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What to Expect at Lightning in a Bottle – An All in One Guide from a Seasoned Fest Vet

Life’s a trip, so tie your shoes – Or don’t, and come to Lightning in a Bottle where you don’t need laces at all…  LiB, laugh, lake ;)

Coming from humble beginnings in 2003Lightning in a Bottle festival is a transformational experience that takes place in Northern California. Bringing its wildest lineup yet, LiB is celebrating its 20th anniversary the only way they can – in no holds barred, full scale Do Lab style. 

From May 24th to 29th, you can find me at Buena Vista Lake taking in the sounds of Rezz, Sofi Tukker, Phantogram, Zhu, Sampha the Great, Tale of Us, Caribou and many more. As a seasoned attendee of LiB with four years under my belt, I’m here to share all of the weird and wonderful things that make this festival a cut above the best – Lightning in a Bottle is an experience that simply can’t be beat with some of the most beautiful people you’ve yet to meet, inside and out.

Follow along as I indulge in my favorite memories, stories and festival tips to prepare you for this truly one of a kind weekend. Tickets are still available on LiB’s website here.

The LiB Vibe

You Belong Here. Photo by Allen Padua

I don’t know how to fully describe the magic that unfolds at LiB, but I’m gonna do my best. 

Firstly, prepare to find yourself participating in some really weird shit. There are tons of fun and random stages, lounge areas and miniature universes to find yourself apart of. I really enjoyed the Unicorn Palace’s signage that they would change every day; by Day 3 I think it said “Cocaine isn’t toothpaste, brush your teeth.” It breaks the ice when it comes to acknowledging that we’re all aware of what’s going on here – there are no pretenses. We see you, we are one of you and we know what you’re doing, but we’re also gently reminding you to be safe. Done with tasteful drug humor. Sold. The sign accomplishes a few things really – comedic relief, signifies the day change, and shows LIB’s personality.

Good banter. Photo by Allen Padua

There are also countless random rooms you can enter that have different themes. One year, my little pod of three took refuge in the “Hotel Concierge Lobby,”  so we could cool down from the heat and rest from pitching our campsite. We sat there and fucked with people who peeked their heads in. We would improv and try to convince anyone who came in that we had a Champagne service – you could order from us and we’d have bottles of champagne delivered to your campsite the next morning. We were convincing enough to have a few takers ready to throw some cash on us. But that’s the kind of shit you run into at LiB though. Good banter. Great People. Too much fun to handle. 

Photo by Erikha Cortes

You have to have a certain level of maturity, autonomy and accountability to attend LIB, which effectively creates this safe baseline for everyone. So safe that some bring their whole family, kids and all. (I’ll talk about that another time though). Some describe it as like a mini-Burning Man and I totally remember thinking exactly that about LiB when I first attended. I knew it was going to be a stepping stone towards going to the Burn. LiB helps you open up to the idea that this isn’t just about the festival itself, it’s about the people and collective consciousness. It’s a place where we can congregate and percolate, trust each other and exchange smiles/high fives. What a curious world they’ve created!

Photo by Kat Stevens

What do you think of when you hear Lightning in a Bottle? I think RPG meets festival music. But not just any type of music – it’s your favorite type of house, techhouse, progressive, down tempo, etc. You can literally find whatever you want genre-wise, AND you can dress HOWEVER otherworldly you want. I say this because getting dressed up is absolutely encouraged. Over the years I’ve laid my eyes on some of the most beautiful people at Lightning in a Bottle. Everyone comes up with the quirkiest, dopest and most creative outfit combinations. Mixing breezy fabrics with heavy metals. Bold colors and unique textures. Stylish ways to stay cool during the day and keep fuzzy warm at night. It really does feel like you’re stepping into a whole new world/planet. Mars on Earth. (Oops, brb guys, stepped through an insane portal aka LiB, baiiiii!) Everyone expresses themselves fully – from unique accessory choices to attention-grabbing totems. 

My favorite totem I saw last year was simple yet bold: it was a massive black flag with the words FREAK written in the middle of it. You done did it queen. You let your freak flag fly, b, and there’s no way your friends will lose you now.

What’s stayed consistent in all 4 years I’ve gone:

  • Beautiful, friendly, responsible people. I don’t remember ever having a negative encounter with other attendees. At the very least, you know, sometimes there’s competition with how you look, etc, etc. I dont really see people acting that way in LIB. Everyone’s just there to have a good time. 
  • You can participate as little or as much as you want – there’s art, there’s food, there’s yoga, there’s cooking classes and TED talks about the history of psychedelics in Africa. Is it a hippy festival? I mean yeah, duh. But it’s so much more than that you know? I swear if you’ve ever played an RPG, it’s exactly like that. You have to know what you need in order to survive. Do you get cold at night? Dress accordingly. Do you have a group? Establish a meet up spot and use a totem. Do you lose stuff easily? Don’t bring it. In my case, I tend to lose my phone so I made sure I had walkie talkies.
  • Top notch yoga – Wellbeing has always been integrated in the festival’s core values 
  • It’s a safe festival; everybody’s chill af
  • It’s kid friendly (all ages festival), with plenty of programming for youth to be involved in so they don’t feel left out. I never once thought in my 4 years of LIB that someone’s kid was getting in the way or have to worry about them being exposed to inappropriate stuff. I trust that these people know what they’re doing coz they’ve been doing it for so many years – they feel safe enough in this festival to include their kids.
  • There are so many different genres to choose from. I saw Kaytranada and Seth Troxler on the same night; I haven’t talked much about the Lightning Stage or Thunder, but I believe there are 7 stages altogether including the smaller ones like Grand Artique and Junkyard.
  • Did I say beautiful people? Coz lemme say it again.
  • Vendors never disappoint; not only do they sell delicious life saving food; but you can tell that they’re just really happy to be there. I mean, they charge a lot but like, shit I would too if I had to cook and deal with all you freaks hehe. 
  • Bartenders never get shoutouts but the mezcal drink they had last year was fiiire. Whoever decided it was a good idea to make massive batches of mezcal margarita – yes. Cheers to you. You know to look out for the weirdos who like mezcal! I’ve never been to a festival where mezcal is a spirit that’s even on the menu, you know? Major kudos.
  • The fact that the whole venue is flat is amazing for these 30 yr old knees. As a veteran and someone who now prefers comfort over serving looks, I’m usually dissuaded by the terrain of the festival from really dressing up. I would never want to risk rolling my ankles wearing platform boots, not even on bunny hills. But like, the venue is flat throughout; I was so shocked. It felt artificial at first, like we were in some random dirt lot next to a lake and some mountains. But the observation was fleeting. Now I can actually wear shoes for style coz I don’t have to worry about tripping on shit! Love it.
  • Lastly, apparently, there’s a place where you can gamble the contents of your pockets. I was too tired to witness the experience for myself. Perhaps you’ll win something fun this year. Can you imagine what kind of stories people have?

Boutique Camping

My first year of Lightning in a Bottle I opted for boutique camping as I was coming from Austin TX and didn’t want to fly with a bunch of gear. The Woogie was a mere 5 minute walk from my campgrounds, there were hot showers and a chill communal spot as well. That type of luxury at a 4 day festival (it was only 4 days back then) will stick with you forever. I am forever a convert and ambassador of boutique camping. Of course it costs a pretty penny, but you know what? It’s totally worth saving up for. I’ve gone backwards and did my last two years in general camping, but I was lucky enough to have friends who did Boutique camping this past year so I was able to hang out as their visitor. They allow you one or two guest wristbands. 

Photo by Erikha Cortes

Pro tip: if you have friends to split it with, do it. It would be worth it just for the convenience of having a checkpoint between campgrounds and festival grounds. The showers are sooo nice too. Ugh. Nothing like an outdoor, hot shower at a fest. 

What to Wear

Think desert weather: it’s hot during the day and cold at night. Meaning you can be naked in the day/get away with minimal clothing but definitely throw on a thicc coat and beanie before the sun goes down. The festival grounds are HUGE this year. We were camped towards the VERY back rows (Nectarine Patch) and it took us about 20 mins to walk from the boondocks to the festival entrance. There’s a few entrances depending on where you’re camped, and I definitely got lost a few times. So with that being said, prepare to have good walking shoes. There’s some dirt, a bit of concrete, and some grass. Oh, and a MASSIVE lake next to the whole thang. And yes, you have access to it so make sure to bring floaties and bikinis.

HELTH tip: There’s hella dust so make sure you bring a mask of sorts. A regular bandana around the neck would do. It’s never just the one time someone’s gonna kick dust all over while they’re shuffling next to you, but rather the weekend long amount of dust you’re going to inhale. So, think longterm. 

Pro tip: A few drops of your favorite essential oil on your bandana works wonders for masking the porta potty smells. Share a few drops and make some friends while waiting in line.

So, basically: 

All the right keys to a successful LiB. Photo by Erikha Cortes

Prepare for desert weather (drastic temperature change from day to night), protect your lungs from weekend long exposure to dust, there’s access to the lake, and you’ll be doing lots of walking. UNLESS, you’re one of those crazies who ride their one-wheels. Yes, people rode their one-wheels IN the festival, zipping through crowds and in between stages. Wild. How? How do you not forget where you’ve parked it? Moreover, how are you not eating shit, sir? If you have one, I don’t recommend bringing it, but you can, if you want. I am writing about this because I am still in shock, awe and confusion :) 

If anything, it’s an indication of how flat the grounds are in comparison to LIB when it was held in Bradley, CA. Phew! Glad we don’t have to deal with those hills anymore, though we do miss the bridge high fives. I saw a lot of veterans try to keep it going this past year, myself included. It’s almost LIB’s version of a Rave Kandi exchange. It’s like ‘Hey, high five for making it through all this walking! But also, high five coz you’re awesome. Sick outfit, dude!’ 

In addition to one-wheels, bikes are a good option too. I don’t mind potentially doing something like that. It would be nice to bike during the day (when there’s light and I’m not on a lot of drugs) to save my knees for dancing. 

But hey, I think that’s actually what makes LIB feel like such an adventure. The trek from stage to stage is what builds excitement, and there’s so much good food, art and people to discover along the way! Overall, it forces you to be a little more intentional about your preparation and thus what helps separate this festival from others – there’s a certain type of prepared mentality attendees have.

Photo by Erikha Cortes

Reliable and Tasty Food Vendors 

I can always rely on the fact that if I buy food at LIB, I will be eating something pretty healthy for my standards. Yes, you have your fried food and pizza options too – The Dough Lab Pizza is great. But everything else is curated to include somewhat healthy options – rice bowls, salads, smoothies, fresh coconuts, etc. I think that’s one thing that I can attribute to safety. Even if I don’t make it back to camp to fix myself a meal that can sustain me, I know the LiB vendors have something available for me that I don’t have to worry about being bad for my body. Those things matter to me, you know? I’m not in my 20s anymore!

Though despite all the healthy options, I still err towards the carb heavy vendors. I remember Poutin in My Mouth was one of my favorite vendors from the past. This past year there was an incredible Chicken and Waffle place that was nearby the Woogie stage, too. They set up this cute little shaded area where you could enjoy the food with other peeps, encouraging conversation and all that jazz. And it’s close enough to the stage that you can still hear the music while you chow down and recharge. 

Personal anecdote about safety

Photo by Erikha Cortes

When it comes to the topic of safety, Lightning in a Bottle has got that shit locked down. I remember my second year, I miscalculated and just did too much – I think most of us can relate. Sometimes you make decisions you can’t take back and you just gotta ride it out and that ends up being how you discover your limit. I remember walking my merry ass back to Boutique Camp from the Woogie Stage, being so impatient. I looked at the other half and said, yep. Let’s get weird. Next thing I know, the sky was violently changing colors. Pink. Yellow. Blue. Purple. Orange. Eventually I made my way back to the Boutique’s lounge area to chill. But instead, my dumbass was allegedly running Naruto style around camp wearing a Pikachu onesie, stuck in a tripped out loop and simply refusing to be tamed. 

So, my friend did the most logical thing and sought out assistance. When I came to my senses, I was surrounded by 3 different responders. I had a Rave Angel to my left, a Zendo volunteer to my right, and a paramedic or cop from the medical tent, I couldn’t tell. I was SO sure I was gonna be in huge trouble, but they immediately reassured me that I wasn’t and that they were there to make sure I was okay. They escorted me to the Zendo tent where they were able to watch me for a little bit longer.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Zendo Project provides ‘professional comprehensive harm reduction education and support for communities to help inform and transform difficult psychedelic experiences into opportunities for learning and growth’. I am forever grateful for that experience; it allowed me to see how much I can really trust people at LIB, including myself! I’ll never forget what my Zendo volunteer told me –  “there’s never really a bad trip, just a difficult one. If you can trust yourself enough to get through a difficult trip, you can trust yourself to do anything.” Since then I’ve learned to be extra cautious.

The key to safety is awareness, education, and acceptance that these things are going to happen. So I really appreciate that approach on Lightning in a Bottle’s part. This way, the relationship is based on mutual trust and respect for everyone else who is there. We’re all here to have a good time, but there’s a way to do it safely with support as well.

The Woogie Stage

Photo by Erikha Cortes

Woogie is one of the main stages at Lightning in a Bottle, always bumping 4/4s and where you’ll likely find me shaking my ass, day and nite. I want to be clear that when I come to LiB, I come to Woogie, 1000%. 

There’s something that calls to the primal instincts when you hear the bass that come out at the Woogie. Like, I be unblocking my sacral chakra with all that booty shakin’ for sure. Maybe that’s why it feels so good to dance there, hehe. I honestly don’t even know who plays there half the time, nor does it matter. I can just always rely on my hips to move on their own when I’m at the Woogie. It’s easily recognizable not only for its house and techno, but also for the colorful Dr. Seuss like tree structures sprinkled around the stage grounds. Side bar: Speaking of trees, my first couple of LiBs the Woogie stage was set up ON a tree overlooking the crowd – it was iconic. 

A capture of the Woogie trees, by Erikha Cortes

Every year, attendees look forward to seeing how the Woogie stage evolves one way or another.  While the DJ booth itself isn’t up on a tree anymore and has become more ‘traditional’ for the new location, the Woogie art installations (we’re gonna call them Woogie trees) themselves have gotten bigger and more functional! This past year, there were water misters and shelves built into the trees for your dancing convenience, while the tops of the trees acted like canopies that provided shade on the dance floor. It gets pretty hot during the day as most festivals go, so I appreciated the well thought out design on Pocket Productions’ part. Towards the back of the stage, you’ll find these multi-tiered platforms you can stand on. They make for a great vantage point for when you want to elevate yourself from the crowd when you’re lost AF or when you just need a breather. 

Final Commencement Speech from an LiB graduate

It was my fourth year of going to LiB this past year (2015, 2016, and 2018) and for some reason, it just sounds like it has some weight to it, you know? The earlier months of 2022 still felt like we were all barely crawling out of the mental, depressive fog that had plagued the world due to Covid. Do you remember when every festival got cancelled for 2 years? I remember for Lightning in a Bottle 2020, I projected the online stream of it onto my bedroom wall, thinking about how magical it was for the Do Lab to still make it work – it gave me hope.

This last year was particularly special to me because it meant so much more than just going to a festival with my friends; I think we all wanted to feel something. We needed Lightning in a Bottle to shake us up and resuscitate us back to believing that there is more than just whatever… this is

Most of us were in the throes of major life transitions – job interviews, breakups, the continuing pandemic, you name it. I was going after a Founder Product Designer role for a startup. (Wow that’s a mouthful). I didn’t do so hot on my second interview and took that as a green light to #fullsend Lightning in a Bottle. Another friend of mine wasn’t having the best luck either and ended up coming last minute. On the plus side, she had just passed the NY Board Exams so she definitely deserved to let loose. Lastly, my brother from another mother works as a scientist and is constantly burnt out from running patient lab samples – endless, tedious work. We ALL desperately needed a break from the grind, and goddamnit, we did it with flying colors. 

Book your tickets for 2023 before it sells out – See you at the Woogie!

Photo captured at Lightning in a Bottle 2022 by Brittany Nofomo

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