Review: Lightning In a Bottle Festival

An artistic explosion of electronic music, meditation, yoga and creativity unfolds once more in California.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

It was during my second hour in the meditation tent that I realized I was supposed to be covering a music festival. 

I could hear a faint, vague throbbing wobble of a dub nature from over the hill, but my total immersion in the moment took precedence. The musicians playing at the front, the sea of people sitting cross-legged and at calm attention, the sun falling behind the desert hills in the distance and the general ambience of peace and tranquility was just as prominent and valuable a feature to the experience as the pulsing mega-dance-off lightshow spectacle happening just a few hundred yards away.

The 7th annual Lightning in a Bottle International Music and Arts Festival was held in the hills east of Mission Viejo in California, and was a success on all counts. In addition to a wealth of music that centered on electronica, there were a vast array of health and wellness workshops led by various speakers, yogis and world renowned teachers and adventures.

While this year’s musical roster included names such as Bassnectar, the Glitch Mob, Shpongle and Apparat, along with more than two dozen others, Lightning In a Bottle is so much more than an electronic dance music festival – yoga workshops, consciousness-raising seminars and a variety of creative outlets were massively prevalent throughout Silverado Canyon over the weekend, a cultural-apex meeting point and celebration of a lifestyle often maligned in mainstream culture.

Check out this great recap video by Matthew Smith, which captures the essence of the festival:

Micheline Berry, Ashley Turner, Mark Whitell, Jo Tastula and Tommy Rosen were just a few of teachers presenting this year at Lightning in A Bottle. The festival presented health and wellness workshops at Lucent Temple of Consciousness, a sanctuary for all participants to energize and balance the mind and body through spirituality, meditation, yoga and the art of natural healing.

More than two dozen various yoga classes were offered free, focusing on a wide variety of styles and difficulty levels. There were also several meditation areas and tents, one of which I found myself utterly immersed in a series of meditative chants set to a gorgeous backdrop of exotic instrumentation. After a psychotically productive Spring and an entry to Summer that appears to be no less hectic, it was a disarming wash of introspective tranquility to immerse myself in this beautiful moment, surrounded by revelers who were sitting cross-legged or lying down, eyes closed, experiencing the gentle meditative sounds and chants while the sun set behind the mountains in the distance.

I'm not going to tell you there weren't any stinky hippies. My god, were there some pungent wooks. But the grimy soap phobia exhibited did little to diminish what was truly a magnificent convergence of art, music, expressionism, introspection and exercise. Self expression is a central part of the LIB experience, ranging from costumes, flow toys and boundless self-expressionism. Steampunk-leather characters mingled with glowstick-waving candyflippers, while various entities in earth-toned natural fibers and others adorned in copious Middle Eastern flare all took part in the collective experience.

Try as they might to create an experience of fully communal togetherness, the fangs of capitalism were never far from puncturing the mood. The majority of the clothes in the pop-up shops and stands were outrageously expensive, an intensely sharp contrast to the free-spirit generosity and communal sensibility that wove through the rest of the festival – particularly the surrounding campground areas. Ten feet from where a topless breathing hourglass with painted nipples was cutting watermelon slices to give away to passersby, stands were selling hoodies for over $200 while pushing $300 healing crystals. One man was selling violins at one spot – his cheapest was $240. 

The music performances were, predictably, celebratory events of high-energy immersion. By all accounts, however, the music is hardly the centerpiece of the festival. It's truly about the experience of the communal positivity, the deeper sense of soulful connection that's attainable through a variety of methods displayed and offered on-site.