This year’s edition of Lightning In A Bottle proved to be the most dynamic yet, with a unifying community tied together by a love for music and art.
There’s your run-of-the-mill music festival, and then there’s a transformational experience holding a piece of heaven for those to escape the chains of reality for a weekend – and Lightning In A Bottle does just that. The renowned festival returned to its Kern County location at Buena Vista lake, bringing the magic to the forefront for its first post-COVID edition. Despite the struggles these past few years, the Do LaB was dedicated to creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those flocking to the festival.
This was my first time attending the new location, having only experienced the all-terrain Bradley venue years before. Compared to the hills and valleys I encountered previously, I was pleased to find this area has a more accessible walking ground, with the stages and installations a closer distance, including from the campsites. However, my endurance was tested by the power of the dust storms that graced us for the entirety (to all that attend Burning Man, I salute you).
Entering the venue, we encountered a familiar yet heartwarming sight of decorated cars sporting LIB Bound, long reunion hugs, and pumping bass filling the air.
My camp and I arrived bright and early Wednesday morning, greeted with the triple-digit heat as we waited in line at Will Call. The organization of the LIBers made getting tickets in will call and campsites set up a breeze, with misters coming by with their water devices cooling down all attendees. The temperature was high, but so were the community’s spirits getting excited for the festivities ahead. “Happy LIB” became a resounding greeting, making it more of a celebration of life than just a mere gathering.
Compared to the previous years, what surprised me was the massive attendance for 2022 – the smaller size of the venue put the crowd in close quarters, which was a bit overwhelming at first. However, it became much easier to find and make new friends with the disconnect from the electronic world. I was also pleased to see the presence of harm reduction groups like DanceSafe to help keep the safety of attendees in mind.
Another new addition to LIB was the cashless wristband-currency system. I found it convenient I could leave my wallet at my camp without worries of losing it on sight – but it also made spending at the festival a bit too easy for my bank account to handle. In the future, it would be great for all types of payment to be accepted to promote diverse acceptance of different currencies, including those who choose to tap out of the e-payment lifestyle.
The unique part of Lightning in a Bottle is its setup that makes you feel like you’re being transported into little worlds with no mind-altering substances needed.
Every attendee’s inner child is met with the wacky yet artistically entertaining easter eggs planted around the grounds. Barter your clothes for a pickle at Frick Frack Blackjack, enjoy opera burlesque at the Unicorn Palace, or enjoy a genre-blending symphony of music at the Grand Artique. Some of my favorite discoveries were the blacklight stage, equipped with DIY painted objects, and a nine-person band playing a mix of house, funk, and hip-hop, all at once (including random LIBers in the crowd).
Whether you spent the day taking a “Sexy Salads” cooking class or bathing in the waves of LSDREAM‘s Lightcode Soundbath, there was always something to explore and experience outside of the music. I enjoyed taking a painting class at the Artclave from visual artist and painter Atlas, who taught a 10am class to a packed house of potential artists. It was a great way to make some substantial memories and escape the heat back at camp!
It was refreshing to see how the Do LaB included their beloved art installations while incorporating new ones.
Honorable mentions include the Playa Rélampago stage, which was a sanctuary of dancehall and reggaeton sets and salsa and bachata dance classes, and the updated Memory Palace with harm reduction and consent workshops. This year, there was also a creative selection of merch, including favorites like Third Eye Pinecones and Kritter Klips, with new additions like the famous Disco Lemonade and Jewelz by Jewelia.
As the start of the weekend rolled around, more LIBers packed the camping areas and gathered to let loose and relax lakeside at the Desert Hearts party.
Come sunset, the annual LIB welcome wolf howl was heard throughout, with art cars honking their horns in unison. My crew and I danced the first music night away at the much-upgraded Woogie stage, with elevated structures and the palm trees having a light show to the music. Jon Hopkins put on a gorgeous progressive style set that moved people to tears. I came back on Saturday to get down to the experience that Four Tet brings to his mind-melting performance.
The Thunder stage was another popular stomping ground for my crew and I. Its unusual yet diverse music lineup included reggae legend Koffee and the unforgettable G Jones b2b Eprom set on Friday. I also witnessed a massive dust storm happen while Khiva dropped “Swamp Monster,” which was fitting, to say the least. This stage also graced acts like Megan Hamilton, Of The Trees, LSDREAM, and the Opiuo Sunset set on Sunday, all of which were memorable.
I spent most of my time getting down at The Stacks stage as I ducked and danced through 30 MPH winds, sequinned coats, and giant creature-like art cars.
Previously called the Pagoda, this area hosted some of electronic music’s rising names in the scene. From tunes of bass dons like Dalek One, Saka, Beat Kitty, and Leet taking over the decks on the weekend. The Stacks was also home to many surprise guest sets, including a treat from The Glitch Mob playing all their classics and a surprise Sabre & Stray appearance – Ivy Lab’s drum and bass persona to close out the festival. It was a moving experience to see so much talent from all over the country gather together in this corner of the festival, playing absolute art on a huge sound system.
While The Stacks was bumping all weekend long and packed with attendees, it was disappointing to find out after the dust settled that none of the artists were paid to play. Onhell and others have spoken about this on Twitter, so hopefully, this is addressed by the Do LaB and SoundXperiment in the future as they deserve to be treated as fairly as others on the lineup.
The biggest acts took everyone’s breath away with the immersive production and jaw-dropping tunes on the massive Lightning stage.
Despite a denser crowd, this stage had enough spaced to boogie as one wishes while still feeling the communal vibe. Acts like Purity Ring, SG Lewis, Kaytranada, and the honorable mention GRiZ with the pyrotechnics closed out each night with a bang. However, the party didn’t stop until sunrise, with renegade sets popping up throughout the grounds keeping the energy circuiting. LIB isn’t over until the people say so!
While my experience was great, there is still room for improvement to elevate it for future editions.
Some concerns from the public included the lack of basic necessities being available all five days, including the sparsity of clean bathrooms in certain areas of camping and long waits for ice packs to restock. The dust was also more intense than expected for attendees, with EZ-Ups blowing in the air occasionally – please make sure to stake down your shade structures, people! That being said, I do not doubt that the Do LaB has attendees in mind and will improve even more next year.
This year’s edition of the festival was magical, and I can’t wait to make a return in the future.
Lightning In A Bottle is a gigantic world in a compact size, where dreams can be experienced on this plane of existence, where bamboo grows out of the dust, and where one comes and goes as a completely changed human being. After such an otherworldly weekend, I hope everyone who attended found their lightning to keep in their bottle full. I can’t wait to see what next year holds for all that choose to sing, dance, and let go of worries at LIB.