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Melding The Old with the New: A Full Circle Lightning in a Bottle 2023 Experience

CYM’s Lightning in a Bottle dream team – Erikha Fay and Kat Stevens

When I first started plotting my 5th annual return to Lightning in a Bottle, I kicked it off by compiling an all-in one guide with Compose Yourself Magazine in January. I then spent every day leading up to the festival sorting out the details of my cross country trip from Chicago to Bakersfield. Every second of work it took to get me there was worth it, because this was by far the best Lightning in a Bottle I’ve ever been to. 

There is something so gratifying and fulfilling to reunite with an extended group of friends for an annual, music filled weekend like this. Over the years we’ve all moved states, switched careers, and had every other major life chapter in between, but we still manage to come together to bask in the glow that is Lightning in a Bottle.

For me, what really made this year’s Lightning so special is the fact my friends and I were all on the same page. For a few of us, it was our 5th or 6th time going. For others, it was their first or second time. In retrospect, we really did have freshman, sophomore, seniors and super seniors. What a rare, beautiful thing to have such a good balance! It cultivated a certain level of respect towards each other along with a bit of mentorship too. Perhaps that sounds a little silly, but we had a lot to learn from each other and I think that’s awesome! We all had similar tastes in music and vibes, so that made it really easy being around each other. So much that we actually stayed together for the most part. And if we were to split up, the group was big enough to split into even parts. Buddy system was always in play, and no one was ever by themselves. 

P.S. This POV is coming from someone who is naturally introverted and selectively extroverted. I love meeting new people, but I can still be pretty shy and picky. But this year was so special and different. This year recreated the feeling of when I first went to LIB ever. I am so blessed with the people I got to meet and go with this year. S/O to my Volvo Dancers. Eggplant and 5th, baby.


Thursday was such a great indicator of the good time that was waiting for us that weekend. In the past, I remember Thursday being mostly mellow and a mild teaser. I love going to the 80’s Prom, which Lightning has every year. This year, I wasn’t expecting Thursday to be so robust but Purple Disco Machine warmed us up BIG TIME. The Woogie was packed from front to back as we danced under the Chesire crescent moon. The familiar 4×4 coming from the massive speakers thumped our faces off. We tried to leave so many times to make it Prom, but the hold on us was too good. Every few feet, we’d look at each other and decide to stay for “oNe mOrE sOnG.”

When my crew was finally able to walk away from the Woogie stage to bop our way to the Junkyard, my friend Viv and I instinctively turned our heads to each other and both said, “It’s only Thursday.” Like a magical synchronized moment in time, we both understood that we were in for something really special for the rest of the weekend. Cue instant belly laughs and confirmation that we’re all tapped into the same channel. Magic, I’m telling you. This is Lightning in a Bottle’s 20th Anniversary, after all.


Friday played host to some of the festivals’ biggest headliners, like Diplo and Sofi Tukker. But it was also the day I remember seeing new female favorites like Nala, Blond:Ish and Elif.

Earlier in the afternoon we caught Baby Weight’s tail end going into Nala’s funky retro set. Baby Weight played a remix of Hilary Duff’s “Come Clean” that got everybody joining in the dancefloor in the semi-blistering heat. It was bubbly, it was hot, it was gay and merry. I noticed that they ever so slightly moved the Woogie Stage to the left this time. I think it’s to create more shade, and I thought that was very strategic.  

When Nala came on, she tickled us with retro bangers like ‘Funky Town’ and ‘Tainted Love’, giving us the perfect afternoon Boogie at the Woogie vibes. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Nala for a short interview – please look out for that in a separate piece!

Interview with Nala. Photo by Kat Stevens


Saturday was THEE day. Usually, the day that everybody lets loose the most. That was also the night Mindchatter played, the artist I was most looking forward to finally seeing live for the first time – and hot damn was it a tasty treat for everybody. We caught both of his sets at Lightning Stage and Grand Artique. His live set was a vaporwave fantasy (can you imagine Glass Animals on steroids?). The incredible visuals that went with his signature, surrealist sound added to the immersive experience; it felt like I was entering new levels of a video game with every transition he made. I couldn’t even begin to explain the amount of thought and creativity that went into each animation sequence.

As a motion design enthusiast myself, I found myself in awe the whole time. The added value of making your own visuals to go with the music you create is top-notch performance and dedication. I am even more of a fan now after seeing both his sets on Saturday. Oh, and he sings live on top of his tracks, in case you haven’t heard of him before. Seeing his live performance was like witnessing a magic show all coming together – the seamless transitions, the vocals, the intentional spoken word, the visuals – hands down the BEST dance party I have ever been to. Smiles all around.

Lastly, he played a remix of Young Folks that got every millennial right in the feels. Oh my FREAKIN god, it was so good. He has a unique talent for bringing the past into the present through these remixes that keep the original melodies while injecting his own flair into them. I am so grateful that we caught his live set from start to finish. Wow. There’s nothing better than the feeling of looking around the crowd and seeing your best friends get down with you. What are some of those moments for you? One too many to count, I hope!

Photo by Divisuals (courtesy of Lightning in a Bottle)

After Mindchatter, our crew quickly made our way over to Ben Bohmer at the Woogie where we caught some of his feel good bops. Goosebumps appear as I sit here by my kitchen counter sifting through his songs on Spotify to try and remember which song he closed with. Beyond Beliefs, ahh. There it is. I close my eyes and think back at the moment I shared with my friends sitting down at the Woogie, with thousands of streamers and confetti in flight above us. 

Overall, Final Highlights of LiB:

The festival felt so much more spacious this year. The left side of Lightning had so much space for sets like Caribou and Mindchatter. It was such a pleasant surprise to be relatively close to the front and have room to DANCE!

There are some sets that are meant to be experienced FULLY immersed inside a crowd: intoxicated by you, your crew and your neighbor’s energy. Because when you ARE in the middle of the crowd, deep in the pit, it becomes a whole separate experience on its own. 

POV: You’re deep in the pit for REZZ. Photo by Erika Fay

Here are my top 7 music performances from when we were immersed deep in the pit: 

  1. Blond:Ish at Woogie
  2. REZZ at Lightning
  3. Elif at Junkyard
  4. Mindchatter at Lightning
  5. Mindchatter DJ Set at Grand Artique
  6. LSDream at Thunder
  7. Kaipora Stacks

Extra(terrestrial) Honorable Mention: Martian Circus Sound Bath

Extending an invitation to dance and explore the ‘multi-dimensionality of reality’, the Martian Circus is a live electronic house band with their own stage and are long time veterans of the festival. We found ourselves waltzing in and out of the stage on Saturday night, and our whole crew was given special 3D glasses that instantly transformed the place into a glitchy, neon cosmic galaxy. We loved it so much that we came back a third time for their Sound Bath from 4am-6am.

Our group unanimously decided we needed to experience this together and we certainly made the right choice. I had never attended any of the sound baths before and this one was truly unique; a full-on ethereal experience. A pianist played sunrise-worthy melodies for HOURS, literally from 4am-6am. The bands’ singers possessed melodies that truly made me believe birds were joining in the chorus – it was incredible to witness. I laid on a beanbag with my best friend and reminisced about our years at Lightning in a Bottle and how this year’s was truly one of the fucking best. And that Saturday might actually be the best day of my life. We shared a hug and felt our souls heal in the most incredible way. We were on top of the world. I cried as he thanked me for telling him about LiB in the first place. And now here we were, his 6th year and my 5th. We’ve done so much growing since then. 

Thank you Lightning in a Bottle for serving as this portal to our truest selves. We love being reminded that it’s okay to be silly human beans. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Lightning in a Bottle 2023 Crew Polaroid Snap

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