Lightning in a Bottle is officially my favorite American festival and my favorite of its kind, and this Lightning in a Bottle Guide + Festival Review will tell you all you could possibly need to know about this Californian transformational festival out in the hills near Bradley, California. From LIB camping to lineups, security, fashion, organization, crowd, and costs… keep reading!
LIB was previously situated in the middle of rolling hills north of San Luis Obispo, California, but has actually changed to a new location in Kern County for 2019. So the venue information below will be outdated, but I have no doubt that the ethos of the festival will remain the same and that all the stages, crowd info, vibe, fashion, music, timings, weather, and more will remain accurate.
LIB is a mindful, conscious, and beautiful festival appreciating all kinds of art, culture, and expression. With an incredible lineup but much more to do than that, you are constantly spoilt for choice over how to spend your time here! The Do LaB puts on this festival, and I can’t speak highly enough of the awesome company. They put on the most awesome and fun stage at Coachella, and when you have an entire festival put on by them – an entire weekend of Do Labbing – well, it’s just the best. They never fail to have an incredible lineup even when I don’t know the artists myself. I basically fully trust that if the Do LaB has chosen the artists, then they will be good, and LIB really proved this to be truer than ever. So here’s my Lightning in a Bottle Guide + festival review for anyone who has been or wants to go to this amazing festival!
LIB has a new location in Kern County for 2019 – check their promotional video and article right here to learn about the new venue.
Lightning in a Bottle (was) held at San Antonio Recreation Area. This is a hilly and dusty but beautiful area about ten miles away from the little town of Bradley, California – about an hour north of SLO. It’s pretty remote, so the only option is to camp, but there is plenty of space! The venue is pretty massive so it requires a lot of walking, but the cool thing is that you can pretty much camp wherever you want. Once you enter the venue through the one road that goes in and out of the area and they scan your wristband, you’re in for good – meaning there are no more wristband or bag checks anymore. It’s awesome. Its pretty much a free for all once you get in (and the whole time really) so you can just bring your stuff to wherever you want to camp, even by the stages if that’s what you’re into. The only restriction would be whether you have car camping or not, but I’ll go into that later!
The roads going through the venue all have names, and the camping ‘patches’ are named as well. The main festival venue is on what they call three ‘peninsulas,’ which are plateau protrusions from the main road with little valleys in between them all. There are multiple bridges over all these valleys however, making it easier for attendees not to have to walk up and down too many hills.
The venue has almost too many things to list out! There are three main stage areas, all decorated awesomely in classic Do LaB fashion with colorful fabric in awesome shapes waving in the wind. These main stages should be the same in their new venue as well as the old one. They are:
The Woogie: The deepest stage. Descend into the depths of all kinds of deep and tech house here.
Lightning: The mannish stage, with the most variety of music or most mainstream music, if you could really call any of this music that!
Thunder: The most hard-hitting stage, where you’ll find all the trap, crazy lights, and nasty bass.
There are other smaller stages everywhere as well, all with their own lineups also. You can find some more groovy deep house at Favela Bar, which is almost a baby Woogie stage and what I would say is to LIB what the Do LaB is to Coachella. You can climb up all sorts of little tree houses as well. The Pagoda bar is a pretty little bar area right on the top of a hill, and the Lost Hotel is a legit little hotel area with its own dj booth where people stay in tarped rooms. There’s the Grand Artique stage, which is sort of country/wild west themed, and the burlesque casino which is like a little circus tent that puts on all sorts of shows.
All of these smaller bars/stages have music later than the main stages, and you will find people gathering here after the main stage have ended.
Yoga: There are a few yoga tents and different kinds of yoga on the schedule too, going on all day. Each session is a different kind of yoga, and the schedule tells you all the zillions of different practices you can choose from.
Meditation Lookout: The sunset/sunrise spot of the festival and where to go to get a little zen. This amazing area is atop a hill that looks out over the whole festival grounds. There are crystals and art everywhere – hanging from trees and surrounding the area. There was a massive Eagle shaped from rocks that was visible from everywhere in the venue, and an area with pillows, mattresses, and soft grounds covered in sheets that you had to take off your shoes to get into. Everyone would applaud the sunset each night here with the same amount of enthusiasm as a rowdy crowd at a sports game. It really was beautiful.
Temple of Consciousness: This spans across a few different tents – the Temple, Healing Sanctuary and Mystery School – where they put on all sorts of talks, meditations, seminars, and sessions of all kinds. There are so many different kinds of topics it’s almost overwhelming to look through everything LIB puts on!! I attended a few guided meditations, a Buddhism talk, and some other sessions ranging in topic from issues in the medical field to attaining a certain level of consciousness to how to be a great leader to being a homemaker. It really is incredible! You could spend almost the entire festival expanding your knowledge about heaps of issues, controversial subjects, or just really interesting topics, or meditating on anything you like.
Learning Kitchen: A place to learn about all sorts of cooking. There were seminars on coffee, raw eating, benefits of being gluten free, how to make easy healthy meals, and much more. A great place to come to refresh your kitchen knowledge!
The Village: The Village was an awesome little social experiment bringing the idea of village living to life. There was a little stage with performances, and five or six little tents all with different participatory talks revolving around the topics of homemaking, living in harmony with others, and working together, sometimes with little art projects as well.
Shopping: My god, was there shopping at this festival. There were rows and rows of vendors, selling everything you could ever want or need for a festival. All sorts of burning man-esque awesome festival fashion was available, and honestly any accessory you could need – goggles, jewelry of every kind, yoga clothes, waist bags, the weirdest/most awesome colorful fabrics, cat ears, spirit hoods that would save an animal, etc. It was hard to keep myself away from these shops!
Art: This festival is basically synonymous with art. There were installations and different interesting creative things on every corner, even when you couldn’t directly tell what it was. Lots of really fascinating stuff.
Observatory: Kindof hidden behind the Lightning stage was a little observatory with telescopes to stare out into the depths of space. A friend of mine saw Saturn! Pretty cool.
Lightning in a Bottle Crowd
The crowd at LIB was very, very Californian. Like almost completely Californian, I would reckon. It was kind of the type of situation where you ask people if they’re from NorCal or SoCal, not where in the world they’re from. I maybe heard one or two different accents. But nonetheless it was awesome! It was a lot of the Californian burner community, meaning that everyone here really was on the same vibe.
Sometimes at bigger festivals you get people who don’t really ‘get’ the festival vibe and don’t really know what to do there – they expect to come and have the fun to happen to them. But here, everyone knew exactly what they were there for. LIB’ers knew what they were there for, they were creating the fun, could handle their own sh*t, and were going for it. Everyone was on the same page MUCH more than pretty much any festival I’ve been to.
A quick side story – one night around sunset we were randomly asked if we wanted to take part in a wedding.
Surely enough, we witnessed the most committed of ‘LIB weddings.’ the bride came up with a bouquet, someone read them their vows, and they had a very romantic kiss with the after party seeing Four Tet at the Woogie. What were their vows? Do you promise to always find each other when lost in the crowd? I do. Do you promise to cuddle when resting at the Temple of Consciousness? I do. Do you commit to each other until the very end of the festival? I do.
The vibe here is really kind of intense, awesome, strange, and so open.
This festival is pretty niche and it would be easy to be kind of overwhelmed with it if you didn’t know what to expect. And what I mean by that is that people are going ALL OUT here. Absolutely nothing held back. Outfits, dancing, behavior… literally nothing held back. There’s no one here to prove anything to. Coachella, for example, can become a fashion scene for attendees to be seen and act cool, but LIB is like the festival you go to to let your freak flag freakin’ FLY. People will love you for it and join you in it.
Like, some guy meowed at me and I meowed back at him then we just continued walking. This was normal. I was walking along and smiling at everyone and some guy and I just decided to have a nice warm hug and then continue along. Someone started roaring when he hugged my friend and we just went along with it. You start random conversations with people everywhere. Girls are sometimes topless; people are wearing the most outlandish outfits and dancing in the most no-one-is-watching type of way. It’s THAT kind of vibe – open, weird, and accepted. So just basically roll with everything and make sure to be a part of it.
Like I kind of already went into above, the atmosphere is awesome. Think – deep, colorful, flowing fabric contrasting against the beige and green rolling hills in the distance, with the occasional herd of black cows strolling by in the distance. All the tents, stages, and areas were so colorful but also had lots of earth tones mixed in, with art pieces made of wood, sticks, gems, and stones. A lot of the decorations were simple yet totally effective, and sometimes it was beautiful to really stop and look at something to take it in.
Lightning in a Bottle Lineup/Music/Artists
The lineup is always great at LIB. Again, if it’s put on by the Do LaB, I will always trust the lineup to be full of talent no matter if I have heard of the artists or not. One of my favorite things is just wandering stage to stage and seeing what’s going on – listening to the music of artists I haven’t heard of and discovering something new. And every time I did this at LIB, I was impressed by the artists playing. There was a great variation of genre (within electronic music) and the artists that played were all super good in their genres.
I would say the predominant genres were deep/tech house, glitch/bass and trap, and more vibey live shows that mixed a few genres together. The headliners were Four Tet, Guy Gerber, Andhim, Lee Burridge (Woogie/Deep), Chet Faker, Jamie XX, Moderat, Grimes (Lightning/Varied) Cashmere Cat, Tokimosta, Panty Raid, Mija (Thunder/Trap/bass). Good names, good stuff. But honestly, I got sucked into artists I didn’t know who were throwing down at Favela Bar more often than not. Music was great everywhere.
Pictured: Jamie XX… probably one of the best shows of my life.
Lightning in a Bottle Camping Guide
Camping at LIB = a massive free-for-all. You can camp on either side of the venue. There are loads of camping spots on the side where you drive in, and also on the other side of the venue from the entrance. Keep in mind, there is only one road in and out of the venue, so the farther away you go, the farther back you have to come. I know someone who got stuck in traffic for 8 hours trying to get out on Monday. But I’ll go into that later. Another thing to remember is that it’s very very dusty.
Most camping is tent camping, where you park in a lot and bring all your stuff to a camping patch wherever you want. For this I could strongly recommend having things on wheels. I brought a wagon, a dolly, and a rolling cooler. Things are pretty spread out here so it would be good to stake out a spot before dragging all your things around in the dirt.
It’s not necessary, but I would recommend car camping at LIB to save the issue of moving your stuff around. This year we found out we had a car camping spot like 20 minutes before arriving, and it was a massive relief. It’s nice to have your car to lock things up and charge phones and use mirrors, but again, it’s not necessary. The car camping spots are also closer to the main venue I believe.
There is a boutique camping area with nice tents and extra amenities near the Woogie for an extra cost. It seemed pretty cool from what I know.
Other LIB Camping Tips
You don’t get allocated space here at LIB; you can take up as much space as you want. Our friends got there on Wednesday (early arrival pass) and staked out a massive area for us all to fill when we arrived.
Because it’s still a massive free-for-all, we were able to find a little nook to pull my car into and space for our tent too. It’s not strictly first-come-first-serve; you can still pull up to a camp spot that has already been established here, unlike many festivals.
We had the raddest camping area with multiple EZ ups, tables, tapestries, and supplies; a cooking area and a lounging area and all that. This is definitely a festival to go all out for the camping, because there aren’t any stores to restock food.
Lightning in a Bottle Camping Amenities
There honestly aren’t too many camping amenities here, but they have all you need. All the amenities were inside the venue. Both main camping areas had their own little area within the campground with vendors and music and showers, but this is again a 100% camping festival so it’s the type that you should come to fairly well prepared. Anything that’s there is kind of inside the festival. There are one or two general stores, plenty of places to purchase ice, and shower facilities at each end of the venue.
Ice: Available at the main areas of campgrounds
Food: There are a few vendors in the campgrounds, but most are inside the main area with the stages. So if you want to walk to get food, you may as well get it when you go into the venue for the day.
Showers: Showers cost $8 and are located at the main hub of the camping areas on both sides of the venue. It’s worth the money, but it’s also super clutch to bring your own camping shower (those big bags you can fill with water, lay on the top of your car, and shower off with). I paid for a shower once and used the bag shower a few times. I’m not the kind of person who can go without showers!
Massages: The shower centers also offered massages, if that’s something you would be into. They were pretty expensive, but sometimes that kind of thing is worth it!
Small stages: Both the camping centers were pretty close to smaller stages playing music. So, if you don’t feel like walking all the way in, there are a few closer-to-home options!
Transportation/Hotels at LIB
Everyone just drives to LIB and camps. There are no hotels that I know about besides the more glamping-type accommodation in the venue. Since it’s in California, a state literally designed around roads and driving, it didn’t seem to be a problem that there was no transport to the fest besides getting a ride with someone driving. Most people drive from SoCal or the bay, and you can most likely find ride-shares on the Facebook group.
Food/Drink at Lightning in a Bottle
The food and drink options were fantastic here. Inside the main venue (by this I mean the area with all the stages and stuff… it’s hard to describe because essentially the whole thing is ‘the venue,’ with camping areas, and stage areas. The ‘main venue’ to me means where the stages, music tents, vendors, and bars are… makes sense right?) there were multiple different areas with heaps of food vendors with great options. There were plenty of healthy, vegetarian, and organic options, adorned with lots of smoothies, juices, and other healthy goodness. My personal favorites were a vegan burrito, breakfast burritos from a Thai place (it didn’t make sense but it was so good it didn’t matter), sushi burritos, a green smoothie, and vegan coconut ice cream. The options were extensive and the food was great – they did an awesome job picking out lots of healthy and diverse places to eat.
There were plenty of bars scattered throughout the main venue – always with one less than 5 mins away from each stage. They offered delicious cocktails, wine, and yummy craft beers. The margaritas were to die for, the moscow mules were of the perfect spiciness, and they even had a beer called ‘Lightning in a Bottle’ named specifically for the event – a sour ale – which was absolutely fantastic. Look to pay $8-$9 for a drink – not bad at all.
LIB sells 4 day tickets (Thursday-Sunday) and 2 days tickets (Sat & Sun). The 4 day comes out to about $315 with fees, and the 2 day honestly isn’t much less- maybe about $50 less. To me it was absolutely worth the price.
On top of this price, look to either bring your own food and drinks (which is simple and cheaper) or pay $9-$14 for meals and $8-$9 for most drinks. I did a mix of both – I brought some of my own food and drinks and bought about one meal and about 2 drinks per day.
Like I mentioned above, LIB is a free for all. They check you when you come into the area (before the camping) and that’s it. This means that when you drive in through the only road that goes in and out of the recreational area, you line up right after Will Call and they scan your wristbands and check your car.
And by check your car I mean they touch a few things and look at it from the outside before waving you in. The guy literally stuck his hand in my window and touched a few bags before wishing us a wonderful time. I wished I hadn’t spent time decanting alcohol from glass containers into plastic ones – they wouldn’t have seen my bottles in a million years. And yes, the drive in is the only security check. Once you’re in, you’re in, and there are no more checks to actually enter the stage area. It’s all one. So you can literally walk into the stages with whatever drinks and food etc that you brought.
However, everyone was remarkably able to handle themselves here. Although there were people around the stages with beers, handles of liquor, and champagne in their hands within the crowds, everyone really did handle their sh*t and dispose of everything correctly. When given an amazing privilege like this (like being able to pop your own bottle of champagne at the set of your favorite artist… what?!?!) it’s important not to take it for granted and to be responsible so LIB can continue to be as free and awesome as it is.
That being said, I didn’t really see any security in the venue at all during the weekend. There’s an insane amount of trust here that people will be responsible, and I think for the most part that everyone did their part.
Lightning in a Bottle Weather
The weather is pretty extreme here. Think 80’s to 90’s during the day and down to maybe 50’s at night. The days get a bit too hot to handle and the nights get so cold you can see your breath. So seek shade in the day, and bundle up at night!
What we did was go into the venue during the day with less clothing on, and return to camp after sunset to layer on some more clothing. Fur vests and coats were definitely the go here – they add wonderfully to the weird outfits people were already rocking.
Another thing to be conscious of is dust. There is lots of it. Like, black booger status dust (too much? sorry but it’s true!). Lots of people had bandanas or something to cover their faces, and keeping your car closed is also a good call.
Bathrooms at LIB
I didn’t see any bathrooms here besides porta-potties, but that being said they kept them remarkably clean, changed the toilet paper regularly, and cleaned them out a lot. Bathrooms are pretty much within vision from all places in the venue and were really not too bad.
Music starts around noon each day at the main stages (Lightning, Woogie, and Thunder) and ends at 2am.
Yoga and Temple of Consciousness activities start way earlier – I know there was a sunrise session each day before 6am and yoga starting always by at least 8. Seminars in the Village, Temple of Consciousness, and Learning kitchen were always well under way by 9am, and continued all day until around sunset which was roughly around 8.
After hours you could go to any of the smaller stages like Favela, Pagoda, and The Grand Artique. People were always milling around until all hours of the morning, and the Meditation Lookout is a fantastic place for sunrise.
Final Lightning in a Bottle Tips
Traffic Getting Out – Trying to exit LIB was the worst traffic I have ever sat in, and I’m not sure if there are any solutions really. There is one road going in and out of a festival where over 20k people camp. I know someone who camped on the opposite side of the venue that sat in their car for 8 hours on Monday trying to get out. Personally, I sat for about 3 hours trying to get out from a campground that honestly wasn’t too far away. I wouldn’t recommend leaving early to avoid this traffic – Sunday was one of the best days of my life – but really just to be prepared for it and to park a nice medium distance between the entrance and the festival venue. Just know you won’t get straight out!
Leave No Trace – LIB prides itself as the greenest festival in the USA, and is a supporter of the ‘leave no trace’ philosophy. This means it’s important for each festival goer to do their part cleaning up their trash and keeping the area beautiful.
Take Part – As I say with any festival but especially LIB, make sure to help create and feed the vibe of the festival rather than just feeding off of it. Festivals like this rely on the participants to create the amazing pervasive feeling of togetherness and unity. Try to experience as much of what the festival has to offer as you can – attend workshops, yoga, talks, and projects – as well as the music that we all know and love. To get the most out of the experience it’s always important to take part in it as much as you can.