The Hype: Ostensibly, LA's "electronic experimentalists" DoLab put Lightning in a Bottle together as the median between mainstream Coachella and the extreme self-expression of Burning Man. But the three night, four day festival in beautiful Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado, featuring DJs, bands, installation art, spiritual talks, yoga and organic food has grown into its own. For this year's event, Booka Shade, Glitch Mob, the Album Leaf and about 60 other acts were in attendance, ensuring some brain wobble from attendees.
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The Show: Lightning in a Bottle was definitely more Burning Man Ultra Lite than Coachella, which means it was easy enough to forget schedules and just wander about the grounds. There was a lot to explore. There were three stages playing music from 10:30 a.m. to past 1 a.m.--the LIghtning in a Bottle stage, the Woogie stage and the Bamboo stage. There were workshops that held various classes, from gardening to to poi spinning to worm composting. There were art spaces with live art, installations and theater acts. There were boat rides, circus performers, freaks on stilts, a marketplace and people dancing everywhere. To top it all off, It was in such a beautiful space. Daily, the sun floated down in dazzling shades of orange, pink and blue over Irvine Lake, giving way to the festival's neon lights and random fire-tinged performances.
And so, the highlights: some say that Booka Shade blew their minds on Friday, introducing the festival's first day to a dance-a-thon like no other. On Saturday, the March Fourth Marching Band went on before the Lucent Dossier Experience. The 30-strong performance blurred the line between people onstage and the audience; it made people want to learn their own instruments as well. On Sunday, El Papachango mixed ethnic music with electro beats and kept people dancing; Portland's'Vagabond Opera was a lively act that reminded me of Gogol Bordello. The Album Leaf was a good decompressor for the whole weekend; on Sunday night. Instead of twisted dancing everywhere, the audience lay down before the stage, watching the video installation that accompanied the post-rock, ambient/electronica.
The Verdict: If you miss Burning Man, or any variation of a typical Northern California hippie fest, you'd have had a great time at Lightning in a Bottle. It wasn't just all about the music, either. Sure there were great dance/electronica acts, but I enjoyed the flatbread pizza and the horchaitas (yes, horchata + chai) as much as I got into the interesting alternative lifestyle workshops and Lee Burridge's happy-happy-joy-joy DJ set at the Woogie stage. The music wasn't always stellar; but athat wasn't the only reason people were there, after all. The whole festival was an experience unto itself, and that was just fine by me. I certainly didn't mind that there was no rush to get from one stage to another because I was going to miss this or that band. I was just as happy sitting under a tree listening to the thumping of a bassline from a far away stage.
Usually, rave-y dance festivals like this are better experienced when twisted on mind-altering substances, but I was happily sober at Lightning in a Bottle--and I'm sure I had just as much fun as all the crazy topless hula-hoop dancers and fire breathers in attendance.