Better than Burning Man

The Do Lab Presents Lightning in a Bottle at Live Oak Campground

by Molly Freedenberg

Some people are just insane. That’s the only conclusion to come to when confronted with evidence of the Do Lab, the Los Angeles artists’ collective behind the most outrageous, impressive, magical, and ambitious projects I’ve encountered in the last few years.

The 80-foot mobile flower at Burning Man? The Do Lab’s doing.

The giant dome full of performance artists dancing in a cardboard jungle at Coachella? The Lab again.

The crazy Goth circus freaks in Panic! at the Disco’s music video? Yep, also the Lab, by way of Lucent Dossier, the group’s performance arm.

And now, the Do Lab is at it right in our backyard. Starting July 14, the group will host Lightning in a Bottle, a three-day festival featuring DJs, live acts, workshops, vegetarian food, environmentally friendly philosophy, and a community-building mission — all at the Live Oak Campground, 50 acres of private land off Highway 154 near Lake Cachuma.

In true Do Lab form, the festival has several grand visions. Aesthetically, it will be a magical fairyland, with everything from the shape of the stages to the color of the shade structures designed for maximum effect. Environmentally, the event will be partially powered with solar energy — with the intent of making future events 100 percent solar — in order to minimize the waste that festivals usually create. Entertainment-wise, the Do Lab’s high standards are ensured due to their handpicking of more than 40 performers. That list features the most innovative DJs, bands, dancers, and artists from the West Coast, including the massively popular DJ Cheb i Sabbah and the should-be-massively popular San Francisco-based vaudeville troupe the Yard Dogs Road Show.

And all of this is part of a plan to connect, inspire, and financially sustain a community of artists who have few chances to be together otherwise.

“Some of the most amazing art and music is coming out of the West Coast right now,” said Jesse Flemming, who founded the Do Lab along with his twin Josh, their younger brother Dede, and their like-a-sister friend Dream Rockwell. “A lot of them know each other and have worked together, but there aren’t many events that pool everyone together.”

But wait. Doesn’t Burning Man do just that?

Yes and no, according to Jesse. Burning Man brings together communities, but it’s also built to allow anyone to do anything, producing a result that’s often over-stimulating and cacophonous. Lightning in a Bottle offers something that Burning Man doesn’t: selectiveness. The Do Lab gets to pick from those groups, born of Burning Man’s creativity, who have honed and perfected their craft in the real world. “The best of the best,” explained Jesse.

And unlike at Burning Man, these artists will get paid for participating. In fact, that’s a major tenet of the Lab’s philosophy: supporting the community by helping artists live from their art. When the Lab has a commercial gig with Lexus or Ford, they hire friends to help them. And when they organize events like Lightning, they pay their artists.

“If we weren’t paying anybody, we wouldn’t be doing the community much good,” said Jesse.

As for the festival itself, no one knows exactly what to expect. Though the group has thrown a similar summer party six times already, this is the first time it’s been legal. And though they’ve previously hosted as many as 1,700 people, this event is expected to draw upward of 3,000. The reliance on green energy is an experiment, as are the workshops on everything from belly dancing to biodiesel. And there are several other wild cards in the mix: a 10 p.m. sound curfew and an off-limits river on the property.

It will be hard for the notoriously hedonistic crowd to get used to both ideas. But the Lab decided the land is so perfect — with its pavilions and showers and shade — that the challenges were worth embracing. So the amplified sound will go all day, with nighttime reserved for drum circles, fire pits, and smaller-scale entertainment. As for the river, Jesse hopes festival goers will respect the Lab’s relationship with Live Oak’s owners enough to stay out — no matter how appetizing it looks during the hot summer days.

“It’s going to get pretty weird, I’m sure,” Jesse laughed. “But it will be interesting to see what happens.”

And I’m sure he’s right, which is why I’m just crazy enough to go see for myself.

4-1-1 Lightning in a Bottle goes down July 14-16 at the Live Oak Campground off Highway 154. Tickets are $100 advance or $125 at the door, and include camping, performances, and all workshops. No one-day passes are available. Kids up to 12 are free, 13-16 are $30. For more information, visit or call (213) 688- 9012

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