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
lightninginabottle.org or call (213) 688- 9012

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