It’s amazing how quickly days can pass when you’re having the time of your life. Once again, Lightning In A Bottle has enchanted my Memorial Day Weekend. This year I had the chance to explore a lot more of what LiB has to offer beyond the main stages, and I’m so glad I took the time to wander this year.
Lightning In A Bottle 2016 was hosted at the San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, CA May 25-30, 2016. Selling out at just about 35,000 people, the event was filled to the brim with attendees. There were a lot of areas I explored my second year at LiB that were new discoveries to me, and I’m sure there’s still a ton more to see. No matter how much you prepare, there’s simply not enough time to check out all of the awesome activities going on, though I do think this year I was able to make a lot more of my festival weekend.
One thing I discovered this year was there are so many more places to listen to music than the main stage. Call me a snob, but anyone who didn’t make it further than the three main stages of LiB and claimed to have a “life changing experience” has not experienced what LiB is about, and truthfully probably just went to party. Not that there’s anything wrong with what’s going on at the main stages, there’s definitely a lot happening there, but if that’s the only place you went all of LiB…I question your experience.
This year, overall I spent very little time at the three main stages. The various micro-environments played music all day long, and even some of the yoga areas turned into really fun DJ sets after hours. Saturday night dancing in one of the yoga tents was a highlight for me since it has soft floors and you had to take off your shoes.
Frontierville, one of the micro-environments, became a favorite spot of mine this year as well. Beyond the funky music they played all day and night, there were lots of other fun little things going on that you could just wander upon. One night we played some carnival games, where you could win fun prizes– from a lucky rabbit’s foot to a bottle of whisky. On Sunday we witnessed the LiB Revival, complete with a “reverend” and a “baptismal bath”.
The characters that wandered around Frontierville making it feel authentic were super entertaining to watch, but even more fun to join in with. Each of the micro-environments encourages participation, and it’s definitely a lot of fun!
It’s really incredible the structures that are built around the festival for each of these micro-environments. Some were two stories, allowing attendees to climb to the top for different views. One really cool spot was the Thunder Hotel at LiB. The outside looked like an old frontier hotel, where once the doors opened each night at 10pm, there was a lot of buzz. A lobby boy with a French accent yelled at guests, asking for their reservations. People yelled back saying they had a VIP suite for 3, or booked a room two nights ago and were on the list. It didn’t take us long to realize it was all a show, and people were BS-ing their way into access to the closed doors of the hotel.
Once inside, it was like a fun house. There were multiple rooms set up you could wander through, with scavenger hunt clues hidden throughout. This was truly so surprising to find in the middle of nowhere, built up so well.
Beyond the micro-environments, there were also fun activities and lectures I tried. One morning we gave acroyoga a shot, something I’ve never done before. This was super hard, but the awesome thing was that no one was judging my lack of balance, but instead there were people helping me learn.
I felt just as welcome attending lectures and classes on topics I’d never heard of before. I spend a lot of time this year in the Village, especially at the Ancestral Arts tent and Permaculture Hub, two areas I really wanted to learn about.
At the Permaculture Hub I made seed bombs, mud mixed with seeds wrapped in clay, that we threw into the river bed to hopefully grow new wildflowers. This class was led by Natalie Flores, who talked about the guerrilla gardens she is creating all over Venice, CA with the seed bombs she creates.
I also found it really interesting to learn about Ancestral Arts. Saturday I attended a class on Salmon Skin Tanning with Benjamin Pixie. Who knew that salmon skins could be turned into leather?
The Lucent Temple of Consciousness was not only a great place to escape from the hot sun, but an awesome place to listen speakers on a wide range of topics. We wandered in from time to time some for specific lectures but also just to see what was going on. On Friday we fell into The Liberators: Freedom Expression Session, which had so much fun energy. This lecture was done via small activities that made the gathered crowd interact with each other in ways from handshake games to animal howls that left the room with permanent smiles.
This year we also explored some of the kids / teen activities. I’ll admit I was entranced by the children I saw romping around Lightning In A Bottle. There were all ages, from tiny toddlers waddling around, to 9 and 10 year olds going on adventures in packs. While some people might think that festivals are not a place for children, I did find that the activities and areas designated for children did offer a great experience for these kids.
Dr. Solar’s Good Time, Traveling Medicine Show was definitely a crowdpleaser for the children. I don’t know which was more fun to watch, Dr. Solar’s show, or the children watching Dr. Solar’s show. It was magical to see the way the kids were mesmerized by his mysteries.
Then each night, as the sun set on LiB in Bradley, CA, a whole new festival began to take shape. Those hiding from the sun all day in tents or lectures begin to fill the open spaces of the grounds while the air cooled down.
LiB is unique in all of it’s LED fashion and flow arts. No festival I’ve been to has as much creativity as I’ve seen at here. Perhaps this is because most festivals and raves ban the use of hoops, gloves, poi, and any LED items, whereas LiB celebrates these arts, and lets creativity flow through the night in neon waves of color.
The stages gleam with lasers and colorful displays, while the attendees dot the landscape with their flow arts or unique outfit pieces they have adapted to glow through the night.
The LED community that is displayed around LiB is intoxicating, and this year, I got the chance to ride the Ferris wheel, where I was able to get a full view of the night lights. I think during the day would be a different experience to see the tents stretching far across the festival grounds, and hopefully I get to take in that view next year.
There’s clearly so much effort that goes into all of the amazing details of LiB. From the cool two-story structures that are built to exist for just a few days each year, to the colorful stages that contrast the stark dryness of the lakebed. It is easy for me to feel more connected to nature in this environment, where you find people sitting around each day to watch the sunset.
While Lightning In A Bottle is definitely larger in number of attendees than last year, I never felt cramped in any area, which is a testament to the layout of the grounds. It’s also due to the nature of the attendees. It’s so nice how I can walk through the crowds in front of a stage because people don’t pack around to worship a DJ. Instead, people leave space around their groups so everyone can dance and have fun, because that’s what the music is about.
Lightning In A Bottle is easily still my favorite festival, there’s no experience quite like it. I look forward to seeing what adventures are in store next year for me.
All photos by Alexa S