Lightning in a Bottle, often called LiB, is one of the most recognized festivals in the US. Lightning in a Bottle has helped define the emergence of transformational festivals. It would be fitting that in its 18th year, it has, in this reporters opinion, grown up and further refined what it takes to make a festival a truly transformational experience for all those who attend.
As a member of the media, we were invited to attend a very special meet and greet with Dede Flemming of the Do Lab. While sipping a beer supplied by the festivals beer sponsor, Fat Tire Brewing (a sustainable brewery co-op owned by its employees) I listened to Dede speak of the changes and growth they have had over the years since the festivals humble beginnings in the 90’s as a birthday party for the Flemming brothers. He went on at length of their concerns with growth, how one of the most important factors to having the event is that it kept a small intimate feel to it. Mind you 35,000 festivals goers is tipping the scales of intimate.
I would have to agree with his assessment, the festival this year felt different yet still very much the same. The stages felt more inviting and open in their layout and experience. The music, while for me personally felt like a large number of unknown artists, was in fact well curated to the point where I often found myself staying around a given stage for hours as each performer I enjoyed more than the last. While there was certainly a large number of people in attendance, I never felt crowded, in fact, I think fewer people would have made it feel less intimate within the beautiful Anderson reservoir where Lightning in a Bottle takes place. As a veteran LIB’r, I knew many people attending and I ran into nearly all of them by the last night (even some I wasn’t expecting to see) and of course made many new friends as well. The intimacy in a festival of this size is still very much alive.
One of my favorite places this year wasn’t a stage, DJ, seminar or large art installation, but rather what I’ve been referring to as the LiB “shack” (its real name is actually “The Bottle” but there is no branding on it aside from a very cool neon sign depicting lightning hitting a bottle and it breaks into pieces.) This space, nestled between a lively tree house bar and the iconic Woogie stage would go unnoticed if not for the crowd dancing on the makeshift porch and the blaring distorted random rock, rap and hip-hop music bleeding out thru makeshift windows from a crappy speaker inside positioned in an inconvenient location atop a beat-up Pac-Man arcade box. I overheard someone say as I was standing outside a quote which summed up the space well: “it feels like I went back into the 90’s and ended up at a random frat house party!” It was made from an assortment of what seemed like reclaimed wood panels from condemned buildings covered in graffiti and discarded road hazard signs, the space felt a bit sketchy and made you wonder if the young woman dressed like a grandma in her late 70’s twerking with a unicorn inflatable inner tube on the makeshift bar might, in fact, fall off and take the whole house down with her. It was that sketch, which just made it that much more awesome.
Fortunately by the end of the weekend it was still standing, and at least once in all three of my nights here I made an appearance to this space, if for nothing more then a break from the common thump of the EDM playing at most other stages, or to see what other characters, like twerking grandma impersonator may have found their way there to escape as well.
Another place I wanted to mention, The Woogie Stage was amazeballs. The stage has transformed yet again, in a style that I personally feel well captures its iconic “tree” look while still being fresh and new. The use of light reactive fabric created a simple yet effective look that brings out certain patterns and designs printed within the fabric depending on what colors are shown upon them. It seemed to please the crowd well too, the much-needed shade during the day that turned into a whimsical neon forest at night. Designed by the Australian group Glitzern Grime it certainly embodies the look and feel that I personally have experienced in the Australian festival (or as they call then, “bush duffs”) scene of large, vibrant and colorful fabric shade elements, that are both visually appealing and offer the added benefit of keeping those hardcore dancers cool in the middle of the day (when most others are sleeping or hiding in their camps).
But what about the music? That’s what this whole festival is about after all right? Or is it…? Well, for me it became a much-appreciated background rather than the focus. I really did like that there was more than JUST music, although on the music side of things the Thunder stage was my probably my favorite. It was a new design, more open than the previous one. I got to catch Clozee’s set from backstage (a perk of the job) and the sound and lasers show was next level. Another performance that I really loved was the Funk Hunters (I had never seen them live), they brought up Fungineers for one of their songs and turned the whole dance floor into a crazy circus show. It’s one of the many things I love about LiB, the diversity in performances. It was ZHU though that really made my weekend on the music front. Closing out the last night he rocked the crowd from the second he walked on stage, with his signature melodic tone that was interspersed with edgy guitar riffs and even a rendition of Faint by Linkin Park as a tribute to Chester. As his set came to a close with Faded, I knew the set, and subsequently, the weekend was coming to an end, but my tired arms (from holding a super silly totem) and body were ready.
As the sun came up on the final day, I chose to load up my crew, skip one last dip in the lake and leave town before the roads got too crowded, only to break down a mile out of the event. As I sat there with three other very tired friends, waiting hours for a tow truck driver to come and save us from our unfortunate fate, I was thinking to myself I wonder how they will top this experience next year?
I guess I will have to go to find out!
One last thing!