Lightning in a Bottle: Running Free

Written By: Scott Bernhardt

Down the road they came. Cars packed to the gills with tents, chairs, capes, organic strawberries, chocolates, and everything else under the sun. Their bewildered eyes strained to see over the edge of the next hilltop, hoping for an end to the lengthy line of cars in queue for the festival entrance. Yes, it took a long time to get in (3 hours); and even longer to get out (7 hours); but that's not what this story is about. Buckle up for a bumpy ride full of bass and dust, because the tale of Lightning in a Bottle (LiB) 2016 is about to begin. It's full of trials and tribulations, some festival tips, and much more. 

The Do Lab, the company behind the production of Lightning in a Bottle, has been constructing experiences for over 12 years. It was their trippy productions that first drew me away from the main stage of Coachella towards a different interpretation of electronic music. It was a performance. It was art. It was something fresh and new, and I realized right then, that it was something special. 

Fast forward 7 years ahead and there I am: running around their stages like a madman with a camera, and a new burning desire to attend every Do Lab festival experience possible.

What I immediately noticed was that I could bring whatever I wanted into the festival. You could enter with food, drinks, hoops, costumes, a rave baby, or just a thirst for adventure. Anything goes because there is no separation between the camping areas and the festival, which also means no long lines to be checked (for what, weapons?) and no weird rules about unopened cigarette packs or chapstick (I'm looking at you, all other LA festivals.) 

This festival also takes down the curtain of illusion, in a good way. On the day of arrival, we were able to wander the festival grounds at will, while the Do Lab crew members continued to finish building stages. It made me feel like I was a part of its creation somehow. 

Not only was there the freedom to move about the grounds at will, but the general attendee was surprisingly willing to engage in conversation about anything from meditation, music, to real life experiences. All taboo or stigmatized practices were looked at with fresh eyes. With an ethos of open-mindedness, inclusion, and sustainability, the festival breathes like the burner community and welcomes all with open arms. LiB creates the perfect atmosphere for your alter ego. Coincidentally, it's also the place where you may feel more like yourself than you have in a while. 

While elsewhere they stay silent,

Here they will howl.


Burnheart Festival Tip #1

If you plan on camping on-site, arrive before dark. 

Let me paint you a picture because I felt too bad asking to take a selfie any of these poor souls. Imagine a festival-ready couple, dragging the overworked wheels of a Coleman cooler through the unforgiving terrain mix of sand and rocks, with dust in their mouths, and the "where the hell are we going" looks on their faces. Do yourself a favor -- get there early and set up your camp so you can start your weekend off with a cold beer, and not the terrible feeling that you may never find your friend's campsite. 

The festival itself was stunning. They build all their stages with such a love for color. You won't find plain white boxes like at Coachella, but you will find places like the Woogie stage, whose twisting pipes looked like something straight out of a Mario Bro’s daydream. The Thunder Stage (also used as the setup for the previous few iterations at Coachella) feels like you’re standing in the belly of a multicolored beast, with its giant ribs wrapped around you, hair blowing in the breeze, and somehow a floating sailboat is piloting the sound and light show from the back like a trip down the Willy Wonka river.

Then there was the music. Oh, the music. I made constant circles from the live performance geared Lightning stage, to the house vibes at the Woogie, back to the grimy dubstep and trap at the Thunder stage, and every surprise in between. They had live acts like Grimes and Chet Faker, as well as DJs such as Mija, Eprom, Minnesota, Guy Gerber, Pantyraid, Mr. Carmack...I could go on for days. The booking this year was incredibly on point and had me excited to brave the heat of each day to catch outstanding acts and workshops from 9am to 5am the next morning. 

Yes. 5am. There were several late night locations to twirl your dragon staff or hoop at, but none as enticing as camp Altered States. Every night of my LiB experience ended here. I got some background on Altered States from our friend Rafael Marino who both started the company, and is a promotions manager with the Do Lab.

“I started Altered States in 2010 as a rogue event production company focused on producing events in Southern California. Recently, I revived the project as Camp Altered States, a vision on producing fully immersive after hour experiences with quality sounds. Our goal is to deliver an area to those who would like to keep dancing through sunrise, while offering a shaded area for the hot days. Along with the music, we incorporated black light art by Debi Cable 3D and Arotin Hartounian. At this year's Lightning in a Bottle, we ran our after hours for all four nights with iconic Do Lab artists like Sammy Bliss, Jesse Wright, and Patricio, as well as acts like headliner Minnesota, Sacha Robotti, and Space Jesus. This was a very special moment for me and the camp. Years ago I was dancing to these guys at LIB, and now they’re playing at our camp.”


Burnheart Festival Tip #2

When walking through the crowd at night, hold something in front of you like a light or even a water bottle. It will help everyone get a better idea of what direction you’re going and how to best avoid you while running by to catch the next act. I know this doesn’t sound like the most usable tip, but believe me, I kept my water bottle in front of me with my eyes up and it has saved many a cumbersome crash, especially while crossing through the flow of traffic.

I think LiB co-founder, Dede Flemming, put it best when speaking on the goals of the festival. He said, “You don’t just deplete yourself here. You bring something back.”

I found this to be true for many of us out there who kept ourselves open to new experiences, and while we were there to party and have a great time, it looked a lot like the building blocks of a better community. Until next time, keep your eyes, ears, and mind open, and always stay positive.