Last Memorial Day weekend, the annual Lightning in a Bottle festival descended upon the rugged San Antonio Reservoir Recreation Area, in California’s Central Valley, treating attendees to four days of thoughtfully curated content from visual and interactive art, workshops, yoga, group meditations, and oh yeah… music. Artists such as Moby, Phantogram, Little Dragon, and more promised to add up to a crowd-pleasing weekend of awesomeness.
And that it certainly was. The Polish Ambassador and Gramatik got us off to a groovy start on the main Lightning Stage Friday evening with the perfect blend of jazzy electro-funk-hop. As the sun went down over the distant golden mountains, everybody was wearing their brightest smile and so many neon blinking lights the audience looked like a living, breathing NASA command center viewed through a kaleidoscope. Later, Moby threw down a high-energy big-beat electro-house DJ set that felt far more intense than his studio material would suggest he’s capable of, regularly stepping out from behind the decks to engage the crowd.
Late Friday night, tech-house master Claude VonStroke turned the volume up to 11 at the the festival’s coolest stage. Imagine a giant oak tree with a triangle-shaped wooden fort built into the lower branches, and hanging from the branches, dozens of multicolored glowing lanterns, reflecting lasers fired from every direction. Surrounding the whole thing was the loudest Pure Groove sound system you’ve ever heard and 20-foot tall glowing, funnel-like structures scattered across the dusty dance area. This was the curiously-named Woogie stage, a house-lover’s dream featuring acts like Blond:ish, Lee Burridge, Simian Mobile Disco, and more.
Across the rest of the festival grounds, The Do Lab did a phenomenal job of creating a cosmic, technicolor playground. Peculiarly alien by day and mesmerizingly vivid by night, the jagged architecture came alive with washes of neon color and interactive, motion-based art.
Over the next two days, great performances sprung up like weeds, with standout sets from Gold Panda, Amon Tobin, and Cashmere Cat. We even got to see William and the Earth Harp. But it wasn’t the music that surprised me the most. This was a stacked lineup, and greatness was expected.
What I didn’t expect was just how experiential and transformative the festival would be on a deeper level. LiB is an almost utopian gathering built around consciousness and an ethos of responsibility to the planet and to one another. From the solely vegetarian food options to the plethora of programming focused on the health of your body and mind, every single detail of this festival has been thought out with regards to impact, sustainability, and consequence. A good example was the reggae-style “clean-up song” gleefully blaring through the PA after the headliners each night, encouraging patrons to pick up a couple pieces of trash on the way back to their campsites. Everyone chipped in without batting an eyelash, in fact people were EXCITED about it. I’ve never seen a group of people so happy to pick up trash before. It was like the world’s biggest team-building exercise. No wonder LiB is the Greenest Festival in the United States. Infusing such a deep sense of responsibility and connection to the planet at a festival of this size is no easy feat and is a huge win for the organizers.
Another big surprise was watching the performance art troupe Lucent Dossier. I’d seen their brand of immersive, character-based burlesque at Coachella before, where wandering into their weird little mini-world resulted in a mildly entertaining show to watch casually between sets (and get sprayed with water). At LiB, though, their primetime spot on the main stage at night provided them a much grander forum on which to bring their inventive show to life. Their cast of fire dancers, silk acrobats, contortionists, and more were bathed in a rich purple and red fog, backed by stomach-rumbling middle-eastern hip-hop rhythms and TV show music. Their feathered, fire-breathing characters represented the fantasies of the audience while embodying the spirit of creative expression, and ultimately, the entire festival.
The last act of the festival was probably the most bizarre and awe-inspiring. The psycho-circus maelstrom of Beats Antique’s inflatable, hypnotic one-eyed dubstep monster was absolutely bonkers (I’m not kidding. If you want to know more about that one, just ask). It was a trip.
Appropriately, the topic of synesthesia came up in conversation between unrelated parties multiple times throughout the weekend. Synesthesia, in layman’s terms, is a neurological phenomenon that means you can experience senses in ways which are normally unrelated, such as the ability to “taste” colors and “see” sounds. I say ‘appropriately’ because I can think of no better way to explain the spectrum of colors, sounds, and experiences Lightning in a Bottle provides. The music is phenomenal, and so tightly interwoven with the rest of the festival’s sensory delights that it creates a vibrant escapist experience second to none.