The golden hour approaches and the air is filled with magic. The sun glistens upon the lake and your friend gives you a glance of awe, speaking the words of “is this even real?” without saying a word. You’re just about to swim back from one of the numerous aquatic art installations as you stumble upon a water gun fight in the midst of a full fledge battle royale. With a water gun in hand, an inflatable shark as your ship, and your homies as your fleet, you begin to feel like a modern day Pirate of the Caribbean - with all the booty and loot in sight. Lured in by the thumping bass, you strap on your dust-covered boots and drift to the Pagoda Bar, wandering into what appears to be a Hawaiian passion fruit flower scaled to 70 feet in stature. As the Funktion-One speakers pulse the crowd, you realize you are exactly where you need to be. It has become collective knowledge that attendees at Lightning in a Bottle Music and Arts Festival often undergo personal or spiritual growth alongside the infinite amusement at their disposal. For fans seeking the opportunity to step out of the mainstream Coachella, Outside Lands festival comfort zone, LIB has undoubtedly become the entry way to the future of festivals. But this is also a heavy burden to hold and although they have evolved to a level that early Do LaB fans would have never dreamed of, with doing so, have left other aspects of the festival vulnerable to being overshadowed with grandiose stages and the contagious eclectic festival culture.
The Do LaB stage at Coachella operates as the first entryway into the LIB community and has unofficially bestowed upon them the duty of being the transitional gatekeeper into the world of transformative festivals and spiritual gatherings. The festival’s transitional nature allows it to serve multiple functions – it sticks to its core ideals for veteran attendees while serving as a blissful introduction for young and curious minds seeking a more powerful festival experience. Consisting of multiple stages with an array of various musical genres, it still maintains that mass appeal to a larger scale of fans. They combat this mainstream music curation with a steady migration from their normal festival experience in addition to offering a variety of art installations, spiritual and health seminars, and elaborate interactive galleries previously unexplored by new attendees. By doing so, Lightning in a Bottle has become the perfect bridge between mainstream festivals and intimate transformational festivals. It provides the over-the-top and the intimate all at the same time.
— Samantha Acampora (@ActorAcampora) May 26, 2017
LIB introduced 10 innovatively new structures this year, such as crowd favorites like the flowery Pagoda Bar, the vibrantly shaded Woogie stage, and the pineapple shaped Beacon, originally previewed as Do LaB’s stage at Coachella. With so many innovative stages, I found it challenging to stray away from anything but the musical experience. With acts such as Richie Hawtin transcending the Woogie to unimaginable levels of thumping techno, Ivy Lab rattling the Thunder stage to its core, and sumthin sumthin with his experimental trap that had the entire crowd with their jaws to the floor, it felt like my obligation to constantly be in awe of the music in front of me. Kind of like having too much on a menu and then missing out on some of the newer experiences. As so, I, unfortunately, missed out on some of the off-the-beaten-path interactive areas that have made my past years so intimately special. The fear of missing out on a legendary set trumped by curiosity in the quieter regions of the festival, but because of LIB’s transitional nature, I was able to take time to self-reflect and experience the existential euphoria that I sought for, which isn’t a possibility at modern day massive festivals.
Nonetheless, with colossal music that commenced around noon and ended around 2am-4am, I was surprised and disappointed with the minimal after-hour selections that were made available. Many attendees, such as myself, like to squeeze every last moment out of a festival’s experience. This typically results in dancing into the early hours of dawn, admiring the sunrise peak over the mountaintops, as a sunrise techno set sooths you into the next day. Festivals like Desert Hearts have adopted the 24/7 music mentality which has liberated the structured musical experience, ultimately allowing the attendee decide upon their own listening hours, which is something LIB could learn from in the years to come. Conversely, Desert Hearts is ‘one stage, one vibe,’ giving absolutely no options towards an opposing experience. With LIB’s expansive land, the opportunity to maintain additional music curation beyond the Grand Antique and the few fan driven stages like Amori's could have been better explored.
The obvious difference this year at LIB was a lake – a beautiful, clean, swimmable lake. As the water was this year’s biggest attraction, it created a massive opportunity for new activities that were unimaginable before, such as aquatic art installations and the mere fact you could swim from stage to stage. Yet, while in the water, the music was faintly projected from the neighboring stages, making it very difficult to listen or even dance to. This inspired attendees to apply their own methods of keeping their groove steady by bringing waterproof sound systems into action. Other smaller festivals, like What The Festival’s “Splash” stage and Symbiosis’s “Swimbiosis” stage, have capitalized on water based stages where both swimming and dancing coincide into one harmonious energy. The water regrettably didn’t serve as a great listening hub this year, but certainly brought a fresh and cooling ether to a new and improved LIB. The massively constructed stages at this year’s LIB presented the main hiccup for creating intimate waterfront stages, as there was only a finite amount of space for structures of that magnitude. Consequently, the lake was fashioned as a mellowed out play area rather than a dance floor and a missed opportunity to create a better music curated experience.
Lightning in a Bottle is one of the few festivals that can simultaneously speed up and slow down time. At LIB, there is an essence in your existence that no matter where you are, you are exactly where you need to be. As LIB strives to be bigger and better, the essence of a novel and fairytale-like experience must remain present in order to stay strong to the core values the Do LaB originally set out to curate. Its mythical-like design creates a parallel world where connection, creativity, and joy coexist in harmony, manifesting a new lens to look out upon the world. LIB now has an imperative role – the gatekeeper of two festival realms. By carefully navigating through uncharted waters and representing both the mainstream and the intimate, being both attainable to the novice festivaler but still providing artistic worth to the veteran transformational festival seeker, they continue to prevail as one of the most influential festivals to date.