a low of 49° (that's more than a 50° shift) and winds of up to 34 mph. If you were there, take a moment and brush that dirt off your shoulders - because there's an actual chance with all those dust storms and dirt devils that there's just a little bit still left over somewhere from the weekend, no matter how many times you shower or do laundry. For those of you that have attended Burning Man, you're well aware that the weather conditions at Lightning in a Bottle are nothing to joke at - and are at par, if not slightly more intense than last year's Playa conditions.
Though held at Lake San Antonio, the lake had been drained dry and the lake beds were converted into expansive camping space as well as two renegade stages - The Ditch, and The Drift; the former of which was hosted by Distrikt and now has it's own Facebook page and the later was basically in my front yard and hosted surprise sunrise sets from the DESERT DWELLERS and RANDOM RAB. And for those that are still feeling the hills in their legs and thighs - there's another reason to pat yourself on the backs, earlier this month on the South Side of Lake San Antonio, the Wildflower Triathlon was held for it's 32nd year in a row.
Formerly a Chumash Reservation, Lake San Antonio is currently 30 miles from both a Recruiting station as well as an Army Base. Unbeknownst to festival attendants, residents of Bradley were given free entrance to the festival so they could experience the event firsthand and jump to their own conclusions about our intentions. The second night of the festival, a rugged older gentlemen with an adorably welcoming olive green yoda beanie stumbled into my campsite and sat down with my friends and I. After a small and socially awkward conversation, we realized that not only was he a resident of Bradley - but a US Army Vet with a conservative viewpoint and at that very moment time - a staunch representation of the reason transformational festivals are so important:
"Well, I showed up in my camouflage hunting cap but that felt so out of place, so after looking around at the vendors I found something I was excited to wear - I lean to the right, but I have some real right wing friends and I can't wait to show it off around them. I didn't know people could be so wonderful. Originally, I didn't want the festival here because I thought it would be a group of ignorant kids trashing the environment. " He admitted, "But now that I'm here, I see people throwing away their trash and looking after one another. This is a special group of individuals. There's amazing live music, and the art! There's so much art being created and being explored; I hope they have LIB here again next year, but if they don't - I still want to go, and I'll even pay for it."
The three main stages of the weekend - The Lightning Stage, The Bamboo Stage and The Woogie - each had such a unique feel and draw, which brought about three different types of musical crowds. Back at the road, back where the festival land starts is the Bamboo Stage - let's think of this as your 'One Night Stand' or 'Spring Fling'. You go there for a reason: you want to get your head warped and you feel an overwhelming urge to get hit with an epic bass drop; it hits hard, it's sexy, it wobbles, shakes, can get sweet for a second but overall - the Bamboo stage is pure debauchery.
From the time Filabusta opened the stage at noon on Friday until the final set on Sunday, when THE GASLAMP KILLER gave everyone a lesson in Low End Theory as he hit them with the sound of an Earthquake - what happened at the Bamboo Stage was unprecedented, revolutionary and magical. Sunday afternoon was the hottest day of the festival both temperature wise (99) and musically. From start to finish, the stage was stacked and hosted the surprise set of the whole weekend starting with LATE NIGHT RADIO opening to a rapidly growing crowd. There might be a limited dancing, but believe me, each and every last inch of shade was taken up by an eager crowd that didn't care about a dance floor. PLANTRAE followed the only way he knew how, a melodic dubstep set layered with a live electric violin - the skills! Other notable sets of the weekend came from WHAT SO NOT, CASHMERE CAT - who turned up the sexy on Saturday night, and BAAUER who payed proper tribute to the Rap and Hip-Hop influences so readily heard in EDM.
The Lightning Stage is the 'Long term, Serious Relationship' stage: It’s moving, emotional, light hearted, romantic – but serious, committed (And if it’s AMON TOBIN, it can be straight aggressive). And just as anything emotionally important, the stage was tucked deep into the heart of the festival and was chalk full of emotionally moving music all weekend long. Between amazing live experiences from Norwegian trio KRAAK & SMAAK, The Do Lab's own LUCENT DOSSIER Experience, CHET FAKER and PHANTOGRAM, as well as headlining sets from GRAMATIK and GOLD PANDA; each and every artist told a story, strung together beautifully and deliberately.
On Friday night, MOBY threw a party straight out of a rave 5 years ago - as we shimmied up to the stage, Infinity 2008 (KLAUSS Remix) from GURU JOSH PROJECT was blaring from the speakers - a bouncy, fun moment - but not what I had in mind when I chose LIB. On Saturday, AMON TOBIN threw an exceptionally well DJed party for himself and didn't seem to mind that literally no one in the crowd was moving a muscle to the heavy, aggressive and industrial Drum & Bass tracks. In contrast, THE POLISH AMBASSADOR's Sunset set on Friday night had everybody movin' and groovin' to his fresh beats, including the jumpsuited passe he habitually brings on stage with him and BEATS ANTIQUE closed the festival with a visually stunning performance, getting the entire crowd - including local police officers - to get weird with friends and neighbors alike as they danced their cares away for one last night.
THE POLISH AMBASSADOR at Sunset
Last but definitely not least, just a hop, skip and a jump across "The Ditch" - there’s that Woogie – your little sultry, sexy, little thing on the side where you go when you want to dance your cares away. From noon til midnight, Friday through Sunday, the Woogie was movin' and groovin' to deliciously deep house thanks to a brand new sound system from Pure Groove Audio.
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO at the Woogie
As the torch was passed from Los Angeles resident TARA BROOKS to MAXXI SOUNDSYSTEM and the bassline for 'Regrets We Have No Use More' came on, the dance floor exploded in energy; only to be topped by DJ TENNIS, DAMIAN LAZARUS and the Dirtybird legend himself, Sir CLAUDE VONSTROKE. The jams continued into Sunday night where LEE BURRIDGE played an All Day I Dream Set during the final sunrise and SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO whipped up a seductive, old school set and reminded the crowd why they're one of the best DJ duos in the business; simply put - if we 'Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat', they 'Wake Up, Make Dope Music, Go To Sleep'
If you had time between sets, you could wander into the vendor area to ease your hunger pains or get your fix of adorable festival worthy gear including Spirit Hoods, Jammy Packs, Electro Fur and amazing jewelry from the team at Third Eye Pinecones. As far as food was concerned, it's a camping trip - so it's always recommended to bring your own. That said, the event offered some amazing food options ranging from Vegan to Vegetarian, and even Pescetarian if you were lucky enough to find the mouth watering sushi. Between the breakfast burritos, seaweed salad, pizza fresh from the Do Lab's Dough Lab that I'd gladly purchase any day of the week and smoothies - you could have your cake and eat it, too. I'm all for conscious eating, so this was a great time to actively engage in the practice - but at the end of the trip, all I could think about was bacon. Next year, if my camp plans a little better - we'll just bring our own bacon, cook it - and add it to the breakfast burrito; hunger problem, solved.Though it wasn't as heavily advertised as the main lineup, other stages boasted smaller, but equally talented musical acts. San Francisco's Silent Frisco hosted an after hours silent disco for the event once the main stage music had ended. San Diego's VOKAB KOMPANY and The Herbert Bail Orchestra wowed The Grand Artique - another alternative source of music for the weekend. One wandering through the area was enough to delight and amuse the festival at large - with a mock election for Mayor, and a hidden speakeasy with some deliciously free pickle bottoms if you happened to know the password, or Joaquin Murrietta.
During the day, The Temple hosted talks from Bashar and Lucent Dossier Experience creator and Lightning in a Bottle co-founder Dream Rockwell. Author Daniel Pinchbeck spoke on his book 'Breaking Open The Head' - a personal favorite', MOBY gave his thoughts on art as therapy and Youtube creator Chad Hurley divulged his secret recipe for following your dreams. Each night after the speeches were over, the venue hosted music - WILDLIGHT - the emotive sideproject from The Polish Ambassador and AYLA NEREO - wowed the crowd early Saturday morning. Sunday evening the was curated by up and coming Los Angeles locals, The Luminaries who brought in THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE to close with a moving set on Sunday morning.
WILDLIGHT at The Temple
Beyond the large, ornate and often fire engulfed art sculptures - thanks to The Do Art Foundation, easels scattered throughout Lake San Antonio filled with color as the festival grounds filled with happy campers. A menagerie of local artists, including Vyal, Andrew Knights, Anthony West and Max Neutra, used inspiration from the festival to create paintings displayed at a showcase Sunday night of the festival, fully equipped with a silent auction. All proceeds go directly to the artists and a small percentage will go to supporting the public arts through the foundation, run by The Do Lab.
"This was my second year live painting at LIB and once again I was blown away by the amount of love and dedication that goes into LIB. Painting at LIB allows me to paint in a wonderful setting, converse with strangers about a variety of subjects and consequently feel true connectedness, spirituality and healing. When I paint I try to put the feeling of the music or talk into my work! Last year my painting evolved with the music I heard from the two stages I was I between. This year I positioned myself by the temple of consciousness and my painting slowly evolved into a psychedelic mandala! My surroundings inspire the direction of my work! I love how LIB allows me to push my work into new frontiers. The energy at the festival is my souls food!" - Andrew Knights
Andrew Knights with wife Amanda by his finished masterpiece
On Monday afternoon, as the temperature crawled past 100 - and everyone, for lack of a better term, was miserable. As I looked around, I thought of everything could do - I asked the Do Lab to turn the hoses back on, but they were busy - and rightfully so - trying to delicately tear down the Woogie. So I did the only thing that came to mind - grabbed a friend, unloaded squirt guns from our luggage, reloaded them with water and aimed them at the three hour line waiting for a shuttle that felt like it would never come. Slowly, a collection of unspoken frustrated faces instantly lit up with excitement as they were drenched with some of the free water that was provided to the camps all weekend. A two person team became an eight person army, filling misters and hoses - bringing about smiles and laughs, camaraderie and community.
For five days - we camped under stars and a clear sky, told our darkest secrets to strangers and our deepest dreams to friends, laughed at the sight of bubbles and cried when we ran into an unexpected friend. We'll always light up when ever we hear the words ‘Woogie’, 'Drift Party' or 'Picklebacks' and howling as the sun goes down might become second nature. We weathered dust storms and heat waves with smiles on our faces and a bounce in our step. Whether we met or not, if you were at Lightning in a Bottle - we're forever bonded by this event.
As we left our beautiful, blissful weekend to returned to reality Monday evening, we were all confronted with current, tragic events in Santa Barbara. For those of you that are new to the LIB Family, the festival community and the and Santa Barbara are incredibly close knit - the Live Oak Campground where Lucidity Festival was held this past year played host to Lightning in a Bottle back from '06 to '08. This past weekend was a beautiful, necessary and touching reminder that humanity at its core is wonderful, creative, giving and ever evolving. We build communities and families together, we help our weak and empower our strong. we dance with friends and laugh with strangers, we battle the elements and wish on stars.
We aren't trying to say that it was the perfect conditions for the festival, but I'd like to argue that it was the perfect storm. The dry lake beds were more than we bargained for, but where some people lamented the exercise - others gleefully ran across, some holding hands, others balancing ornate sculptures on their chins or giving their friends a piggy back ride - and some of us, including myself, had dance parties in the middle of the ditch and made new friends. We're a problem solving community that works together, in the moment, to find the best solution. We're strong, charismatic, energetic and whimsical with a lead by example attitude where no stranger is left behind. Strangers instantly evolve into a camp, a tribe - a family. People watch out for each other with flashlights, buy two drinks instead of one because they know if they're thirsty - someone else has to be, too.
Every single person at Lightning in a Bottle - from your best friend to your camp neighbors, stilt walkers to the burlesque show at Amori's Casino, the painters from 'Lightning in a Paintcan', costumed actors who stayed in character all weekend and the musicians themselves - each and every individual has a unique gift to share with the world. And we've proudly staked our claim as an empathetic band of weird and wacky humans just itching for our chance to give back.
As with any collective, as humans - we're only as strong as our weaknesses; the time is now to explore your gifts and give back to the community that's provided your personal inspiration. It's not the 'Maybe Lab' - it's the Do Lab; do it with love, and do it now - there's a whole family of people that can't wait to see what happens next.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead
BEATS ANTQUE Closing the Lightning Stage
Sunrise Set: DESERT DWELLERS with some Ditch Dwellers
BAAUER on the Bamboo stage
Hosed Down during PLANTRAE
A huge thank you to The Do Lab, The Confluence, the Do Art Foundation and the extended Lightning in a Bottle family for such a beautiful weekend. For every dollar donated to the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary, The Do Lab will match the donation. Please visit The Chumash Sanctuary Website for more information.
Photography Credit: Daniel Leist