Hidden away in Oak Canyon Ranch is a place unlike anything else in California, nestled by a healthy section of forest and water. People flock from all around for a celebration of peace, wellness, and positivity while being entertained by worldly musicians, artists, and speakers for an entire weekend. This is the Lightning in a Bottle festival and it came and went in a flash, unless you happened ot be tuned to the right spiritual frequency. If you were, some of the connections and experiences formed might last a lifetime and require a return visit.
The festival is set up quite well. The two main stages are separated by a lake with a road on either side, leading fans from attraction to attraction. One on hand lies a row of vendors and wares, on another a ton of artwork and installations. People flock from spot to spot, checking out anything from a one-man band to a dance party in an art gallery. Every corner has something to investigate and plenty of people willing to converse and the circular nature means no walk from stage to stage is boring. The “Free Hug deli” offered, well, free hugs for anyone that wanted or needed one. A row of live paintings, started days earlier and wrapped up by Sunday night, was available for viewing during the creative process and ultimately voted on by attendees. For most people, however, it was the music that meant the most.
The Bamboo Stage is what you would normally call “the second stage.” It had an excellent set-up for a smaller stage, with protruding bamboo shoots shooting outward while housing the artist of choice inside. Sunday saw a few excellent acts, such as DJ Laura, a West Coast native proficient in 808 beats and waves of bass. Her set was very female-friendly, remixing tracks like M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls,” Nicki Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap,” and 90’s hit “Zombie” by The Cranberries. Canada’s Shawna also played a dance-heavy mix, bringing her MacBook to the forest in order to dazzle those watching the sun come down at the Bamboo Stage.
Salva and Sidecar Tommy showed what the guys could do, with the latter employing a sea of lasers for that must have felt like a giant barcode scanner for those more inebriated fans. His complex genre mixing was on display, going from tunes a belly dancer would feel at home with to old school jazz while making it all funky and smooth enough to dance around in. While Tommy has the group Beats Antique on his resume, Salva is a relative newcomer with a fresh take on the live performance. He employed both a keyboard, an iPad doing live controller work, a beat pad, and a laptop for who knows what else. The man was busy. Both of their sets made for enjoyable trips around the center lake.
This stage is lined with wood like an ol-timey rollercoaster and gave a visage of a natural occurring amphitheater built into a gigantic tree. The first act I saw on the main stage was Random Rab, who performs music I can only call a product of Adrian Belew doing a lot of yoga. There is some slide guitar and chanty vocals, and when a live drummer appears things get grooving a little better. Fans were zoning out, in a good way, to the band’s odd, yet relaxing style.
R.D. White is an L.A. artist known as R/D. He displays an eclectic taste, offering dubstep that indie kids will dig and electronic hip-hop that anyone with two feet will dance too. It’s not simple or fluff, just structurally solid and flash fried in bass. His deck looked like a steampunk sun, with rusty metal jutting out in all directions. He had a few dancers on stage and was ultimately joined by vocalist Swan for a handful of songs. His kit offers a variety of sound, switching from keys and beat pads to make on-the-fly melody. His light show was eerie, with tons of fog mixing his odd lighting and creating a wicked source of visual entertainment.
Big Gigantic hail from Boudler, Colorado, a state that has provided fans of music everyone from Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedy’s to Pretty Lights. Their style is a mix of “livetronica,” playing drums and saxophone over pre-programmed beats and samples. When this format works, its unlike anybody else’s set-up, but it takes the right sax line and correct underlying beat to create something that doesn’t sound odd. They stuck with music Pretty Lights himself would use, with drummer Jeremy Salken laying down constant ryhtym while producer Dominic Lalli plays live synth and uses that to loop back into the rest of the song. It’s complex, it’s stylish, and it is pretty good, especially for fans of STS9 and the Disco Biscuits.
Even though it’s a festival, the crowd for the main stage is only slightly larger than a massive block party, making Bassnectar’s brand of dance music even more fun. Those in the front rows were thankful for festival employees passing out free ear plugs and as soon as the first note was pressed, as were the safely guarded ear drums. The music Bassnectar makes isn’t about the heavy drop or the tapered introduction of bass into his music, it is constructed with bass as the main ingredient from the opening second to the last. He manipulates the lows into a tidal wave of headbanging, bringing a heavy metal sensitivity to an otherwise robotic genre. His nearly two-hour set started with some minor technical issues, but stayed strong from that point forward and delivered a must-hear set for any fan of the current clown prince of EDM. His new album was entirely on display, but he brought a few fan favorites to the party to ensure newbies and vets alike would find something toenjoy.
I have never lost my keys at a music festival. I’ve gone to dozens and every time I leave my house until I get back to my own bed, I’m in a half-panic about the state of my keys. During some of my favorite acts ever, I remember clutching around to make sure they did not leave me during the dance tent halfway across the field or the Spicy Pie stand when I got extra napkins. Had I lost my keys, I most certainly would never see them again. This is mostly due to the insane nature of most music festivals, with the baked-in chaos made up of inconsiderate people, booze, and drugs. But Lightning in a Bottle festival strives hard, as an organization and as a collective patronage, to not just leave the place untouched, but to make it better than when they arrived. What once started as a birthday party and eventually became a full-fledge festival (brought to you via the Do LaB) has now become everyone’s personal birthday party.
Call them new-age hippies if you must, but this generation just wants their secluded fun as much as any other group. Far away from life’s troubles, work obligations, and general responsibility, a serene nature setting offers the right combination for a modern nirvana. I did not see anyone checking Facebook on their phones and I heard more instances of “Thank you” and “Excuse me” than at any festival I’ve ever attended. The square foot of personal dancing space and a commanding sense of community positivity are a powerful combination; adding music and art to that is like lighting a powder keg full of rainbows.
I was only able to attend the festival on Sunday night and thus, am only retelling my experience across one entire night. I wish I could have seen it all, but I did come away with an awesome expereince and memorable time. This review is not indicative of the entire weekend or every corner of the festival.