It wasn’t too long after I arrived at the 2013 iteration of The Do LaB’s Lightning in a Bottle that I had decided my attendance at the 2014 version wasn’t optional. With its laid-back feel and assorted offerings that extended well beyond music to include yoga and various workshops, Lightning in a Bottle won me over with its magical setting rife with music, yoga, guest speakers, and so much more. I had dubbed an “experience festival.” That this year’s music lineup was particularly strong (in my opinion, the strongest in the festival’s history) was the icing on the cake.
I arrived in Bradley, California bright and early Saturday morning where I was presented with a program booklet with an ominously double-sided fold-out map tucked inside. As the size and spread of the map seemed to indicate, these grounds were gigantic in comparison to last year’s, a fact I became acutely aware of as I lugged camping gear up and downhill a good mile away to the campsite my friends had set up.
Arriving on Saturday meant that I had missed out on day one’s musical offerings and other assorted festivities, including advice from the festival superfoodistas about the benefits of carrying knobs of ginger in your pack. “No matter,” I told myself, “I’ll just make it up by going all out today! Yeah!” The wind was taken out of my sails about 20 minutes later as I trekked up a sloping valley about halfway through my walk to the festival grounds with the music stages still nowhere in sight. As my buddy Steven said, just looking at the long, nonlinear paths running through the sprawling venue was exhausting.
I made it to the festival grounds winded and in dire need of a ginger smoothie concoction and some of The Grand Artique’s lively entertainment. From there, I headed over to the Learning Center to learn about what makes the perfect date. Not the dinner-and-a-movie kind, mind you, but the type you eat. After soaking in information about the 50-million-year-old fruit, I wandered through the vendor stalls where intricate clothing, artisan jewelry, and other handmade goods were sold before washing down a sushi burrito with strawberry lemonade.
The grounds themselves were well worth the trek and were filled with some of the nicest and quirkiest folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering at a festival. Still, there was no doubt that my days had to be a little better planned and less fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants than I had hoped. Multiple sections of the festival grounds were separated by those damn steep, sandy valleys I would grow to despise. Though I sometimes enjoy channeling my inner Nathan Drake, it got to be a little old as the weekend progressed. I did manage to find a much-appreciated paved road that let me bypass the Valleys of Lost Dreams and Despair, but I was slightly less infatuated with it when I came across a snake slithering across it. Toward the festival.
After this initial meandering, I began my voyage back to camp so I could pack warm clothes in preparation for the evening’s festivities. I journeyed back to the festival grounds with my friends ready to catch William and the Earth Harp, who played harp strings extending from the top of the main stage to an elevated platform some feet away using resin-coated fingers. Although I had seen them at last year’s fest, they were so lovely and unique that I simply had to check them out again. Once again, they delivered.
I headed over to the Bamboo Stage to catch eclectic sets from Dimond Saints and Tourist, who made good use of the laser rig setup by accentuating their unconventional electronic tracks with an explosion of colors in the sky.
Since I’d shamefully missed Swedish synthpoppers Little Dragon at Coachella, I had come into this festival intent on redeeming myself. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano sashayed on stage, deftly blending in her vocal stylings with the quirky beats provided by her talented bandmates to deliver a set that was chockfull of downtempo danceability. It may very well have been the best set of the festival.
I ventured out the next day in the sweltering 95-degree heat to listen to Youtube co-founder Chad Hurley talk about his experiences while enjoying coconut water from a freshly cleaved coconut before touring the festival’s numerous artistic offerings and meditation sessions. The heat eventually got the better of me and forced me to temporarily retreat to the comfort of my campsite’s hammock.
By the time I woke up and inhaled pasta and meatballs from our campsite’s own Chef Eric, it was time to catch LA-based Jennifer Lee, AKA Tokimonsta. Known for playing to the crowd, Lee delivered an electrifying set riddled with hip-hop accents that kicked up a sizable cloud of dust at the Bamboo Stage.
I had already seen Phantogram at their Palladium gig last February but was more than happy to see them deliver yet another stunning set. Vocalist Sarah Barthel shined during achingly beautiful renditions of “When I’m Small” and “Fall In Love.” Following their set, I finally made my way over to the Woogie Stage to catch a bit of Max Cooper before making the journey back to my campsite for the last time. Thankfully.
Although my overall impression of this year’s festival was generally positive, there’s no doubt that the selection of venue put somewhat of a damper on the whole shebang. Was the festival still worth going to? Absolutely. But since I went in with the expectation of having the ease of accessibility from last year’s event, I can’t in good conscience say I wasn’t frustrated by the long walks and shin splint-inducing inclines.
I ran into someone at the eatery near my campsite who told me about his buddy whose smartphone pedometer had racked up 30 miles since being activated at the start of the festival. That there was little to no grass at the venue and in its place dust for days was not a point in LiB’s favor either (big ups on festival organizers for selling bandannas at the merch booth, though).
Still, there’s something undeniably magical about Lightning in a Bottle. You’d expect the music to be on point, and sure, the workshops and lectures were informative and fascinating, but the kindness and generosity of the festival goers is what really sets Lightning in a Bottle apart.
At my still-beloved Coachella in 2012, my iPhone was stolen from me by some shithead who ignored my numerous messages to return it and wiped my phone upon his/her return to LA (to this day I still have the address that LAPD refused to go to). At last year’s Hard Festival, it was my sunglasses that disappeared into the abyss never to make it to the lost and found. At Lightning in a Bottle, my 45mm prime lens that my dumb ass managed to lose was returned to me almost immediately. Water, fruit snacks, and hugs were freely offered by attendees, and it wasn’t uncommon to see kids breathlessly taking in all there was to behold.
For these and many other countless reasons, Lightning in a Bottle remains one of my favorite festival experiences around. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be back again. If you have yet to check this festival out, I suggest remedying that in 2015.
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