For the uninitiated, the journey into Lightning in a Bottle is a daunting experience. After veering off the 101, drivers question if Google Maps has misguided them, as they delve increasingly further into a mountainous, desert terrain, before losing all cell reception. The panic abates slightly when a sole bar of service returns, before yielding further perplexion upon encountering a military base, wherein the only fellow drivers wear fatigues behind the wheels of tan Hummers.
Detached from civilization, and engulfed in the desert, Camp Roberts seems almost like Area 51, until bewildered travelers encounter another civilian vehicle, and then reach an abrupt halt — for the next four to five hours.
With no signs of mitigation from the sweltering heat, the ride into the San Antonio Recreation Facility on Thursday afternoon seems like a pit stop somewhere slightly south of Purgatory. As thousands of caravans move incrementally across an infinite timeline, passengers exit their vehicles to practice Poi, stretch their legs, or futilely gaze toward the mirage of nonexistent festival gates.
Luckily for these steel-willed travelers, this is the last time they’ll have to wait in such a line until their exodus Monday morning.
Unlike Coachella, and most larger camping festivals, Lightning in a Bottle is a fully-integrated experience. Once campers are in, they’re in for good. Even those unlucky enough to be exiled to The Sticks or The ‘Burbs — the festival’s two outermost campsites — have no need to enter and exit through a mob of similarly scheduled attendees each day. The festival experience and the camping experience are melded into one agglomeration of stimuli.
If there’s one word that typifies LiB, it has to be that: “Integration.”
Photo: Aaron Glassman
The nonmusical attractions of the weekend are integrated with the impressive musical lineup through the inclusion of a “day without music” and the installment of a standalone camp of merchants and unique presentations in between the Lightning and Woogie stages. The festival’s overarching theme of sustainability is integrated into its experience through the ubiquity of varied waste bins, absence of bottled water stands, and delightfully obvious impromptu environmentally-oriented skits from staff members throughout the campsites. Musicians are integrated with fans through their “secret” sunrise sets, strewn across secondary stages throughout the weekend; But more on that later…
A simile often drawn when attendees describe a festival is to say, “It was like Disneyland.” Indeed, with the flashing lights, expansive lines, and overpriced merchants that typify events like Coachella or UMF, this analogy is often excruciatingly accurate.
Photo: Juliana Bernstein
Experiencing Lightning in a Bottle is less like visiting Disneyland, and more like visiting a Disney movie – diving straight into the Looking Glass without asking Alice. During the sun’s highest points, to enter the Lightning stage is to be a Lost Boy, venturing onto Captain Hook’s ship, regardless of the pirates who inhabit the deck. Whether one watches Emancipator and his ensemble achieve euphoria in their scintillatingly calmative live show, or witnesses a Triceratops changing the diaper of an adult man under the supervision of a marionette dragon during whatever the Fungineers are, it’s hard not to feel aboard the Jolly Roger.
Photo: Andrew Jorgenson
Though swelteringly hot and piratesque in the light of day, come nightfall, the Lightning Stage morphs into a wonderland, hosting a diverse array of experiences. What yields the weekend’s most jubilant extravaganzas with Big Gigantic’s live set, will the following night lend the festival one of its most somberly stupefying sets, with Jamie xx. The contrast of Big G’s raucous, LED-heavy glitch hop set and Jamie’s awe-inspiring odyssey through garage, IDM, techno, and electronica is stark, but neither performance seems more at place than the other under the starlit sails of the ever-adaptable Lightning stage.
For the more bass-driven, the Lightning stage is likely an afterthought to the Thunder stage. The full realization of The Do LaB’s Coachella installment with the addition of an actual pirate ship for a sound-booth, this colorful, tortile dome perhaps personifies its name better than any of its fellow stages with its formidable lineup of thunderous bass producers.
Though the Lightning stage affords artists a greater level of customizability in their performances, Thunder uniformly boasts the most intricate light show. Frenetic LED patterns and frenzied lazers help EPROM thoroughly dominate and Mija become the embodiment of OWSLA incarnate. However, these same features facilitate The Polish Ambassador’s ascension to a higher echelon of performative mysticism, and see PANTyRAiD close out the festival with a trippily turbulent farewell.
Photo: Andrew Jorgenson
Then, there’s the Woogie. The festival’s furthermost stage is perhaps the greatest dreamland of the festival. With a lineup straight from Resident Advisor’s cerebral cortex, the Woogie stage is elysium for the caravan clubber. Woogie’s visual aesthetic is defined by a vibrant infrastructure of technicolor pipes, that put Mario’s landscape to shame. Surrounded by expansive, robotic trees, Woogie is LiB’s perennially pounding percussion party.
Photo: Juliana Bernstein
During the day, Sacha Robotti, Lane 8, Justin Jay, and Francesca Lombardo provide an effervescent soundtrack for partiers reveling in the cool cascades of periodic pressure washer blasts, shuffling under sprinklers, and dangling in cloth cocoons from the terrain’s actual trees. After dark, however, the illuminated infrastructure of the Woogie stage becomes looming and cerebral, and the electric forest becomes darker to better suit the deeper sets of Four Tet, Guy Gerber, and Andhim.
Photo: Andrew Jorgenson
With the myriad of wonders provided by LiB’s three primary stages, indecision is a fearsome threat. However, with the average set time lasting between 90 minutes and two hours, the notion of catching half of a Lightning headliner’s set and half of a clashing Thunder performance is realistic, rather than delusional.
And, after all, in spite of the plethora of experiences within Woogie, Lightning, and Thunder, the largest crowds flocked to after hours parties hosted at Pagoda, Favela, and throughout Basecamp. Throughout these covertly planned gatherings, estranged friends would reconnect until dawn to the tunes of Dirtybird, or bear witness to a surprise Pagoda set by the Glitch Mob and an undercover Bassnectar at 3:00 AM.
Photo: Jacob Avanzato
In the ever-expanding world of music festivals, it can be difficult to distinguish one event from another. As festivals’ lineups become increasingly redundant, and lines between events become further blurred, the status quo for event producers to attempt to differentiate themselves lies in creating events that are more extensive, more expansive, and more expensive than their competitors.
Rather than differentiating LiB from other festivals through lineup and stage production alone, The Do LaB makes its flagship event stand out by creating a culture. The high fives and utterances of “Good game!” between crossing paths of festival-goers on the bridges is as fundamental to LiB as the presence of any of its headlining acts. The revelries of Pagoda are as hyped and appreciated as those of any Lightning set. One’s acceptance of the mortality of his or her LTE service is far more necessary to appropriately enjoy the festival than the ingestion of any substance.
The dynamism of all the festival’s otherworldly experiences integrated into one fully-integrated experience is as explosive and contained as lightning in a bottle – and it’s worth the bottlenecking traffic that entering and exiting entail.