My Transformation at Lightning In A Bottle
*****DISCLAIMER: I know this is long, so for those who don’t want to read the saga, there’s a tl;dr segment in the last paragraph*****
Lightning in a Bottle (LiB) – while this festival is not very well known throughout the United States, it’s been gaining traction in California as one of the biggest transformational festivals in the state. Began in 2006 by the DoLab “…out of desire to create something unique,” according to one of the co-founders Dede Flemming, LiB has grown from a community of 1,200 people to a sold out crowd this year of almost 30,000.
I had heard of transformational festivals before, such as Shambhala and Burning Man. Although music plays a sizeable role in these types of gatherings, the true focus is to find oneself and to have a spiritual experience outside of the chaos of daily life. Unlike Coachella, Hard, or other “massives,” Lightning in a Bottle and other DoLab events also offer various workshops, yoga lessons, and meditation centers that give the attendee multiple ways to find their Zen.
After hearing so many good reviews of the festival in the past, I wondered: could I really grow, or “transform” from an experience like LiB? With the lineup as the final tipping point, I decided to find out. Armed with Flemming’s advice not to hold myself back, the following is a documentation of the incredible, life-changing experience that was my time at LiB:
Within the first few minutes after settling down into our campsite, I already knew this festival was going to be a good one. Next to us was a large caravan of Burners, and all of our neighbors were eager to stop by and make conversation with our group. One of the coolest things about camping at LiB is that people had free reign to do whatever they wanted with their space; I saw pop-up stages with DJs and large huts in all sorts of random places, which ended up becoming hosts of festival after-parties that went until sunrise.
While exploring the layout and basking in the good energy washing over me, I ended up seeing an old friend who I hadn’t seen since elementary school. Her and her friends were so open and welcoming, and I instantly felt comfortable in their presence. This would be the first occurrence in an ongoing pattern with every group of people I met at LiB, and the abundance of kind souls who always looked out for one another was probably my favorite part of the entire festival.
As the sun began to set, my camp family and I attended the opening ceremony of the festival. Following an emotional and thankful speech given by the DoLab matriarch and Lucent Dossier founder Dream Rockwell, we did a salute to the four Cardinal Directions while the ceremony leader encouraged us to look inside of ourselves, find out what brought us to the festival, and use this reason to guide us through the weekend. Starting the festival with such a sense of community and spirituality was beginning to make LiB stand out as the most unique festival I have ever been to.
The festival had officially begun! After eating a hearty breakfast, piling on sunscreen, and packing my Camelbak with a day’s worth of supplies, I set out to commence my LiB journey. As a deep house and techno-lover, my first destination was obviously the Woogie stage, the home to those genres. Although it was the dustiest of all the stages, the Woogie became my home in an instant. It was filled with quirky people who were there purely to dance and enjoy the music. Even cooler? Everyone gave each other room to dance! The ease at which I was able to get around was astounding. While head-bobbing to the lovely house sounds bursting from the speakers, I ended up bumping into my elementary school friend and her group again. After the heat, dust, and dancing got to us, we decided to take a break and see what else the festival had to offer.
On our way out of the Woogie, something else awesome caught my eye: a DanceSafe booth offering free drug testing, condoms, and earplugs. Upon complimenting the good people there, I was also told about the “Zendo” camp, where people having a bad trip on psychedelics could go to calm themselves down. It made me happy to see that Lightning in a Bottle is one of the few festivals out there that focuses on harm reduction rather than outdated tactics of trying to prevent drug usage and failing to provide adequate care for those who inevitably partake. As Dede Flemming later said in a press conference, “We’re zero-tolerance, but that’s simply not possible; you can’t even prevent that at a baseball game! We prepare for reality so everyone is safe, healthful, and leaves alive.”
Our exploration eventually brought us to the Village, a secluded area of the festival laden with shrines and other alternative religious outposts. It was here I attended my first workshop called “Dream Hacking,” where the speaker taught us how to manipulate our dreams and utilize them to find answers for problems. After that, I attended a workshop on activism and leadership in the Middle East, which tied in closely to what I studied in school. “How often do you get to take such incredible and educational workshops at a festival?” I thought to myself. Indeed, Lightning in a Bottle is definitely a step beyond your typical festival experience.
The rest of my day was dedicated to music. After partying with LiB veterans and their coveted resident DJ Pumpkin at the Lightning Stage, I ventured back to the Woogie for a four-hour stint. First up was Thomas Jack, who played his usual tropical house faire. Next up came Bakermat, who told me his set was going to be “world-loving.” He sure delivered, catering to his audience and the sunset vibe by throwing down some extremely danceable techno and deep house that was quite different from his normal style. Finally, the night arrived and my camp family and I set out to see Odesza back at the Lightning Stage – they played an absolutely wonderful set filled with songs from their new album, causing all of us shed a tear throughout. By the end of the night, we all felt closer than ever and ready to take on the next day.
Still feeling the good vibes of Friday’s shenanigans, I felt more open and ready than ever for the rest of the weekend. The day began with a press conference with Dede Flemming and Dream Rockwell. One of the interesting things in the conference that stood out to me was the discussion of the balance feminine and masculine energies at the festival. I certainly could feel the nurturing, feminine vibe surrounding me at LiB; it had a gentler vibe than its competitors, which tend to have a more aggressive, “rager” air to them. Dream Rockwell also said something wonderful about the press: “You guys report what the people want, and we’re grateful for you getting the word out.” As journalists, we really do our best to spread important messages out to the public, and getting affirmation from someone so influential felt truly special.
A couple hours later as I was charging my phone in preparation for the day ahead, I found myself having a really interesting conversation about music with random people I met. Once again, I found myself inspired by the sheer openness of everyone in attendance at Lightning in a Bottle – it was like a little bubble where no mean people existed, and I felt like I finally found a place I truly belonged to. If everyone could put aside their differences and act like people at LiB, the world would be a better place!
Since Saturday ended up being mostly a solo day for me, I really got to thinking about my life. Sitting at the meditation lookout, which gave attendees a quiet sanctuary and an incredible view of the valley, I began to contemplate the kind of person I was. I thought about my accomplishments, my stresses, and what direction I should be going in, as well as my core being. Going deep inside myself, I slowly began to have many realizations about who I was as a person. I thought about shortcomings I needed to work on, and ways to improve my life situation. I was also finally able to see a clear path of where I wanted to take my career.
With this newfound discovery of myself, I was ready to let the music complete my transformation. Life stress began to melt away with the throbbing bass of Tara Brook’s incredible set. ”Things are going to work out for me!” I thought. The music journalist in me took over as well; Brooks, who ended up taking over for FKJ, absolutely smashed it! She is definitely someone whose progress I will be watching in the coming months. Afterward, I ventured back to the Lightning stage, where William and the Earth Harp Collective played beautiful renditions of classical music on their innovative harp strung on the ceiling of the stage. Following a chill set by Goldroom, Lucent Dossier came up next; the performance was enchanting, and I could see Dream Rockwell’s fiery energy all over the production.
Finally, it was time for Flume to close the night. It was pretty cool to hear him say that he had never been to a festival like Lightning in a Bottle; I’m pretty sure the whole audience felt pretty stoked he made that comment. While his set was excellent as always, I found myself wondering when the musician was going to bless us with all new music – the set was very reminiscent of when I had seen him at Coachella a year before. With that being said, the bass brought out a primal desire in me to dance, and with that even more self-contemplation. By the end of the night I headed back to camp feeling like I had been reborn.
I woke up Sunday morning still feeling the warm afterglow of the night before. Although LiB was coming to an end, I wasn’t sad about leaving. Instead, I was prepared to savor every last moment left and return to the real world with what I had learned over the weekend. Since Sunday had the most musical acts I wanted to see, relaxing at the Shantea tent (were you could sit and drink top-quality tea as long as you’d like) seemed like a logical start to the day. It was here I met a group of amazing, open people; we had a deep conversation about spirituality, acceptance of choices, and being thankful for the people in our lives. I’ve never had such a deep conversation before with strangers at a festival, and this proved yet again just how magical LiB was.
Then, something special happened: one of my best friends from college passed by the tent. We had made plans to meet at the festival, but the crowds and lack of signal rendered us unable to contact each other at all. Finding her on the last day was so exciting! I also realized that this was meant to happen; the energy at LiB is very palpable, and I truly believe that our desire to find each other led to our reunion. With energy gained from tea, deep conversations, and my long-lost reunion recharging me, I headed over to meet my camp family at the Woogie, where we lost ourselves to the smooth and seductive deep house tunes of Wolf + Lamb. I admired the way these DJs wove their distinctive styles into a cohesive B2B performance.
Afterward, it finally came time for me to venture over to the Thunder stage, the DoLab’s newest home for bass music. While I found the bass to be a little too intense to actually stand by the stage (that place is not for the faint of heart), I loved the sets I saw there. The first one was STWO, known for producing Jeremih’s tracks. It was filled with quality hip-hop and trap. Later on in the night, the Aussie duo Hermitude wowed their huge crowd with new music and incredibly innovative future bass sounds. The Aussies are almost to EDM like the Brits were to rock music in the 60s!
Following STWO, I naturally headed over to the Lightning stage to see Zion I, fellow Oakland natives who rap about societal issues rather than cars and “bitches.” Intrigued as to why they’re always seen at alternative events like this, I asked The Grouch, Zion I’s main guy, for his insight on the matter. What he said resonated with me: “Our music has always been about spirituality, coming together, and oppressive situations. I think there’s a conscientious element that links us to the crowd.” He then went on to say, “Spread love and love yourself so you can love others. Be compassionate; money comes and goes, fame, all the bullshit – that isn’t healthy for us. We should share these good things with other people.”
I spent the majority of my evening at the Woogie. Right after the final sunset of LiB, the Dirty Bird family came out in full force to boogie to Shiba San’s booty-bouncing tech house set. The song “OKAY” came on over the speakers and we all collectively lost our minds. While waiting for John Digweed, another long-lost reunion happened; I bumped into a close friend from Oakland who I hadn’t seen in years. At this point, I knew that it was meant to be and wasn’t even surprised to see him there. Together, we finished our night off enjoying some intense, “four on the floor” techno brought to us by the living legend. Finishing the night off with some grimey techno by Digweed was just what I needed, and it was easy to summon up the energy to go out with a bang. As the festival drew to an end, I felt the most happy I had felt in a long time. I felt renewed and ready to take on any challenge thrown my way back in the real world.
IN SUMMARY (TL;DR)….
Lightning in a Bottle was perhaps one of the most transformative, spiritual, and beautiful events of my entire eight years in the scene; it touched me in a way I never thought possible. While the music was certainly cutting-edge and amazing, it was just the icing on the cake to an overall well-rounded experience. Furthermore, the people I met and interacted with there were some of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever encountered, and extremely rare to come across at other conventional events such as Coachella, EDC, and even Tomorrowland. I wouldn’t so much call this a music festival as I would a spiritual gathering; if you approach LiB with an open mind and a willingness to explore yourself, your life can really change for the better! I continue to be grateful for all the work and dedication that the DoLab family has put into throwing these events, and their passion in helping people grow and find themselves. I will most definitely be attending next year, and highly encourage everyone else to treat themselves to the transformational journey that is Lightning in a Bottle!
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