This last Memorial Day weekend was the Lightning in a Bottle Music Festival in Bradley, California. Put on by The Do Lab (they sponsor a stage at Coachella), “LIB” as it is lovingly referred to by those who have attended, is a wonderfully unique spectacle. This was my first LIB, and I was completely ready to let down my guard and open up to the whole experience.
Our caravan arrived at 12:30 PM on Thursday and the place was already packed! Some of our friends were camping in the Woogie and Namaste camps, and we had four tents for all our other friends, but the parking volunteers weren’t letting any car campers past Gate 4. Our friends were somewhere near Gate 10A, but they were stopping cars and sending them into Base Camp. We pleaded to let us join our friends, the guy just laughed at us. Naturally.
We took a few laps around the huge camping area, looking for possible exit routes or ways back to the main road. Eventually, after nearly an hour, we gave up on getting deeper inside the festival, but the other car with us continued searching for a way inside. We found a great spot and laid out all the tents, but moments later we got a call from the other car… they’d made it through. They explained how to get past the gates, and after a little guilt tripping, we decided to make one last run for it! If it didn’t work, we’d be fine camping where we were. After a little shrewd maneuvering and smooth talking by yours truly, we were parking our BMW station wagon next to our friends in the Woogie Camp. Off to a good start.
When you’re camping, time is nearly irrelevant. If it’s sunny, you’re up. If it’s dark, you’re down. When you’re camping at a music festival, time is only really important with regards to musician set times and yoga classes, because at any hour of the day you could find something to do. Accordingly, I won’t attempt to continue this story of my LIB experience in chronological order, but rather, a fond recollection of my favorite, transformative moments at Lightning in a Bottle.
Musical festivals like Lightning in a Bottle are special because they attempt to exist outside the realm of modern buzz of life on almost every level. For a majority of the festival, I couldn’t get any cell reception, but I honestly didn’t care (unless I got separated from my friends). I didn’t really need my phone, nor did I feel the need to interrupt my experience by sharing it on my social media platforms (and I do that all the time!). As you can tell, I took plenty of pictures with my phone but it was immensely refreshing to rid myself of my “social media collar.”
Thousands of people have come together for a long weekend to create this magical space, an interactive spectacle of art, spirituality and music. Rather than forcefully pushing past each other like rush hour traffic on urban sidewalks, complete strangers would smile and gave each other high fives as we passed on the narrow footbridges. Angered scowls were replaced by face paint and gems. Take off that tie and put on a Pinecone necklace. Leave the world out there, build your own world in here.
The art was amazing, everything from free standing structures to live action painting to the Android Jones exhibit in the art dome. So many blossoming forms of creative self-expression, perhaps unappreciated by the comparison to the mainstream media consumed in our everyday lives. But here, we can take the time to stop, and watch, and appreciate, art’s place in this beautifully chaotic world. Art is created to make you feel something, there may be no better way to remind yourself you’re human.
THE UNIQUE COMMUNITY
There is an unspoken agreement (I mean, maybe it’s written down somewhere but I haven’t seen it) that when you join a camping community at a musical festival: we are all in together. The music, the people, the earth, we’re all part of the same collective experience and we agree to keep an eye on one other.
Coachella (arguably one of the most popular music festivals in the United States) has a very clear divide between the camping community and the music venue. Is it money? Is it liability? Whatever their reasoning, the community at Coachella is, in my opinion, significantly different and far more compartmentalized from the crowd at LIB. Don’t get me wrong, I love Coachella, but the entire experience of camping within feet of your favorite stage drew me in and blew Coachella out of the water. I no longer had to do all my drinking at my camp before going out, I could take my time with my drink and take the entire handle with me to the stage. No harm, no foul.
The police were definitely there, but the “law enforcement stigma” was thankfully, nowhere to be found. They were walking around among us, smiling, giving us high fives and making sure we had enough water to drink. They weren’t concerned with the letter of the law as much as they were concerned with our general safety and wellbeing. There was even an information stand called “Dance Safe” that provided you with condoms, ear plugs, and drug tests. People helping people.
LEAVING MY COMFORT ZONE
I definitely consider myself an extrovert, but there are still TONS of things I rarely do because, quite frankly, I’m scared of doing them. I don’t think I’m going to get hurt or anything, there’s just a level of apprehension that comes with doing something everybody else is already well ahead of me at. I guess it’s really a fear of being judged for not being good enough. Cowardly, I know.
Perhaps comically, I’ve always had these mixed emotions about yoga. I’m athletic but I’ve never really done yoga, just stretching and acrobatics. For some reason there was an expectation that I would be “good” at yoga and I was afraid to prove them (and myself) wrong. I was also never that into the mysticism commonly associated with yoga. With all due respect, I’d rather just focus on the stretching in my hamstring then collecting the energy in my soul and radiating it outward in rays of happiness and sunshine. So traditionally, I just stayed away from yoga.
But not at LIB! Oh, no! I was more-than-eager to embrace the entire spiritual awakening of the weekend, saying “yes” to experiences and opportunities that I would have previously quickly passed on in lieu of staying snugly inside my comfort zone. So I did… and it was glorious! My body felt great! And I didn’t stop there. I tried foods I’d never heard of. I took a Sound Bath. I drank things I’d never tasted before and I saw new art and artists. I was eager to take it all in, chasing experiences that would leave me a different, somehow better person. Perhaps I was looking to divide my life into two parts: my life before Lightning in a Bottle and my new life after.
Everybody’s got their own definition of enlightenment, but I tend to use the Webster’s definition, especially now. Enlightenment is defined as the “action or state of attaining or having attained spiritual knowledge or insight.” Lucky for me, that moment happened somewhat early in the weekend, and I remember it beautifully.
Sunset at The Woogie stage. Thomas Jack was playing a Tropical House set. I was wearing a sick blue outfit and dancing my ass off on a picnic table with Baby Chips, Katie K. and the rest of our group. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so appreciative of all the volunteers, and all the musicians, and the Do Lab, and everybody that came to contribute to this amazing festival experience we were all enjoying. And when I told Baby Chips how beautiful I thought it all was, she reminded me that my own journey to get there, my own contribution to the festival, was equally beautiful and worth appreciating. She was right, I had to thank myself for making this experience happen for myself. So I did. And it was great.
When you can recognize that we’re all connected, you will appreciate, and be grateful for, everyone’s contribution to your own, personal experiences.
I was so thankful all weekend, frequently voicing my exuberance on the bridges, calling out for high fives from strangers. I must have given out 500 high fives over the long weekend but it was so worth it. As cliched as it sounds, I really did make a handful of new friends, and a handful of friends grew into members of my “family.” My tribe. My squad. My people.
THE FESTIVAL HANGOVER
There’s definitely a festival hangover. I’m not talking about the alcohol induced kind, although the Lightning in a Bottle beer by Belgium Brewing Company was absolutely delicious, I’m speaking more of the slow, painful reacclimation into the “real world” from the camping, festival lifestyle. Our two hour drive to festival took us five and half hours on the way home. By the time we arrived at home, I was totally exhausted and down for the count.
It’s been nearly a week since I reluctantly traded in my LIB Visitor Guide for my credit card bills. Now I check the time for conference calls instead of set times. I’m apartment hunting rather than meeting my friends at the Thunder Stage to dance. My cell phone works now and my hair is no longer dyed blue.
I’m headed to a couple more music festivals this summer, some camping, some not. But there’s no doubt that LIB is going to stick with me for a while. Dancing at the Woogie Stage. Drinking Scotch in a tree hammock. The Empire of Love structure made entirely out of tin cans or the Jive Joint. The cairns have all been knocked down and the stages have been disassembled, the only things left are my wristband and a couple photos, but a part of me will long for those days and nights spent laughing, dancing and goofing around with Baby Chips, Sarah, Brian, Guce, Trish, Luciano, Sophia, Matt, Brian, Ducky, Christabella, Brendan, Victor, Jake, Evan, Shawn, Meghan, Katie, Chris, Ally, Mark, Maddie, Caitlin, Blake, Nina, R.J., Zina and everyone else at Lightning in a Bottle.