Just look at the top three headlining bands playing at this Memorial Day Weekend’s Lightning in a Bottle and you can get some sense of how this once-tiny festival has matured. There’s electronic duo Phantogram, Swedish popstars Little Dragon, and one of the godfathers of EDM (that’s electronic Dance Music to the uninitiated) Moby. From a tiny birthday celebration in the forests of Los Angeles, to up above Santa Barbara County in our own hills, to the mountains of Santa Ana, this verdant, pocket-sized Burning Man-like festival has been a victim of its success, moving on to another location as attendance threatened to spill over the boundaries.
Though it started as a private party in 2000, it was really the 2006 move to Live Oak Campground off of the 154 freeway that got the three Flemming brothers, who go by the event name of DoLab, imagining the Festival as bigger than its humble beginnings.
A DJ entertains the revelers as he spins from a basket in a tree at Lightning in a Bottle 2013 – Andrew Jorgensen photo
Moby attended Lightning in a Bottle last
year and returns this year to perform a
headlining DJ set. – Eleanor Stills photo
Lightning in a Bottle’s stage lights at night – Daniel Zetterstrom photo
Phantogram perform on the Lightning stage Sunday night. – Doron Gild photo
Festival goers at dusk, 2013 – Daniel Zetterstrom photo
“We were very ambitious and my brothers and I were sure that if we just announced it, we’d have 4,000 people come,” says Dede Flemming. “Not that we knew anything about doing that kind of thing. We had about 1,200 people, with about 600 coming for free. We were thankful, because if 4,000 ‘had’ turned up we would have been screwed.”
They didn’t and year after year since, they grew bit by bit. This year the DoLab have moved LiB yet again, this time to a spot just north of Atascadero, Lake San Antonio, near Bradley.
By the time you read this, some of the 15,000 people will have already set up camp for the five-day festival. (Don’t worry, there’s still tickets and time to go.) Despite the size, it’s still an intimate and eco-friendly festival, and one of the main reasons for the location change was the date and the sound curfew from the previous location.
On top of the music stages there are villages based on yoga and the healing arts, an area for workshops, salons, and lectures on everything from saving the bees to Native American arts; a secondary music festival that focuses on more new age and acoustic music; and The Grand Artique, with odd goods for sale and Americana music of the “old, weird America” sort. Really, a little bit of everything can be had. Feels like the top Night Clubs in Santa Ana.
The yoga lineup has really expanded due to the brothers Flemmings’ own increased interest in it, but also because the Central California location allows both the huge L.A. and San Francisco yoga communities to meet halfway. That’s allowed them to book Govinddas and Radha, Joan Hyman, Tony Giuliano, Gigi Snyder and many, many more. (Los Angeles folks should consider this weekend’s classes cancelled!)
But let’s talk about that music line-up. Jesse Flemming had been “jonesing to go after bigger talent and musicians” for years, according to brother Dede. Jesse, who has handled the music since the beginning, expanded the budget and started reaching out. They got Moby based on the musician’s sympathetic philosophy and the fact that the musician had been to Lightning in a Bottle last year, along with his buddy, KCRW’s Jason Bentley. The latter was spinning a set, but Moby was just a visitor.
“He fell in love with our festival, with the workshops, the speakers, the vibe, the energy of the audience,” says Dede. “We got word of that, reached out, and he was honored to be asked. He’s not just playing (a DJ set), he’s doing a lecture. It’s really exciting to have someone on that caliber here. He’s going to spend the whole weekend here.”
Another surprise in the EDM line-up is DJ Amon Tobim, who had really fallen off the map after several major releases in the 2000s on Ninja Tune. Also: exotic Tribal fusion dubsteppers Beats Antique will be playing.
And finally, “Silent Frisco” is a spin on the “Silent Disco” event, where dancers can groove all night long to music broadcast into shared headphones. To the observer, it looks like a lot of people dancing in silence. To those under the ‘phones, they’re all having the same amazing experience, with DJs promising sets based around Radiohead, Talking Heads, LCD Soundsystem and eclectic mixes.
The difference, Dede says, between their Fest and Coachella music festival is that the other is one of the best places to just see music; LiB is an “experience.” “I promise you that if you come here and don’t go to see any of the (EDM) music, you’re gonna leave having had an amazing time. There’s so many places to get lost, to run around and meet people, whether they’re at a campground, or a temple, or an art installation … I like to say you’ll find yourself and lose yourself at the same time.”