Lightning in a Bottle has evolved over the years from an extended birthday bash and summer celebration to a spiritual gathering supported by an organized group of artists. They are The Do LaB, working together with an ever-expanding network of artists in what amounts to a type of spiritual economy. Lightning in a Bottle has outgrown the Santa Barbara foothills where it started, and this Memorial Day Weekend was held by Lake Chapman down in Irvine. Thousands of people came to have a good time and a retreat in the wilderness.
A mecca of creativity, supported by artistic performance, artisanship, sustainable community builders, and New Wave mysticism, of which drugs are an essential component, it is an environment like no other. There were three music stages near the shores of the lake—the Woogie, Bamboo, and Lightning Stages—and musical nooks everywhere. The music was an interesting blend, ranging from electronic music dissecting the mathematics of moods and emotions, to deejays and live bands. There were art galleries, kid zones, a market, and a strip of vendors. Up a hill lined by glowing red lanterns were the campgrounds.
It was a mix between a carnival and a church. There were temples everywhere, altars in leopard print with Egyptian inspiration, elaborate carvings of ancient figures, canopied shrines, religious images taken and updated according to the times and modern experience. The spirituality that Lightning in a Bottle sets out to cultivate gives thanks to the Earth and as well as to the people in one’s environment. Plenty of educational activities accompanied the revelry, from yoga and other forms of meditation to lectures on feminism and workshops on such topics as medicinal herb gardening, joyful activism, and gray-water systems to conserve water by reusing it in the garden.
But the people—the people! Imagine men and women walking on stilts with top hats, whips, and bottles of wine. Warriors wheeling fire on chains, while women dance with hoops in flames and bangles in their hair. Imagine people dressed up as animals, and acting like animals or whatever they might dream of. The whole place smelled of sex. There were men selling sage out of wooden chests, people carrying gems, lectures on magnets—and that’s not the half of it. There were families, businessmen, investors, realtors, truly a diverse company, with a thousand things to entertain anyone.
The camps were packed, lined with johns and plastic portable sinks. Everyone left the liquor and food out in the open; few people steal, said the vendors, because their honor is at stake. Tents were less than two feet apart, there was music all night, people singing, people dancing and ushering up the sunrise with tambourines. People seemed to know each other quite well and planned on seeing one another at different festivals. There was a sense of intimacy between complete strangers. Once a small group, they have continuously connected to more artists, and more performances, and diversified their collective skills.
I’ve never seen so many strange and wild things in a single weekend The business was unusual. Participants represented a network of workers from all over California, Oregon, and even Utah who refuse to follow corporate pathways—here they all seemed to be, with their unique goods and sense of close camaraderie. Vendors claimed that there wasn’t much competition because they are all friends. What takes place instead of rivalry, they agreed, is a system of support. People respect each other’s creativity and buy from each other. What distinguishes them from most business communities, they said and demonstrated, is the level of care and joy put into the pieces of production, each one a work of art.
Fire Groove, one of the businesses, provides fire toys. Sasha, of Slouch Designs, based in Studio City, brought a sewing machine to the festival so that she could provide spontaneous, inspired goods. By the festival’s end she was giving away beautiful clothes, while making conversation with those who passed by. Sasha said that nobody really makes a lot of money, but the vast benefits their lifestyle conferred couldn’t be measured in dollar signs. Even just the act of camping gives one the opportunity to see what one consumes, she said. One learns how to get along with others in a community, a learning that she said radiates outward. One exposes oneself to the elements, parties safely, “lives in full health.”
During the final ceremonies, Do LaB members said they considered the event a success, and confirmed their belief “in the power of shared intention.” They hoped that people walked away with a sense of honor and love that they could carry with them.
Truly, Lightning in a Bottle was an impressive demonstration of what partying with a purpose looks like.