“Lightning in a Bottle” 2015 as Literally Living up (and in) to Its Name: Exploring How One Music Festival Fused Nature to Material and Recycled Presence in the Process
I’m not sure what the air of Bradley, California was filled with more: an invisible, resonating electric positive charge or a very visible nonstop gust of dust.
Either way, the energy of the attendants that Memorial Day weekend acted as if the air they breathed burned their insides; the festival seemed to enact a sort of inner enlightenment under the scorching sun. Everyone who’d purchased a “Lightning in a Bottle” ticket moved excitedly about the venue, searching (and finding) what they were promised by the performers and the “Do Lab” promotion company they would: a four-day-long dialogue about humanity’s internal fire(s) under a particularly fierce external one (the desert sun). A multi-staged music event, the campers were given countless opportunities to attend yoga classes, healing sanctuaries, and meditation or cooking workshops… all in the name of the higher goal of the festival: to pursue the conversation about presence, humanity, artwork and their inextricably-connected relationship.
The space’s voice was that of a more-developed version of Coachella, one that truly asked the faux-nature lovers to stay at home by openly requiring the audience to participate daily in nature-loving. While generating money is undoubtedly always the business, “Lightning in a Bottle” acted to convince even the biggest skeptics that their version of entertainment transcended the trending commodification of “good vibes” into a genuine effort to re-invent a shared experience of performing art in every movement, every action.
Take their program’s paage two for instance. It rushes the consumer straight into ethics, insisting immediately upon a morality often left in one or two lines of small print in other festival pamphlets. It reads largely: “How to LIB: The LIB community respects the sacred spaces and wild places that make up our festival home. It is our responsibility to leave the land the same or better than we found it.” It was all about being present, out there in the desert; most importantly, it was about doing so together. This tone of kind invitation and was dripping from the website, the pamphlet, the speakers behind each microphone—there was no room to doubt what everyone was getting themselves into. Each opportunity for advertisement latched onto the chance to insist upon connection: connecting with each other, with the land, with oneself. And the message transposed the page by ceaselessly being practiced by all the attendants—on “Take Your Trash Home,” “Respect Wildlife”, and to “Lead by Example: If you see trash on the ground, pick it up and dispose of it properly. Seems like an obvious guideline, but you might inspire someone else to do the same” (2).
It aimed to call the entertainment industry to a new interactive platform: it screamed that a. art is nature, b. it’s natural to be human, and therefore c. you (the attendee) are a form of art yourself affecting others with every interaction.
By spending four days re-enforcing this mentality to the spectators in the form of open speakers, local food huts and the resonating emphasis to put-down-your-phone-and-enjoy-the-moment-god-damn-it, LIB successfully promoted listeners to become thinkers. Conciousness was infused into the costumes; hand-made items were acknowledged and endlessly appreciated. Presence was being conveyed in awareness.
And generally festivals encourage the cultural phenomenon of mistaking an image for a feeling, of replacing presence with photographic evidence. “Capturing a moment” was a huge aspect of “the Coachella experience”, providing solid opportunities for phone charging. While LIB similarly provided all the social networking hashtags and profiles on the program, it was made nearly impossible to keep your phone on during the duration of the festival. The charging station was so small and so frequently unattended that it was apparent the Do Lab deemed it the bottom priority on the weekend maintenance list; it trained phone-obsessors to Give Up and Just Look Around. And besides, the opportunities for spectators to evolve into active participants bombarded festival-goers from so many directions that phones began to feel (could it be true?) a hindrance. The essence and art of “experience” was performed in the constant access to inner and outer adventure: “LIB is more than just a music festival. We are quite proud of 2015’s offering in Talks & Panels, Yoga, Workshops, and Interactive Areas. So remember to explore! Try something new! Create your own adventure and experience a weekend that will inspire you for the rest of the year! Beyond that, take care of yourself and take care of one another. Drink lots of water, respect your limits, respect the land and have the time of your life.” (1).
And speaking of water and ethics: free water, available everywhere. There was none of the classic event marketing of “$4 dollars for a water bottle” business that makes a profits off human need for hydration. A “Don’t forget– We’re in a drought!” reminder was posted below each spout, and refillable water canteens were underneath them all day. 5-minute showers were offered for $8, which, for once, seemed appropriate. Everyone was relatively dirty, no campers really had mirrors, and the art of such rawness found audience members so equal in it.
This taste of “authenticity” was magnified by the musicians participation in the moral awareness, ethical openness, and truth-searching dialogue of the event. DJ “Lindsay Lowend” finished his set Saturday by taking the microphone and saying “I don’t normally do this, but this is the right place, the right spot. I know I have a bunch of ears right now, not absent-minded music drones—” and then continued to talk about music as an art that shouldn’t be displaced by genres. He wanted everyone quiet, kept asking everyone to listen… and they quit the cheering so he could speak. And before the eyes of a usually-warmly-yet-hardly-acknowledged crowd, a performer was breaking the fourth wall and allowing the audience to merge in on a message. It may have been at the Thunder Stage, but it had all the feelings and words of a family living room, where real sharing was done.
Lindsay Lowend’s performance was one of many (very, VERY many) to encourage this true connecting to each other and art. Lightning in a Bottle was working softly to give authority to each person, each object of art, and under the unforgiving May sun, thousands forgave each other as they celebrated each other. There may have been dust, but there truly was (as discussed nonstop between strangers-turned-friends in the ground) an electric positivity in the air… an energy of uniqueness one overheard spectator keenly observe as “the result of so many beautiful auras all playing together, here.” To feel the complexity in the art of “here” and “now” was its goal, and it was in Lightning in a Bottle’s overall commitment to an “authentic” pastoral appreciation (found within the recycled structures, musician selection, live-art drawings, quality merchandise, ect.) that a comfort in difference was largely broadcasted…
…which, once shared, transformed the performance into a group-act of Oneness.
Never has someone said “Take me back” with as much genuine wistfulness as the girl sitting at her computer right now, typing this up and dancing in her heart to the tune of LIB’s 2015 magic.