Lightning In A Bottle 2016: An Experience To Remember

There aren’t many things that can really distract someone from a great meal. Especially when the meal comes from that someone’s favorite restaurant, and that someone is me. I don’t know how many of you have been to Fred 62 on the corner of Vermont and Russell in Hollywood, but not only is the menu as versatile as it is delicious, it has been that way for the near decade I have been eating there. Plus, I have yet to try a better milkshake anywhere on Earth.

So I’m about halfway through my shake and a mere few bites into my sloppy joe, when one of those few distractions with the power to remove me from my blissful state came in the form of a phone in the face. Not the most significant way to divert my attention from the food in front of me, but when I realized what image was on the phone I couldn’t help but take interest.

What I saw on the screen was a pile of trash bags Al Gore could use in a documentary about climate change with a passive-aggressive caption above that detailed the source of all the garbage: Lightning In A Bottle 2016.

I have only attended LIB the past two years so place attachment hasn’t had a chance to take quite the hold on me, but to the people who just closed the book on their fourth, fifth, or sixth year of the festival, such a sight was pure treachery.

This was made irrevocably clear in the comments section.

Now (I’d like to believe) the majority of people who go to LIB are those who would avoid misinformed, curse-laden internet debates, but that didn’t stop those same people from fuming through their keyboards. Below the picture of the garbage were multiple comments pertaining the ease of packing out your trash and the importance of self-reliance while condemning those who believe its someone else’s job to pick up after them. To say such comments weren’t justified would be false as it really isn’t that difficult to pick up after yourself, but in reality people aren’t frustrated about the trash. They’re frustrated because the festival is changing.

That’s how it goes when everything changes. Those who were there for the time before often meet change with fear and anger while doing everything they can to halt the change in it’s tracks. Now I’m not saying that people shouldn’t pick up their trash because the festival is changing, but LIB 2016 demonstrated how the core values of LIB have been affected by the newfound popularity of festivals.

See, when LIB was beginning and there weren’t any artists like Chet Faker topping the bill, it was theoretically much easier to ensure that those who attended would emulate the values of the festival. People weren’t coming just to see artists and festivals in general weren’t a fad like they are today. As a result, the only thing that would truly draw people to the festival is the fact that it was place where people who shared those values would come together. The values of LIB have not changed since that time, but the market in which LIB exists has changed drastically.

Take environmentalism for example. Environmental consciousness and sustainability are very important aspect’s of the LIB’s philosophy which is why people were understandably frustrated when seeing all the trash left behind this year, but I’d be willing to bet that for every single year of LIB in the past there was a significant pile of trash left behind. Yes, LIB has always maintained sustainability as a key aspect of their ethos, but humans are still human. They look at all the trash around their campsite on Monday morning after a long, hot weekend and all they want to do is go home. After all, the way a festival venue is left after the conclusion of the event is an important deciding factor in whether or not the festival will be able to return, so there will be someone to sweep through the grounds after everyone’s gone to pick up the trash thats left behind. What’s really the harm in leaving a bit more trash for the person whose job is to pick up trash?

I’m not saying I agree with this course of action, but if there were people thinking like this in 2016 then there were people thinking like this every year before. The thing is, more people attended LIB in 2016 than any other year before so that means more people had this attitude than any other year, and in turn the pile of trash was probably bigger than any other year. It’s sad but true, and if Lightning in a Bottle is to expand further (which I’m sure it is after a sold-out and totally badass 2016) logistical challenges like this need to be addressed to cope with the adapting market.

I know that with admittedly dire situation humans are in with the environment it would be hard to ease up on sustainability now, but just because they may begin to approach the topic in a different way doesn’t mean it will be any less effective. It just means it will be different.

One other very important aspect of LIB that was less-than equipped for their growing populace was how they handle water. Like many other mindfulness festivals, LIB almost completely refuses to sell bottled water. There are a select few food stands that will sell cold water (I was able to find boxed water) but other than that you either have to choose between buying some other cold beverage in a cup or waiting in line for one of the water stations. On paper that really doesn’t sound that bad if you bring some extra water bottles with you, but when it’s hotter than Coachella and the haphazard number water spouts are spread across a venue that’s already difficult to traverse, it’s clear that water needs to be more accessible. At the hottest parts of the day the lines for the water station would extend back 30 feet, creating puddles and mud for attendees to walk through/over, and by Sunday the water was so white it was basically milk. The hottest part of the day also happened to be the same time that the lines for smoothies and tea would take 45 minutes.

I’m not trying to disregard LIB’s desire to lessen their carbon footprint, but when water is this difficult to access, it’s more of a safety concern at that point. Dehydration is very real especially when people are intoxicated (among other things). There haven’t been any tragic events at LIB because of dehydration yet, but as the attendance continues to rise its an issue Do Lab should be aware of.

I’m sure if I were to broach these subjects would frequent attendees of LIB, many wouldn’t blame the excess trash and long lines for water on the increased attendance and would instead chalk it up to a less-than-conscious community. They would recall the years prior when everyone packed up all their trash and everyone had plenty of water and everyone was completely dedicated to the values that define Lightning In A Bottle (in their opinions). I wasn’t there so I can’t comment, but such an attitude is just another result of change.

Back when less than 5,000 people went to LIB it was much easier to spread messages like “leave no trace”, and in all honesty it is actually a very simple rule follow. But just because it’s simple to me or you as an individual, doesn’t mean it will be understood by all. Keep in mind, Lightning in a Bottle is probably the first festival many of these people will attend with a “leave no trace” policy. Other than LIB’s mostly unhelpful website, there aren’t many other places to find such information regarding similar policies. Consider how many people will just buy their ticket without looking at anything besides the lineup and then won’t go back to the website again before they arrive. It might sound silly, but now that 26,000+ people are going, mathematically that scenario isn’t really that unlikely, and it shouldn’t be too surprising that many of the first-timers wouldn’t understand how to “leave no trace” or just how much water they should bring. That doesn’t mean those who reject such values should be condemned, or that LIB is losing it’s values as a whole, or really anything bad at all. It means that the festival is going through a transition, and transitions are notoriously rough for everyone and everything.

However the reason I know that LIB won’t just survive this transition, but will come out the other side stronger than ever is because all the stuff that really matters to making a great festival were entirely on point this year. Music. Food. Even logistics. Other than the water and trash (which really wasn’t a big deal during the festival) everything ran smoothly and wonderfully.

Musically I witnessed some of the strongest electronic performances of the year without a doubt. Four Tet, Guy Gerber, and &ME elevated the Woogie by not only demonstrating their unique interpretations of house and techno, but by fueling the irreplaceable vibes that exist within those trippy trees. The number of new friends that were made through music in the Woogie was truly astounding, and that was just from my perspective. Hundreds, even thousands more interactions were happening all around and being supported by music, art, and self-expression. The Thunder stage wasn’t short of great performances, but their efforts to save the volume for the end of the night at Thunder were more noticeable than at the other stages. Bleep Bloop’s blaring set would have been even more fun if the subs had that last bit of wobble. However, when EPROM came on I was surprised the Thunder stage was still standing as his unique application of bass shook me to my core.

What really impressed me from a musical aspect is how much more serious they took after hours this year. Last year they had music bumping late into the night, but this year after the main stages had closed, LIB did not turn down one bit. Pagoda and Favela bars pulled serious talent, while hidden gems like a Chet Faker DJ set and a Sacha Robotti sunrise set were attended by those who were meant to be there. Walking through the festival there was never complete silence. You would either hear a lone man throat singing in the sound healing station, after-hours jazz at the Grand Artique, Karaoke in the ravine. Something was always happening, and best of all everyone there was stoked to be sharing it with you. Even though I’m sure many of those same people were the ones who left their trash behind, they were definitely friendly, fun, and made my festival experience better, and at the end of the day (or night) that’s the interaction that really matters.

Whatever you may feel upon seeing a pile of trash left behind at a festival, that isn’t the fault of one, two, ten, or even 100 people, and it certainly isn’t the fault of the festival for changing. The best thing you or anyone can do is make sure to lead by example. Throw away your trash. Bring reusable water containers. Be nice to the people around you. It sounds as easy as it is. Lightning in a Bottle 2016 was very different from 2015 and 2017 will be even more different still. When it comes down to it, people always have two choices in the wake of change. They can face it or they can run from it. Well if you’re the kind of person who would rather run from it, just know you’ll be missing out on some serious good times at LIB next year because I couldn’t be more excited.

Written by
Harry Levin

Hi my name is Harry Levin. I live in LA and I'm an absolute lover of music.

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