Lightning in a Bottle: the Old, Wild Hippie West

At Lightning in a Bottle, you're required to relinquish a part of your normal - however much or little of it you had to begin with. Cell service is bad, dust sneaks its way into every article of clothing you brought in, and your only way out is eight miles of starch-colored road, where freakishly giant cattle graze on either side of your car. But everyone who signed up more or less consented to this, and while you may have given up social networking and eating meat for a weekend, it's worth it once you realize you've landed smack in the Old Wild West's hippie oasis.

This year, Lightning In A Bottle relocated to the San Antonio Recreation area (it didn't work out with last year's Temecula venue) and designed the layout of the site in a Fibonacci spiral - so that the full festival emanates the energy of natural harmony. Maybe that's why there's an almost puncturable sense of good vibes in the air, and the idea that you can do whatever the hell you please - as long as it doesn't mess with the experience of others. In spite of a lineup that boasts names that could slay a Coachella crowd, e.g. Baauer, Little Dragon, Phantogram, and Moby, it's not just about the headliners here.

During the day, attendees are encouraged to explore the festival's nooks and crannies, that is - everything under the sun that promotes spiritual and physical harmony and that empowers creative exploration. From yoga, Ayurvedic cooking (how to cook for your spiritual and physical health) workshops, laying in a circle of giant gongs, and an essential oils meditative experience - not one new age-y rock is left without a workshop, forum, or recommended area. Giant interactive art pieces like The Empire of Love and Buddha's Garden (an art house viewed through 3D glasses) pepper the grounds, so that literally every few feet you go there's something to pique your curiosity. At night, roving dance parties on wheels roam the grounds and create mobile nightclubs very similar to Burning Man's playa.

Lightning in a Bottle is a home for the interested to dive into whatever strikes their fancy and go to town with it. At night, I listened to Ryan Hemsworth and Baauer play nearly two-hour long sets while tracking the progress of artists working on their live pieces throughout the weekend. During the day, I attended a women's forum led by ladies of the Hopi and other Indian tribes, heard a man named Bashar (who spoke on behalf of a clan of aliens) motivate a huge crowd to achieve their creative and spiritual goals, and climbed a grassy hill to a lookout where I meditated with dozens of others under the guidance of a guru not unlike Paul Rudd's character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Thursday night, everyone was invited to join festival organizers gathering in a communal area called The Village to exchange blessings with the local Chumash leaders. Everywhere, signs train you to clean up after yourself, and there's an entire section in the welcome guide spelling out cultural appropriation for the ignorant. Power to that pamphlet, because I only saw one headdress my entire time there.

Here, the reason for environmentalism smacks you in the face constantly: you're forced to confront the reality of California's drought, staring back at you on a daily basis from the center of a dry, cracked ravine, once a lake, that connects the festival and campsite. Here, everyone from musicians and meditation enthusiasts to architects, artists, ravers, business owners, yoga instructors, and families with strollers are allowed to do as they please without onlookers judging. 

Naturally, there's a strong sense of neighborly environmentalism, from a parking attendant who'll charge you $30 for not carpooling (it's not green, duh) to the compostable cutlery and of course, the pressure to eat vegetarian for a weekend. But beyond all this, you sense the LIB family really strives to respect the land and its culture (San Luis Obispo County is a part of Chumash territory) and this comes from a place a reverence. 

Next year, rain gods willing, the lake will be filled and LiB-ers will be crossing bridges to get from the campsite to the festival. Hopefully by then, a few hundred more normal people will have the audacity to experience this madness and discover something about themselves in the nooks and crannies, for themselves. 

 

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