Lightning in a Bottle celebrates 20th year in ecstatic fashion

William Close & the Earth Harp at Lighting in a Bottle 2023 (Photo by Don Idio, courtesy of LiB)

Celebrating their 20th anniversary, the annual art, music and culture gathering Lightning in a Bottle descended upon the Buena Vista Lake campground outside of Bakersfield this year with the cool collectedness of a crew that has sufficiently cemented itself as the godfathers of the festival circuit for two decades. The DoLaB have now put a 20-year stamp on a legacy that has an infinite number of offshoots that have ignited new electric, and eclectic, communities.

It’s impossible to know just how far their reach has stretched in that much time — with obvious nods to festivals like Lucidity and Desert Hearts — but the kaleidoscopic behemoth that is LiB serves as a yearly reminder of their ability to showcase the artistic potential of every character in their performer Rolodex — and, for that matter, in every attendee. You don’t just attend Lightning in a Bottle, you participate. From carefully crafted themes to the planned otherworldly outfits, from the design of campsites to the hyper-specific totems that connect attendees across the partysphere like a blinking electric blanket, the festival grounds become a living, breathing macro-organism. No other festival seems to boast as much psychedelia per square inch as LiB.

The synergy that builds throughout the five-day weekend is felt across the massive property, lighting up the organic tapestry with a neon net of individualistic entities. From above, the festival grounds look like a surgical cross-section of the brain, cosmically firing like dendrites in a cerebral landscape that seemingly never cease. From inside, it’s an endless smorgasbord of entertainment, experience and information.

The 20th anniversary event brought world-class headliners to the colossal main stages: Lightning, Thunder and Woogie. Secondary stages and “art cars” such as the Junkyard, Grand Artique, Beacon, Crossroads and Unicorn Palace showcased unique or local talent. Rabbit-hole surprises abounded, such as Martian Circus (their song “Making Sweet Love to the Hole in the Universe” became a camp theme song), the Mixtape and renegade after-parties (special shout-out to Anton Tumas & Joshua Lonetree’s superb production at Gate 4 and Soulnova’s epic transformer stage in the RV campground). As always, it was more than just about the music and partying. Wellness offerings like Yoga Sol and Luna Yoga, countless live painters and the broad Learning & Culture offerings (especially the “From Harm Reduction to Healing Justice” talk by Rhana Hashemi and her colleagues), there is no shortage of stimuli.

The old complaints — unkempt portos, massive trash piles, lack of shade, trench walks and undercover narcs — fade amid the sensory onslaught. To their credit, the green team was always working overtime. If there was one thing that could be done better, it would be continuing to educate newcomers on the “Leave It Better” ethos that kept the festival looking spotless back when it was a baby boutique event. When tens of thousands gather (no longer receiving informative pamphlets), the festival needs a way to adequately direct attention to the trash concerns.

Those problems aside, the 20th anniversary felt like the lightning in a bottle that the DoLaB has been manifesting for two decades. Some highlights:

Deer Jade at the Junkyard

Jade de Lavareille, the Swiss-French DJ and producer softly bouncing like a mushroom-capped pixie perfectly poised at the helm of a hard-edged Junkyard spaceship, made for the perfect woodlands-meet-outer space juxtaposition. In a place with so much to offer, she managed to teleport the crowd to a time and place that was complete. For the duration of her set, there were no other stages, no other experiences, only this moment. Channeling sonic divinity, the self-described cosmic connector made all members of the church of Deer Jade. Bonus points that she’s also an ambassador for multiple environmental foundations.

Giorgia Angiuli at Woogie

At the Woogie wormhole, the classically trained Italian musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer effectively blew minds. Watching her orchestrate the masses was like a new Renaissance revival. No longer can the DJ be ill-described as a mere button pusher. She commanded the crowd like a cartoon band leader with her makeshift toys repurposed into sonic attenuators — a Sgt. Pepper leading the audience into the depths of the seven seas, hoping that her siren song led a yellow submarine ashore.

BOSA (Live) at Grand Artique

BOSA took his producer circle creds to the next level, dropping a fully live set at the Grand Artique stage that was on par with, if not better than, the plethora of artists he’s spent his life supporting. The man has built a reputation as an incredible uplifter, but this was his moment to shine. He looked like Rufio from “Hook,” captaining the Grand Artique stage in a way it’s never been done — a pirate dressed to the nines (thanks to Roxer Tronica), commanding a ship full of live instrumentation and enchantresses serenading the crowd. His futuristic sound mesmerized a crowd thirsty for more than the main stage vibes, eating up his blended mix of electronic and live instrumentation, proving that there’s more to the music than what the ears perceive alone.

Josh Kwon at the Junkyard

Full disclosure, Josh Kwon is part of this author’s Soulestial collective. I may be biased, but I can’t help but give praise to a man that has built a reputation on “giving the gift of maximum uplift.” He quite literally embraces the mantra that music heals. A traditional Asian medicine student by day, Kwon is a gifted DJ and now recent producer that graced the Junkyard like a first-time lover. He dropped his first collaborative track, “Siento,” with Spirits + Soundwaves. The crowd was in a frenzy when the opening notes of the song rang out over the dusty dancefloor. (He performs next weekend at the 10th anniversary of The Gathering, Chino’s boutique Santa Clarita campout.)

Meute at Thunder

The Hamburg-based techno marching band Meute took over the Thunder Stage like a drumline alien invasion movie directed by Michael Bay. Their re-imaginations of popular tracks, such as the complete overhaul of AWOLNATION’s “Sail,” sent shivers down spines. Moments like this prove why the DoLaB are curation connoisseurs, mixing up the electronic music that prevails across the many stages with something live and utterly unique.

Patricio at the Junkyard

Argentinian Patricio Motta, the man responsible for booking the Junkyard lineup, took the closing party responsibility, rocking a Messi jersey in a nod to his hero. The choice wasn’t lost on a crowd, mesmerized by Patricio bouncing to the beats and wielding the set like Messi controls a game. For a humble man who spends his life giving the assist to others, he knows when to take the shot and shine for himself. It was the best set I’ve seen him play to date, encapsulated by the perfect remix of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”