Stepping foot onto Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Center, home to the this year’s annual Lightning in a Bottle, none other than the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place” immediately comes to mind.
Walking across the grounds of the site, one would never know they were in Bakersfield, California — let alone that it was LIB’s first year at this particular site.
From start to finish as the weekend progressed, it became crystal clear that this lyrical instinct was spot on, and LIB truly is more than just a music festival — it is a place unlike any other.
With no lack of color at every angle you look, the site is draped in interactive art installations, workshops led by experts in their craft, inspiring lectures, yoga and movement classes, and not of course, multiple music stages with over 240 artists performing throughout the weekend. At any time of any day, attendees have an opportunity to immerse themselves in a variety of creative experiences in this little city that never seems to never sleep.
The words “lose yourself” are embroidered into the wristbands attendees receive for entry, and serve as a constant reminder to do just that. Contrary to most music festivals with unforgiving set times and an almost competitive urge to make it from stage to stage and get an ideal spot in the crowd, LIB encourages its attendees to cultivate adventure away from the main stages, and follow whatever path their curiosity leads them down.
Labeling Lightning in a Bottle as a music festival seems to undermine the eclectic cultural experience the event puts on. Attendees can indulge in skating at the roller rink, float along the lake, take cooking and yoga classes, attend a lecture on climate change, and witness performances from some of music’s most remarkable artists all within a matter of hours. While planting yourself at a stage well in advance to get a “good spot” in the crowd seems necessary at many other festivals, this strategy almost seems like a waste of time at this event. With such an abundance of incredible things to see and do, every moment is to be taken advantage of.
The festival reduced its ticket sales by 25 percent in order to create a more intimate setting for attendees this year, reducing the crowd sizes at sets as well. Part of LIB’s unique atmosphere is the emphasis on community that stands at the heart of this festival, a core value neglected by other festivals. All attendees camp on site in a designated area, and although many come with a group of friends or family, many solo festival-goers are also present, and immerse themselves in making friends along the way, or reveling in a solitary spiritual experience. It is not uncommon for unfamiliar faces to walk up to you, embrace you in a hug, and ask for your name— that in itself is the sense of tight-knit community LIB aims to create.
What began as a birthday party back in 1999 has evolved into a home from all walks of life. LIB stands out among other music events and festivals on the market because of the core values that it holds true to, and the not just tolerant, but accepting community it cultivates. There is no room for dissemination of any sort on the festival grounds, only a “love thy neighbor” mentality and an openness to diverse creative expression.
This sort of atmosphere caters incredibly well to the dance parties and sonic experimentation that attendees have the opportunity to view day-in and day-out. Whether it’s a euphoric midnight Woogie set from DJ Koze, a spellbinding display of musical interplay from Khraungbin, or some DJ you’ve never heard of shaking down the Favela until 4 a.m., its rare to see festival-goers more enthralled and in-the-moment than they are at LIB.
Here, anyone and everyone is welcomed with open arms and an open heart, and is expected to embrace friends and strangers alike with the same mindset. It is no secret that there is convoluted a world beyond the perimeters of the festival, filled with injustice, intolerance, and prejudice. However, on the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Center property, a civilization built on ethical core principles not just exists, but thrives. Lightning in a Bottle does more than provide its attendees with a weekend of music and Instagram post-worthy moments, it serves as a model and a source of hope for a better, more inclusive world. And that is exactly what makes this the place.
Jovi Vella is a KCPR staff member and a Political Science sophomore. Max Chacon is a KCPR staff member and a Environmental Management and Protection senior. They wrote the article. Image credit to Juliana Bernstein | Lightning in a Bottle.