[Takes a deep breath.] Ok. Here we go.
Lightning in a Bottle (LiB) continues to be my favorite weekends of the whole year. I just can’t believe how fast the weekend passes, but also how long it feels at the same time. Every year feels like a totally new experience, but also like going home. You feel comfortable there, but it doesn’t ever feel routine.
On the way into Lightning in a Bottle this year I pulled up my article from the first year I went and read it to my friends in the car. It was appropriately titled ‘A Weekend Filled with Random Moments’. I am really happy I re-read about my first time before arriving. There’s a quote in this article from when I interviewed one of the LiB founders, Dede Flemming, that I want to revisit:
“People will say ‘what just happened’,” after attending LIB said founder Dede Flemming. “LIB is filled with random moments in time, captured, like lightning in a bottle”.
LiB is absolutely made up of these random little moments still today, and that’s what continues to make it so special. The number of attendees may continue to grow (just hitting 30,000 this year) and the venue may continue to expand and change, but each year you still have all those little moments coming together like magic.
This year we started our LiB experience a day earlier, arriving on Thursday for the first time. In the past we have always driven out Thursday after work but stayed in a hotel that night and drove into camp early Friday AM. This year we left Los Angeles about 5AM and headed directly to the festival. The ride to Bradley wasn’t long at all, but it was the final 10ish miles that took us the longest. Once we arrived in Bradley and got off the freeway exit, there was immediately a long line of stop and go cars extending to the festival grounds. There’s only one road in and out of Lake San Antonio for LiB.
Honestly we had read about this happening on Reddit before and I’m not totally surprised that we had to sit in the car for 2½ hours until we got inside. Lucky for us, we had some friends that arrived at the gate around 6 AM, waited until the gates opened by 10AM, and were able to save space right next to their car for us to camp with them. When I go again next year, I will either wake up early to arrive at the gate before 8 AM or just go later. We never really had a huge issue finding camping space Friday morning, so finding camping Thursday afternoon shouldn’t be a problem.
I was excited to experience Thursday night for the first time. We always heard great things about going in Thursday, that there’s a different feeling to the festival because there’s nothing going on at the mainstages. Instead, you get to explore more of the grounds and become familiar with the space.
This is the first year that I had a big camping group, the kind where you have a living room of space in the middle of your tents. I had always been super jealous of people who had spaces like this in the past, and finally we had one of our own. One of my good friends Daniel and his girlfriend Rachel (that saved us a spot) had a few other friends meet up at the same space as well. It was probably 12 of us total once everyone arrived.
After setting up our camp, (which by the way, we macgyvered one with a tarp) we walked into the festival to explore. The Lightning and Thunder stages were still having final touches added, but everything else was ready to go.
Thursday was definitely the party night. Everyone was out exploring. Everyone had just arrived. And everyone was so excited to be there. We were all drinking (you can walk around with your own booze at LiB), exploring and dancing at all the smaller stages. I was really happy with this night because it just seemed like a huge group camping trip vs a music festival where you’re tied to mainstages.
Friday morning I was ready to start some of my workshops and lectures. The first one we went to was ‘Earth Offering with Rainbow Eagle Dreamer,” a speaker whom we had seen last year. A little piece of cloth tobacco or sage into it, it into a little ghost like sachet then it close to your heart as you put your prayer or intention into it. Then, you tied it to a piece of string to keep it closed and to keep them all together. You were able to do as many little sachets as you wanted, but I did one for myself, one for someone else, one for my family, and one for the earth. After you finished all of yours you added your string to the altar made of antlers and a fox fur. Rainbow Eagle Dreamer said he would then take the altar back to Oregon, bury it and plant a tree to grow from it.
Honestly wasn’t long after this I almost started to cry about how happy I was to be back at Lightning in a Bottle. Walking around the lake looking at everything had me inspired. It was a beautiful day and I had just done something that made me feel more connected to the world and to myself already. I knew I was in for an amazing weekend.
On Friday, we also got to see another one of my favorites from past LiBs: Benjamin Pixie. He was on the schedule multiple times this year, and we attended two of his lectures. This year Benjamin Pixie was in full force, with magnetic energy. The man has so much charisma that he mesmerizes any crowd that comes to listen to him. Last year his talks were smaller, but this time they definitely grew in size. I really hope that the Do LaB team moves him into a bigger space next year because we were overflowing outside of his assigned spaces to listen.
Benjamin Pixie’s topic Friday was: ‘Artemis & Pan: Feeding the Gods of the Wild’. The lecture quickly derailed to discuss many other topics, which is exactly what I’m used to with Benjamin Pixie and half of the reason why I go. He’s a lover of poems, stories, nature -- especially bees -- and these infatuations seep into every part of his lectures. When he asks if he can recite a poem or sing-a-song for us I almost too quickly respond with a ‘yes!’ because I cannot wait to hear what he has to share. He had some excellent poems including one that had us in stitches laughing.
The passion he has for life is intoxicating. I hope that someday I can find something I feel so passionate about so that I can connect as deeply and honestly with it.
As for music on Friday I pretty much lived at the Lightning stage for three sets in a row: Sophie Tucker, followed by GRiZ, and then The Glitch Mob. GRiZ was my favorite, but I was looking forward to him the most all weekend so no surprise there.
Our first lecture Saturday was with Benjamin Pixie: ‘Magic & Medicine of the Bee’. This is his forte, so we were in for a real treat. We were able to sample honeys and medicines, meads and whiskeys, all things he’d made himself. It was really interesting to learn about the benefits of honey and the magical process bees take to create it.
LiB is full of wandering moments, mostly taking place with my best friend, Alex by my side. One of the spots we wandered upon this year was the newly established ArtClave. This was an interactive art space and I think a great addition to the festival. We made it to one that was about painting your inner galaxy, but there were many more that seemed awesome. I also still love all of the art that is sculptural, experiential and being painted before us all weekend long. It’s so cool to have these pieces mixed into the event.
Saturday was also the 3rd Annual Derby Race, which is one of my favorite things to check out. It’s a great event as I would argue it has the largest attendance of any daytime event. You get to chat with a lot of people and cheer on the cars as they race, tumble and crash down the course.
After the Derby we wandered a bit more and found ourselves in the New Belgium Brewing Company tent with beer tasting. I asked them about the LiB exclusive beer they made one year, and why it wasn’t back and they said that The Do LaB team challenges them each year to do something new. I think this is so awesome, and it got me thinking about all the new things I see each year, how they must challenge all the creators and artists to come up with new inspirations.
Saturday night we had one final workshop: ‘Pickling 101: Make & Take’ - Junior’s Pickles. I LOVE pickles, and actually have been making my own recently. I love going to The Learning Kitchen because many of the lectures or workshops have snacks, and the fact that this one said “make & take” had me even more excited. We each got to make our own jar of pickles to take home with Junior’s special recipe of spices. I can’t wait to try them probably at the end of this week. After this it was time to watch the sunset and commence part two: Saturday night!
I break Lightning in a Bottle each day into three parts. The first part, part one, is the daytime. Once the sun goes down with everyone howling as it disappears, part two beings. The final part, part three starts at 2 AM when the main stages close, the cleanup song plays, and new pop-up stages appear. Each of these three parts of the day I think are really different; the vibes are different and people feel and act a little different too. Saturday I felt like I really got to see all three of these stages.
Saturday had many of those little moments I mentioned earlier. Alex and I saw an awesome shooting star with a full tail as it disappeared into the sky. We made new friends at the Lightning stage as we watched great sets by Monolink, TOKiMONSTA and NAO. In between sets we found new spaces to explore and discovered things like the giraffe sculptures over the bridge were actually kissing if you looked at them from a particular angle.
One of the cooler things we explored that night was this big black building randomly at the end of one of the peninsulas. I went to explore with a new friend named Zack because I wasn’t sure if it was just production (since it was behind a stage) or something to be checked out. Turns out it was this awesome trippy maze building you went through. There were hidden doors and someone showed us a hole in the wall to climb through. We went through some sheets and soft pillows and came out into a room that was dressed like an attic. From there the maze building continued into a Christmas themed bar where we were offered a shot of vodka and a poem, and then finally a third room dressed like an office of some sort. Turns out we were there when it had closed and it was a lot creepier then vs when we went again with the group during proper hours.
After the main stages closed we all wandered a bit more and found a random pop up stage with a crazy rock band playing 10 minute long songs. It’s hard to not stumble upon this stuff and just sit there with a smile. I often find myself looking at my friends or a stranger with my face saying “you’re seeing this too, right?”
We went looking for a secret set by ZHU that night but it never happened so we headed back to the tents. On the way we stumbled upon a performance group called The Fungineers. They had an ice cream truck with a woman and a puppet singing in the window, and some “cone gnomes” dancing wildly on the roof. I would compare their dance style to the moves seen in ‘This is America’ by Childish Gambino. They were changing the lyrics to rap songs to match their theme and it was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. They were also making fresh waffle cones and handing out acai in them. If I ever quit my job it will be to join The Fungineers.
Sunday AM arrives and wow, it’s the last day. The feel really started to hit, as well as the exhaustion. Sunday turned out to be the hottest day. Even after the sunset we didn’t need our coats for a while. We avoided the sun as much as we could and rested so we could build up energy for the night. We didn’t want to sleep in too late though because you’d miss so much going on during the day. I can see why some people end up taking a cocktail of all sorts of things to stay awake. I consider myself lucky that all I need is half a can of Coca-Cola to give me an energy boost.
We made our way to The Learning Kitchen for the first workshop of the day ‘Get Saucy with Kayla Wexelberg’, because obviously: snacks. I loved this one and I officially want to buy a blender. From there we checked out another lecture we just couldn’t get into, so we went to find some music at various stages and stopped to rest in one of the tents for a bit. Then it finally hit me, I needed to cry.
I love Lightning in a Bottle. There is no other place in the world that I have ever felt so comfortable being myself. There was no other place that I’ve ever seen so many other people feeling so comfortable with themselves. No other place where I’ve felt so much genuine love from the people around me just wanting to make friends and have a good time.
During one of Benjamin Pixie’s lectures he read a poem by Diane di Prima and one of the quotes stuck with me: “The only war is the war against imagination all other wars are subsumed by it”. Imagination: something that I really try to keep as a part of me, something that I think helps me stay connected to a childlike spirit, and something that makes our world more bearable and exciting. At LiB we are free to use our imagination. To imagine a world where your neighbors help you out and are kind. A world where we sort our trash and praise the earth every time the sun sets, acknowledging how wonderful and lucky we are get to enjoy it.
My friend Daniel and I were discussing Sunday AM how being at LiB connects you back to your inner child. He mentioned how we are like little kids at a playground at LiB. We just want to make friends and play with them. There’s no malicious intentions or other undertones, just friendship and fun. I love seeing families with young children at LiB because they are a reminder of that. A lot of us allow our inner child to grow out of us, but our childlike self is so intrinsic to who we really are that we shouldn't let that happen. I wish we could all aspire to bring that child back and make her visible to the world. To be open to new experiences, to be the first one on the dance floor, to be free of judgement and to have patience.
All these things hit me at the Beacon tent and I had a good cry. About my life, about LiB, about my friends, my family, the feelings and the lessons I was learning. I loved being disconnected from my phone and just sitting somewhere learning something new from someone in person. Not from a YouTube video and not from a course that I needed to pass to graduate, but from a passionate area expert who just wanted to help make my life a little better by sharing their knowledge. I’m tearing up now thinking about the pure joy of the weekend and the soreness in my cheeks from smiling so much.
Sunday night we did a final workshop ‘Global Meditation: Your Inner Warrior Calling - Unify & RISE’ which was an awesome meditation course synchronized and live streamed with over half a million people around the world. My emotions were totally wearing thin at this point and this beautiful close to the day could not have been better. We then went to watch our final sunset by the lake and finish the night off with ZHU. I had to stop by The Fungineers one more time before heading to bed by 3AM.
This week reality is gonna be hard, like it always is post LiB. I’m really glad I got to bring some of my best friends (Rob & Samira) to experience this festival for the first time, and that they love it now as much as I do.
I say it every year but I really want to bring more pieces of my LiB experience into my daily life. There are a few things that I do try to implement each time and this year my list includes: looking into home composting, working more on my meditation, and spending more time believing in and becoming my best myself. I also want to make sure I ride this LiB high longer than a few months, I want to stretch this inspired feeling as far as I can.
For everyone who went this year make sure to register your wristband so you can be on the early access pass list to buy your ticket for next year at the lowest price. I do this every year as the tickets are tiered. For anyone who hasn’t gone, be sure to buy your ticket when they go on sale because you’re going to have the best time of your life.
“Maybe it’s about finding a tribe that lets you be who you are,” said a speaker Sunday afternoon. I think I’ve found my tribe, and they’re the people at LiB.
Some of the random little moments:
(Above) Found inside an interactive art piece.
(Above) Face and body painting at the newly designed Woogie Stage.
(Above) The Do-Over Bar, where you spin a wheel then get what they give you!
*All photo taken by @Festfashions.