Joe Giuliano on
Lightning in a Bottle is some sort of hyperbolic reincarnation of the great Big Top three-ring circuses of the golden age of live entertainment. The annual music and lifestyle festival, which just wrapped another five-day edition, seemed itself in a golden age this year — even after weathering some storms, literal and organizational.
After five years at the San Antonio Recreation Area near Bradley in central California, the DoLaB-masterminded event found a new home at the Buena Vista Recreation Area in Kern County — just west of Bakersfield, and about half as far from Los Angeles as its previous location. The rolling, ravine-free grounds, replete with ample shade and silver-lined from edge to edge by a lake, let LIB deliver a typically full-on assault on the senses.
Despite being dealt numerous bad hands since last year — from losing their home of five years to not being able to find a suitable replacement venue over the Memorial Day weekend — the DoLaB handled each new obstacle with determination. And after the Thursday night storms nearly derailed the rest of the weekend’s ingress, the staff still refused to step down to forces beyond their control. Cars were towed out of massive puddles, tents were relocated out of flood zones and a new box office was even organized last-minute to handle the diverted line impatiently waiting to get in.
With two main stages, four secondary stages, multiple scheduled tertiary spaces and a plethora of pop-up parties, Lightning in a Bottle returned with a reduced capacity but a vast and diverse lineup — and, as it has for a decade and a half, the chance to leave the world of mundane distraction and instant gratification behind for almost a week. There is a carefully orchestrated method to its madness, from the menagerie of colorful characters parading about the grounds to the decadent decorations adorning every tree, hillside and false façade. In spite of the scorching heat bubbling up from the remains of the soon-forgotten storm, LIB pulled off yet again an event that sent its patrons home begging for more. Not many events besides Burning Man inspire 360-day countdown clocks upon departure. Time will tell if the Kern County Board of Supervisors and its genuinely embracing (albeit awestruck) police force will welcome the festival back.
Particular highlights beyond the stage lineups included: the Playa Relampago shack (nicknamed the Bayou by this writer), a funky Latin-fusion freak house that transported you into the sweatiest nether regions of New Orleans, managed and curated by the Late Night Laggers and Subsuelo crews; the Dirty Beetles’ art-car that served as a neon pre-dawn beacon for early morning, drum-circled after-hours sets; and the Mixtape, a fully-recreated house party vibe (lined wall-to-wall with those ancient relics called cassette tapes) tucked somewhat discreetly into a tent neatly situated between the Woogie Stage and the Grand Artique.
When fans weren’t prowling for the perpetual party, they were also treated to mind, body and soul experiences as diverse as the music lineup. Events worth mentioning were the “You Are Infinite & Life Is Sacred” Yoga Sol experience led by Shawni, the “Headwear Design: Feed Your Head” workshop by Ava Youssefi, the outstanding dinner at the Dub Gypsy Kitchen soundtracked by Alejandro Luna,and a Monday morning kombucha run to a random pirate shack with a surprise set from none other than Holmar playing from its helm.
Music highlights (in chronological order):
Monolink (Live) at Beacon — Don’t hold it against Monolink for calling upon the Lightning and Thunder gods with what arguably was the best set of the entire weekend and literally summoning a storm that rocked the festival to its core. The myriad of magic that the German singer-songwriter and producer channels during his live sets is the purest of primal pleasures, sending shivers from dancefloor-dirtied feet to outstretched hands and up to the heavens. His ability to effortlessly weave guitar chords seamlessly with synthetic beats seemingly represents some sonic strand of DNA, as if his set was something essential to life itself.
Naomi at Favela — The serendipitous set of the weekend was by far the unexpected weather-delayed set by L.A.-based Naomi. The Dialogue debutante dropped a downright dirty set worthy of a headline slot, serenading new fans like a minimal house Medusa. If we could freeze that moment in time, cemented in the present, no future reward would seduce us better. Do not avert your gaze from this one for long, for big things are on her horizon.
Doc Martin, Marques Wyatt, DJ Dan, Patricio B2B2B2B at Favela — While at first confounded by a four-person B2B with very different styles, I soon realized that this cosmic pairing was likely the kind of orgiastic quadruple B2B that could only be sparked in the mind of a madman like Patricio, the master curator of the Favela stage. While they certainly have their very different musical deviations, what connects them is a longevity due to their well-earned reputations in their own right. It’s hard to think of four other humans that deserve praise more than these four staples of the L.A. scene. This massive six-hour foray into the collaborative unknown was proof that the Favela stage has earned its rightful place alongside all of the other main stages.
Ozomatli at the Grand Artique — For what was a much-welcomed break from the various subgenres of house music on a pinball-like path from the Favela stage to Woogie and back again, L.A.-based Latin jazz-funk-rock-hip-hop fusion band Ozomatli hypnotized a dancefloor at the Grand Artique in the only way they know how — by literally manifesting a tribal stomping groove session that took fans on a cross-continental journey somehow elevated beyond the cultures we once knew. When the dust settled, it was hard to tell the distinction between barefoot barbarians and the humans we once were. This was pure enlightenment in the form of dance, one of those rare moments you have to see to believe. If there was any rain left in the forecast, it was sent back to the skies by the truest sundance LIB has ever witnessed.
Damian Lazarus into Rampue into Bedouin at Woogie — Known for his epic extended sets, London-based Damian Lazarus was granted the only three-hour set all weekend long at Woogie, and he didn’t waste it. The journey Lazarus takes you on is almost biblical, his placement and prominence worthy of representing festival reincarnations — those perfectly-scheduled sets that bring you back to life after hours of day-time grooving. Following Lazarus, in a tribute to the Woogie’s unique understanding of lineup placement, Berlin-based Rampue served as the essential segue before Bedouin. To experience a Rampue set, one has to possess patience knowing that that patience will be rewarded 10-fold. This is a true master, towing the line between trust and treason. While the crowd certainly thinned out, losing those searching for the repetitive drop, the sizable crowd that remained was treated to a 12-course meal, each course accentuating the last. Following Rampue in this trifecta of talent was the Brooklyn-based duo Bedouin, known for their Middle Eastern flavor, the perfect seasoning to an already rare five hours of perfection. It was hard to commit so much time to one stage, but it was impossible to tear ourselves free.
Dead-tones at Favela — Gifted with the closing slot of the festival, L.A.-by-way-of-Ivory Coast charmer Kamel Omais (aka Dead-tones) conducted an after-hours arpeggio of epic proportions. His progressive house lured in the lingering last souls of the near-end of the festival with sultry style and seduction. Lost in his hypnotic spell, the crowd languidly arrived with the lust of a cult-like congregation. With the Kool-Aid long since drank, Dead-tones’ after-dark oasis was now littered with a flock of devout creatures touting totems and illuminated jellyfish umbrellas bouncing to the Berber-esque beats. When it was all said and done, the mesmeric melody left fans adequately eulogized, content in the final resting place on the grounds of Lightning in a Bottle’s hopeful new home.