[The Audiofiles] Lightning in a Bottle: Life is a Festival

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Rivers coagulate and disperse, trees branch and form, humans quickly congregate and dissipate just as quickly; though I can’t tell you the mathematics behind it, I see the patterns while bending with the wind, ebbing and flowing with the gentle ocean breeze.  For as far as I can remember, I’ve seen the world in perpetual patterns with wide eyes and technicolor taste buds.  Instead of there being a past and a future, there’s always the present moment and time, if anything, appears cyclic to me; everything in harmonious discord and calming calamity. It makes sense when you stop looking for the reason why it has to.

In the strangest sense, LIB had always been my unicorn – my unattainable vision of the real life Venn Diagram where beauty, music, consciousness and nature intersect. I bought my first ticket In 2010 but had to sell it because of my health;  the next year in 2011 was my Best Friend’s bachelorette party and in 2012 I’d simply given up on the notion that I wanted to go. Three years ago, I finally experienced my first Lightning in a Bottle as a wide eyed, eager fan that was literally in the process of falling in love and now – six years after my first want for something more, I’ve found myself on the opposite side of the music industry, engaged to my best friend who just so happens to be an excellent concert photographer – and just as in lust with it all as ever.

Our wanderlust has taken us to Desert Hearts and Gem and Jam, Global Dance and Shambhala and I’ll tell you one little secret – you can go far and wide in a search for the best environment out there, but conversationally, communally, consciously, completely – Lightning in a Bottle takes my cake.  If there’s one thing that my life has taught me, it’s that doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is insanity – so to expect to change the world because you’re attending a transformational festival is like expecting a tiger not to eat you because you’re vegetarian; the change can only happen if you in fact change yourself at your very core.

Being held at San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, CA for it’s second year in a row, the Do LaB did what they do best – making lasting changes that impact the many when they are still the few.  With bamboo bridges linking areas like the Temple of Consciousness and the Silent Disco, they found vast ways to improve upon the layout and community, the ethos and the stages.  With so many separate paths to take to everywhere, the festival grounds turn into the most wonderful ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ scenario.

Whether you want to pick up culinary tricks from the Learning Kitchen, prance and party in the succulent sunshine, explore the immersive art sculptures, enjoy newly created canvases or delve into details on Festival Law with the Festival Lawyer himself – there’s room for everyone to experience their own unique version of Lightning in a Bottle. There’s simply no wrong place to be. What I’ve learned from the festival ethos over the last three years is that to appreciate each and every moment, you have to be willing to fully submerge, fully let go, fully give in and know that as long as you’re where you want to be, you are exactly where you need to be. For me, it took until this year at Lightning in a Bottle for that idea to truly sink in.

Last fall, Danny and I were supposed to cover HARD Day of the Dead and ventured off to the Pomona Fairplex from Eagle Rock, but at the gate, we got discombobulated, turned around, then we were told that the press request had never been submitted.  Between three friends, we’d purchased one ticket for the event, and nodding in agreement we gave it to one of our best friends.  As we walked back into the festival grounds and between lamenting that she’d been separated from her friend group and that her phone was dead – we heard a bubbly scream from a car yelling “Adriaaaaa!!”.  Looking at the two of us, she smiled “Oh, that’s Mackenzie!! Hopefully I’ll find them inside, too!”  The next day at HARD Day of the Dead, Danny and I rolled through, but this time with our confirmed passes and discovered one of the most beautiful, heartwarming things: call it chance, call it serendipity, but she did more than just find them, she created lifelong friendships with people that I’m now thrilled to call my closest friends.  Ever since that weekend, we’ve been planning, plotting, daydreaming about Lightning in a Bottle.  We’ve met almost every weekend since October, sharing drinks and laughs, schemes and grandiose plans – and finally, it was here.

On Wednesday afternoon, Danny and I took off early from work and zipped up the freeway to festival freedom.  For the last two years, I’d attended Lightning in a Bottle as a fan, and then as press – this year, I was coming from a brand new perspective – working with The Confluence.  Rolling into the festival at sunset, we found our friends that were painting for the Do Art Foundation for the weekend.  Three years ago, Danny and I said ‘I Love You’ in front of paintings by Andy Knights and Anthony Sirios West, we’ve hung their art in our homes so we could ogle it day in and day out – and now, they were our camp mates!

The first night we roamed the festival grounds, reminiscing about the year before and determining the new lay of the land.  The Lightning Stage had migrated to the next plateau over, the Temple of Consciousness had been pushed back into the festival and the Woogie had found another tree to grow its groovy roots from.  Laughing, roaming, and exploring the festival grounds while the rest of the festival was still under construction, between the easels and the moonlit structures  we felt like we were home.

Thursday morning we woke up with a smile on our face and a bounce in our steps – today was the day, it was all happening!  After I logged my first shift checking in press, then I was off to the races with the rest of the crowd – gallivanting through the camp areas in search of the patch my pod was posted on in bass camp.  Smiles radiated the same warmth as the sunshowers, while a menagerie of music ebbed and flowed throughout the grounds. Camps were being set up with fervor left and right while gregarious conversation filled the air like a warm fragrance.  Finally, through the turns and twists, brightly colored canopies and psychedelic tapestries – I happened upon home base. Brightly lit with holiday lights and adorned with a plush carpet, sweeping overhang and proper DJ booth equipped with projection mapping and a disco ball at the center – I’d finally found it, Camp RGL in all of it’s glory. For the multitudes of weekend rendez-vous, the group Google doc and the Facebook group, mass group messages and squad potlucks, the nuanced and out of this world plans that failed like our giant ball pit and the ones that succeeded on a mass scale; we did it, we Do LaBed it.

As the afternoon manifested into dusk, and then into the witching hour – we migrated away from our plusher than life homebase where our talented friends had just been spinning and off to the Silent Disco, hosted by the amazing Hush Concerts team.  It was hard to choose a channel, especially with San Francisco’s Motion Potion going up against Southern California’s Romy Ancona – but you knew who the Green Team was when they were over because we were all hungry for quesadillas.

Friday morning we awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed under the bright central Californian sun; for my first time at Lightning in a Bottle, I was up and at’em, ready to devour information from a seminar.  After meeting up with a few friends, we ventured over to the Mystery School, hidden within the Temple of Consciousness for Fest Law 101 with the Festival Lawyer.

Hands down, this is one of the most useful talks I’ve ever been to (okay, so it’s the only one I’ve been to at a festival…but I digress). We discussed our rights as festival goers, whether your tent or RV have an expectation of privacy (hint one does, one does not) and how to be an intelligent, conscious festival community.  Even if this knowledge doesn’t directly apply to you, consider the notion that we’re our brother’s keeper and the information is guaranteed to help someone you know. In the final moments, we got a wonderful treat – Emanuel Sferios, the co-founder of Dance Safe, who joined the Festival Lawyer on stage to discuss his new film “MDMA: The Movie” after a warm crowd welcome.  According to statistics, the market on MDMA is the most adulterated market in the world and as festival goers, we need to be aware of what people are ingesting. After a quick question and answer session, we were off to the races – the music had begun and Mikey Lion was waiting for us at the Woogie!

Between the deep, body shaking basslines and ethereal tones – Mikey Lion put on a show that made the Desert Hearts family proud while an inspired beat wove through the crowd. We then ventured off to the main stage before I had to split ways, I was heading off to my second work shift while my squad migrated towards the Lightning Stage.  For the first time in six years, Woogie phenom Pumpkin would be playing on the main stage – a much deserved feat; even though I wasn’t physically present, I loved hearing him float in and out of his effervescent, bubbly remixes of the classics our parents raised us on.  Meanwhile, those in the mood for some Future Bass ventured off to the Thunder Stage where up and coming bass tastemakers TastyTreat were living up to their name.

Surprisingly, reconvening with the group after dinner was an easier task than expected – all anyone needed to do was follow the laughter and unabashed good times, thoughtful conversations and serendipitous moments – and you would know you were at our camp.  But, as it turned out, staying together after we left camp was a whole different monster all together.  As parts of the group coagulated, and others dispersed, a fraction of us ended up wandering around the Woogie into the Grand Artique in search of some good, old fashioned entertainment.  What we didn’t expect, was to be greeted by the FUNN Machine, but boy were were ever glad we did!  Between the dozens of disco balls and plethora of bubble machines, we immediately forgot our final destination and gave in to the good vibes.  Slowly but surely, we made it to the Lightning Stage for ODESZA – like literally everyone in attendance flooded the main stage for a sonic seduction of amazing proportions, and the guys surely didn’t disappoint.  Expertly weaving famed remixes with their chart topping hits, we were lost in the throws of musical bliss – and for the record, I can’t wait for them to release that third to last song so full of rich bass and an energetic backbone. The only qualm was that we were pushed back into the merch booth and food stands, leaving almost no area untouched.  Last year, the Lightning Stage sat on an adjoining hilltop and seemed to accommodate more people.  We ventured off to the Thunder Stage where we caught the end of a beautiful Phutureprimative set; his music is only mirrored by his voice, humble and honest, asking us to take what we learn and love about our festival culture and ingrain it back into the ‘real world.’  And finally, Griz graced the stage where he got live and so saxxy on us – in my eyes, a redemption of his set last month at The Wiltern; his music, style and stage presence are so fitting for a festival setting.  As the main three stages were closing down, the side stages were heating up ; the Pagoda Bar featured Headtron favorites like JoBoT and Chris B while the Desert Hearts‘ Favela Bar takeover was in full effect on the other side of the festival.

As the music came to a close the first night, our wanderlust walked us home to camp for a nightcap featuring good beers and good bass.  DJs Firefly, Dreamlyfe and St4rfox lit up the night with a surge of electrcity while we danced our cares away under the crisp starlight.  Around 5 in the mornning when I was considering finally grabbing some sleep, I was threatened with a good time at the Silent Disco featuring Deep Jesus from the Desert Hearts squad and let it be known, those are hard to resist.  I rocked and raved until the sun came up, then crashed for a few hours before the Press and Artist Mimosa Mixer.

I have to admit that even a decent night’s sleep can be a game changer at a multi-day festival like Lightning in a Bottle.  After catching a wee bit of shut-eye, I was ready to take on my third day of the event.  Strolling into the Press Mixer, I had a tinge of anxiety shaken and stirred with a feeling of gratitude.  Last year, this was me – or, it at least would have been me if I’d ever shown up.  I distinctly remember Danny and I glancing at each other last year around 11 AM on Saturday morning, musing that other press outlets were all listening, watching, regurgitating the same thing so why not go our own way? But watching the artists, writers and photographers mesh like a sloppy watercolor painting, the influence rubbing off in each and every direction – I almost lamented my choice from a year before.  Lucent Dossier‘s Dream Rockwell and the Flemming Brothers, founders of the Do LaB and Lightning in a Bottle Festival, dished the dirt to eager reporters, lapping up information like a thirsty dog on a hot Summers day.  And I couldn’t have thought of a better way to truly get to know the other outlets other than handing them Mimosas and other festive, morning beverages.  

Gallivanting off into the masses with a grin on my face and a bounce in my step, I was ready to conquer the remainder of Saturday afternoon and evening with some of my favorite friends.  As we descended into the redesigned Thunder Stage that debuted this past April at Coachella, Lindsay Lowend went from 0 to 100 real quick – one moment lamenting that he only had three minutes left in his set, followed by ecstatic amusement that he actually had a half hour.  The music went from being a good party to a feel good dance off with banger after banger. Before he finally exited the stage, he went on a slight tirade about producers that have a microscopic focus, only playing one genre – that “No one wants to hear an hour and a half of Trap Music.” While I agree with the first half of the statement, he obviously had no clue that G Jones was about to come out and essentially decimate that statement with one of the best Dubstep and Trap sets of the weekend.   Hit after hit, the crowd was writhing seductively to the healthy doses of bass and filth radiating from the speakers.

Pulling ourselves to the Woogie stage for a bit of Lee Curtiss, we stopped to smell the proverbial flowers along the way – taking notice of each of the wonderfully immersive art installations.  The giant tea pots were always overflowing with bubbly characters, while the ginormous Skii Ball tracks attracted gleeful groups in the mood for something a bit different.  Sauntering up to the giant set of circular doors leading into a mysterious room, we each set out in front of a different one – eager to discover what was on the other side.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite.”

What does one usually find on the other side – especially the other side of ones self?  What secrets have we been keenly hiding from our minds and hearts, what joys have we denied ourselves, what worlds are within us?  For almost 365 days a year, we’re forced to go along with the grain of life – we finish school, more often than not with degrees announcing our due diligence but not our personal passions; we live in boxes so we can commute in boxes to other boxes, where we work in smaller boxes on electronic boxes so someone can reaffirm our standing in the world.  For almost 365 days a year we live in a world we didn’t create, so that we can uphold values that we’re not even sure if we stand by.  This is why we festival, this is why we celebrate in technicolor clothing and neon hair, sparkles and boas, gregarious smiles and outstretched arms.  We’re human, and as humans we need to connect – with nature, with our community and most importantly with ourselves. At a festival, each and every time you interact – you open a new door, you welcome a new way of thinking and a fresh perspective.  The people you meet at Lightning in a Bottle are prisms of your life, let the light shine through and you’ll see how rich your world is while each interaction is a doorway into discovering who you are at your core.

Getting our boogie on at the Woogie for Lee Curtis, we slowed our roll a bit to take in some of the amazing art that was being created live at the festival. Each year, Lightning in a Paintcan gathers some of the most sought after artistic talent and gives them the room to create, curating a warm and welcoming community of artists who pour their heart, time and sweat into their works.

Walking back and forth between the stages wasn’t just easier this year, but a hell of a lot more fun – I don’t know about everyone else but I’ve never been so excited for High 5’s in my entire life.  Each time my friends and I jumped on the bridges, we launched our lefts hand high while smiles were plastered to our faces.  Whether you grew up on a sports team and immediately started wishing everyone a “Good Game!”, or joyously giggled each time you slapped hands – those connections we made, that energy we passed onto each other – it wasn’t just wonderful, it was inspired.  And speaking of inspired, getting back to the Lightning Stage we all had to pause in our tracks and take in the wonder and beauty of Goldroom’s live set.  I’d only heard of them a few times in passing, but there was something to be said about a full band, rich sound and crisp vocals – it sounded like a daydream and washed over us like sunshine at night.  We stayed through the beginning of the ever animated and creative Lucent Dossier Experience.  It’s usually hard to pull myself away from the theatrics and fire dancing, but this was would be my first time seeing Opiuo – and he was bringing the entire band! Part funk, part soul, and all the way groovy, Opiuo makes the beats that makes everyone want to move their feet; his music defies generation gaps and you could easily pin him for twenty years too early for his time, or twenty years too late, but I’d like to think of him as right on time.  Saturday’s nightcap was Flume on the Lightning Stage and the set was beautiful beyond words – not to mention, it felt serendipitous to run into so many different friends while marinating in his music.  Time for one last night at RGL Bass Camp, and then tomorrow was the coup de grace – somehow, as if stuck in a time vortex, we’d been catapulted to the end of the festival; how does it always go by so fast?

We kicked things off at the Woogie, because hands down – it’s the best Sunday day party of any festival I’ve frequented.  Checking our watches while shaking our tail feathers, we counted down the milliseconds until Zion I graced the Lightning Stage.  Somewhere on my lavish list of the things I truly love about LIB, is how genres tend to dissolve while good music remains.  The high octane, passionately powerful set from the Zion I Crew was on par with The Opiuo Band with riddles hidden inside witty lyrics that unlock personal epiphanies layered over textured beats. As the last sunset fell over the fields, a collective howl crept from a soft call to a gregarious uproar. We came in small groups, some of us without even knowing a soul; we left as a pack, a family, a coagulation of ideas with an ethos of love.

As our festival family split up to change for the evening to prepare for Shiba San at the Woogie, Danny and I ventured around to the food stands in search of every bouncy kitty’s favorite eats – sushi! Just like the last two years, the fish was fresh and everything I’d been dreaming of.  I felt like Super Mario after eating a mushroom as each fiber of my muscles felt reinvigorated. Like a schoolgirl crush, I’d been talking up Shiba San’s set all weekend – but I never made it, because I found myself dancing around like a fool without a care to SNBRN as the last of the sunset fell out of the sky. After we’d collected ourselves and our camp mates for the night, we were off for one last wild ride, taking our time to smell the electric air. Random Rab ignited the Lightning Stage in a harmonious frenzy with a beautifully bouncy set, and then we were off to the Thunder to close out our festival with RL Grime.  One by one, friends that we hadn’t seen in hours trickled in and around, pulling us in with a dance or lifting us up with a hug or hilarious story. I’ve seen RL Grime before, but there was something so special about having him at Lightning in a Bottle.  Track after track, the crowd blissfully forgot they were on their 4th day of a festival and left it all out on the dance floor.

As Monday morning came, we drank up the sunshine in a jubilant daze while celebrating one of our best friends’ birthdays – and what a wonderful way to ring it in! Surrounded by smiling faces, good vibes, and some excellent morning music from our talented tribe we popped champagne and toasted to our last day of LIB. In just a few hours, we’d have to ravel our lives back into a car while we underwent a psychlogical metamorphosis.  Our generation has spent an elaborate portion of their lives following in someone else’s dream, be it through milestones, academic merit or romantic engagement.  Lightning in a Bottle is a wonderful deviation from that forced reality, opening minds to how you can live your life as a festival, one grandiose moment at a time.  Air smells fresher, strangers seem kinder, flowers perk up with interest while butterflies weave to and fro with delight; moments of serendipity appear far less like coincidence and my relationships have become that much more profound.

I usually write these closer to the event, but if I had – this story would be different, I would feel different. You’d be hearing more of how the self-made signs and Temple of Consciousness were defaced and less about how Flume and Goldroom played beautiful sets on the main stage.  Instead of bridges and shade, we’d be up in arms about common courtesy and property theft. The artistry would be overshadowed by the 1%, where the beauty ran rampant because 99% of the people there were there with a purpose, they were there because they want to be part of the beauty and the magic.

The world itself is more like the former, but as a giggling, eager, inspired part of the later – Lightning in a Bottle has taught me that it’s up to us to take what has transformed us and give it back to the world.So, how do you truly embody the experience of Lightning in a Bottle within your everyday life? How do you take what you eagerly learn, wholeheartedly feel, and fully believe for those magical five days then reintegrate it back into your universe? High five your neighbor, hug a stranger, educate the uninformed, smile at cars when you’re stuck in traffic, help without being asked, thank the people that help you and make a real connection with each and every person you interact with – life is a festival, join in.

All photos provided are from Daniel Leist Photography.

For more amazing images from Lightning in a Bottle, head over to The DJ List’s Facebook Album

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