Somewhere submerged deep in the heart of Irvine, California, on the outskirts of Orange County, something magical transpired over the course of the Memorial Day Weekend – the return of The Do LaB’s unparalleled Lightning In A Bottle Festival. But this full sensory experience is far from your ordinary summer music festival. It’s a celebration and a convergence of a community that has continued to grow strongly in size, stature and spirit over the course of the decade since its inception.
Lightning In A Bottle is a place unlike anywhere we’ve ever been before and for our first time, we tried to adhere to the advice that The Do LaB so wisely instilled in us before we departed.
“I think that people should come here with an open mind,” said Dede Flemming, who along with his brothers, Jesse and Josh and their equally passionate partners at The Do LaB put this festival together. “They’re gonna see things that they haven’t really experienced at other festivals or other parties they’ve gone to before.”
“People try to take in everything at Coachella,” Jesse added.
Here they’re gonna miss half the things that they want to see because they’ll discover some nook that will suck them in and take their whole weekend away but they’ll have the greatest time.
For the festival’s rebirth (after a one-year hiatus to go in search of a new location to call home), the Flemming brothers spanned the entire state and eventually came to Oak Canyon Ranch. They teamed up with Gary James, the leaseholder of the property, who offered his unwavering support and helped them set up shop at the sprawling, mountain-encompassed site. The beautiful grounds also come complete with a large lake and ample amounts of greenery, which is a departure from the festival’s humble beginnings.
“It started about ten years ago as a mountain party in the woods for Jesse and Josh,” Dede explained. “There were about a hundred people. In year two, I think we had 300 people. Then five years ago we decided to make it a proper overnight festival where we charged people for the first time and that went well. But then we took a year off last year to really dial it in and get the right location to really do what we wanted to do which was throw a music festival.”
“We’ve kind of brought the right group of people together,” added Jesse.
The word of mouth has been pretty amazing over the years and I think that’s the best thing we’ve had going for us.
The steady buzz has intensified in recent years by the growing numbers of artists that now clamor to be a part of the eco-friendly festival. The musical acts that Jesse selected for the 2010 lineup were packed full of plenty of diversity and featured a plethora of new faces mixed among LIB veterans, such as our old pal from PANTyRAiD, Marty Party.
One of our first night’s adventures took us to see his slamming set at the Bamboo Stage (which was indeed constructed from ample amounts of bamboo reeds). He seemed to be having the time of his life and his infectious energy transferred directly to the thousands that were dancing euphorically in the open field in front of him.
“I always think of it as banging a hole through the consciousness,” he told me after his set as we sat amongst friends at his campsite. “All that shit I played tonight, all that energy has now gone out into the universe.”
For an artist like Marty, who has been tight with The Do LaB since those early parties, it was through attending an event like Lightning In A Bottle that helped him realize that he wanted to produce music for a living.
“After that I started writing music and now here I am playing one of the main stages, so this event is extra special because my friends throw it which is really important to me because we’ve been together for such a longtime,” he explained. “The Flemming family as a whole and all The Do LaB volunteers, I’m friends with all of them. I even volunteered one year to help them out at Burning Man.”
It’s the shared love for the environment and the community which The Do LaB has cultivated here that plays a big part in why so many artists are so eager to play here and help out in any way they can (such as Sidecar Tommy from headliners Beats Antique flipping veggie burgers).
“The artists are our friends too,” said Sheena Turlington, who served as the Environmental Director for the festival and is an integral part of the collective.
There’s just so much talent in our community as well, so it just keeps popping up and growing. If they’re not already part of the community, they come to one event and all of a sudden they are a part of it.
“I think a big part of it is that the artists want to play with us,” Dede explained. “They come here and look at this as a vacation. They don’t just fly in and fly out. We’re setting up tents for all of them and they’re hanging out for the weekend. They use this as their release where they get to be with their friends. So I think it’s something the artists really look forward to which makes it easier on us, because they’re calling us too, we’re not just calling them.”
When I spoke with longtime Lightning In A Bottle performer An-ten-nae after his well-received set on Saturday, he echoed those sentiments before departing to join the fray.
“With a festival like this on the West Coast, all your friends are here and it’s a good place where you can really party instead of not only performing.”
“Here it’s like the artists aren’t separated from the people that participate in the event so everyone kind of mingles together and I think the artists really appreciate that,” added Jesse. “I know the people do. There’s Adam Freeland just walking across the festival hanging out.”
For the aforementioned Mr. Freeland, who had just emerged from another camping expedition in the Joshua Tree forest, he seemingly couldn’t get enough of the outdoors and is an especially big fan of “The Flemm’s” and Lightning In A Bottle.
“It’s wicked,” he told just minutes before he took to the stage. “It’s just a great posse of people gathered here!”
“I never know quite what I’m gonna play but I’m just gonna do my thing with Rudy Coby.”
In what would become one of the most talked-about performances of the entire event, “The Coolest magician on Earth” teamed up with his musical hero for an impromptu Mad Scientist-inspired improv act. Coby brought along with quite a few cohorts on stage (including Freeland’s girlfriend) and their stage spectacle seamlessly synchronized to Freeland’s ferocious set. The crazy joint performance was as much a surprise to the audience as it was to Freeland, who had only agreed to team-up with Coby just days prior. It was during this spectacular set that I lost my mind (along with the rest of the crowd) to a particularly inspired remix of the Beastie Boys’ classic cut, “Sabotage” from Freeland’s labelmate, Alex Metric. When I finally gathered myself, I ran into the enchanting Ms. Krystee, another exceptional artist who had opened up the Bamboo stage the day before and who earned her slot on the bill by winning a mixtape contest comprised of a comprehensive mix of the artists that were to perform.
“This is my debut DJ performance,” she excitedly shared with me as we rocked out to Freeland’s closing songs. “It hasn’t even hit me yet. I opened the Bamboo stage, which is totally mental because Adam Freeland was the first person I danced an entire set to from start to finish and now here I am playing on the same bill with him!”
Lightning In A Bottle has that kind of mystical magic in the air at every turn. Anything is possible here because the open-mindedness and compassion that those in attendance have for each other and the festival is so overwhelming that when all seems lost, it’s through a chance encounter or a simple warm “hello” from a stranger that can really help to restore your faith in humanity.
“Thanks, I really need to keep hearing that because I’m having a nightmare of a time right now,” said Dede when we ran into him on Saturday during the peak of the madness. “But inside the (festival) walls, it’s been nothing but smiles and happy stories and amazing experiences. That’s why I needed to come in here and stop and not listen to this (walkie-talkie) for a minute and have a beer. Otherwise, what am I doing it for?”
While us and thousands of others were enjoying one memorable minute after the next, the tireless team of Dede, Jesse, Josh and everyone behind the scenes at The Do LaB were busting their butts to help control the unseen chaos.
“All of us are,” he explained. “I’ve taken in little pockets here and there, but there’s too much going on. We’re not here to have fun, we’re here so that everyone else has fun.”
We’re making shit happen right now but we’re also thinking ahead to next year. Like I told you about the owner, Gary, this guy is in the parking lot with me parking cars and he keeps talking about next year, so he’s been loving it.
After such a long struggle to find a suitable home, Dede and The Do LaB are certainly hoping that Oak Canyon Ranch can become just that as they’ve already got big plans for the future in mind for their new home.
“I hope to God,” he laughed. “We’re gonna get the whole lake next year and take this thing to the next level!”
“You still can’t swim in the lake but we want to be able to have camping out there,” he added. “We want to expand this festival because we’re bursting at the seams in the first year at this venue, so we have room to grow. I’ve talked to all the key players and everyone seems to be on board right now.”
The innovative ideas and passion that the people at The Do LaB have for their events is seemingly limitless. They’ve already sparked something special in the United States and now their forward-thinking events are headed overseas as well, with stops at some of the major European festivals this summer.
“As soon as we leave here we’re going there,” Dede shared. “We have a shipping container coming here next week when we break this down and it’s going straight to Europe. We’re gonna send two and a half months this summer doing seven different festivals.”
While Europe has long set the standard for forward-thinking festivals like The Big Chill, attendees have never experienced anything quite like Lightning In A Bottle. Richly infused with many different elements like music, art, performance, yoga, and thought-provoking lectures all wrapped around an environmentally friendly message (there were Biodiesel shuttles, waste-sorting bins and plenty of free water) Lightning In A Bottle offered up exciting and enriching experiences for people of all ages.
“We didn’t sit here and say, ‘Alright, let’s have a tree planting,” Dede explained. “It’s because we have friends that are really involved in that world that brought that to the table. So all the different elements and their strengths are what we incorporate into this festival and that’s why it’s so multi-faceted.”
“I’ve never been to anything else like this,” added Nosaj Thing, another of the talented artists that we saw perform. “It’s got a real open vibe which is cool and also the fact that there are a lot of creative people here.”
The people of Lightning In A Bottle certainly play a big part in what makes the festival so special. Upon entrance you feel welcomed from the start with a hug and it’s through the unique camping experience here where you can really get to know the people you came with better than ever as well as make new friends fast and even reunite with those forgotten faces you haven’t seen since Burning Man.
“All the people that come are super passionate about things,” said Heather Shaw, who helps Josh with the building and creation of the stage concepts. “We’re super passionate about the art, the music, the family and the community, which has just gotten bigger and bigger.”
Everybody that comes is part of this huge community that really cares about the planet and each and other wants to support each other and you can just feel that when you go.
Dede had some excellent advice for what the future holds for us and his thoughts on Sinning In LA’s coverage of Lightning In A Bottle.
“The next time you come to one of our events, you’re gonna come prepared to really dive into the culture and the environment that we’ve kind of set up for everybody.”
We’re only too happy to help play our part in spreading the message of the movement that The Do LaB is at the forefront of. We thank them and all those that were in attendance for their love, passion and immense dedication that they have for this creative community that we now call family.
When the wild weekend was done, I replayed through my mind the loads of inside jokes and lasting memories of new friends and plastic body parts (see the photos) but it was Adam Freeland’s final words to me that echoed around my brain as we drove out of Oak Canyon Ranch.
“Who would have thought you could have so much fun in the OC?”