Every summer, people from across the country embark on a pilgrimage to microcosmic eruptions of spiritual awakening called music festivals. Artists share a kinetic energy with the brimming crowds, whose excitement for the dance floor is only matched by their love for each other. One of the best places to witness this extravagant occurrence is Southern California’s Lightning in a Bottle Festival, which is annually hosted by the Do Lab every Memorial Day Weekend.
To get to the heart of what it is about LiB that changes people we looked at almost 200 stories that all detailed a personal metamorphosis at the festival. Prepare to catch some feels as we go over some of our favorites.
I grew up in a world that seemed much different than my peers, which left me feeling like an outsider for a long time. I was adopted at an early age and grew up in a foster home where my brothers and sisters changed with the seasons. I left “home” at eighteen to escape sexual and physical abuse with no idea as to where I’d go or what I’d do, but it didn’t matter to me. You see, to deal with the reality of my less than pleasant childhood, I would sit and daydream a lot. I lived half in this world and half in my dream world, which was a magical realm where I was safe, loved, and free. To be honest, I don’t ever remember feeling loved or safe or at peace at all during my childhood. I know many of us never know this experience. When I finally got away from that family, I thought I’d go running into a world with open loving arms, but that was not the case. I spent years of my life homeless, in shelters, or couch surfing with strangers. I experienced abuse from men who passed through my life like storm clouds. I was hungry and tired and scared and absolutely alone. Life was just an endless struggle. Sickness crept in after two car accidents that left me on disability. My heart, my body, and my mind felt utterly broken, but I never gave up on myself or my dreams. I knew there was a world out there for me.
After years of searching, I finally decided to create this world for myself. I started eating nutritionally rich food instead of the shit food I grew up on, I started doing hot yoga with some coworkers, meditating became a new ritual… and all of a sudden my world began to shift and boy did it shift quickly. I was finally feeling better, my health improved drastically, but my heart was still aching. Inside I knew I had changed for the better, but when I looked around me, I still felt like a stranger in a cold, uncaring, cruel world.
I ended up in California and met up with an old friend from high school who had just returned from her first Lightning in a Bottle experience. I literally could not believe what she was showing me. There it was, after all those years…home, and it called itself Lightning in a Bottle. That magical, love filled space I would enter as a child, was right in front of me and I knew I had to be a part of it. It was meant for me. So I spent the next year saving up and purchased my ticket with joy unsurpassed by anything I had ever done. It was all I could think about for months and it’s all my friends and I talked about. I was too excited, I didn’t think the day would ever come when I could finally set my feet on that ground, but it did.
I rode the LiB bus up to Bradley with so many beautiful, inspiring people that mirrored everything I desired to be in myself. Conscious, healthy, hardworking, goal-oriented, and creative loving souls. This was a huge shift from the miserable people I’m surrounded by in my cubicle job; it felt like life was rushing into me full force and I couldn’t help but fall in love. I dragged my bags off that bus and through the heat and the dirt, the smile on my face reached deep in my soul. I could have sworn my broken heart was healed right at that moment. It healed again during the sound healing. And at morning yoga. And dancing at Woogie till 2 a.m. surrounded by the most elevated, loving, breathtakingly beautiful souls I have ever witnessed in my whole life.
The world I always dreamed of existed, and it was a part of me and I was a part of it. Seeing is believing. I have never felt so safe, respected, loved, wanted, and free. Women walked freely in just their bodies with no worry of being raped or subjugated. Men were loving and open and gentle and free. I was nourished by organic, nutrient rich food daily. I spent time in the dirt, being loved on by Mother Nature. I couldn’t take in enough beauty. I was finally home.
We were all home. We needed this. We needed each other. We needed this moment in the sun, and we all shared in it with irreverent joy. We went back changed. We all came home believers; believers in a world we knew would always exist for each of us.
I am a 45-year-old single mom to the most beautiful daughter, inside and out. Since LiB began, she has attended with her dad. This year he could not take her and wanted me to go with her. At first, I was hesitant. However, my daughter really wanted me to see how magical LiB is so I would know when she attends festivals that she is in good hands. So, I said yes. She headed up with friends on Thursday and I arrived Saturday with my tent and an open mind.
As soon as I entered the camps I knew she had found her people, her place.
Everyone was friendly and the energy was welcoming and ... good. It was peaceful even with the music and all the people. She was camping with her boyfriend and they met a group of college kids. Everyone set up and hung out together. At first, I thought it was awkward to some of the kids to have a mom in the camp. They soon learned I was not there to judge or chaperone anyone. More importantly, my girl showed me around and we went dancing. I had the best time being with her in a place that makes her so happy.
Now, I will not worry when she sets off for festivals. LIB is really unlike anyplace or anything I have ever been too.
Thank you for a fantastic weekend.
This year was my 4th LIB and hands down, without a doubt, the most intensely magical one I have ever experienced. The festival has been beautiful and life changing since the very first one - but this year was just something different.
Just 3 days after returning from Temecula last year, still in my post-Lightning blissed out mindset, I got life changing news. My doctors told me that there was a defect in my heart that was not allowing proper blood flow, and that if I did not have full-blown open heart surgery in the next six months, I realistically wouldn't live another year.
Devastated but keeping my head up, I dropped everything in my life to get better. In my weakest moments, my LiB family would remind me that I had something amazing waiting for me down the line; that I would make it because I was a crucial part of the experience. In December of 2013, I went under and woke up a transformed 21-year-old woman.
My battle has been anything but easy, but the pure strength and absolutely undying love of life I have gained in the process brought me to LiB this year with something I had never had before. Our camp was bigger and more filled with friends and Lightning family. The whole weekend still feels like a dream I never want to wake up from. I shared my story with so many people and felt lifted beyond cloud nine.
One morning while in line for Mexican food, a group of strangers noticed the giant scar on my chest, which I wear proudly with affection, and formed a line to bless it and share some of the most touching words I have ever experienced.
I was literally brought to tears in this moment: the power of the kindness of strangers and the transformational quality of life here is the most wonderful thing in the world.
LiB has been one of the best things to ever happen to me, and year after year it is the one festival that I cherish so dearly. I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world. Thank you doesn't begin to cover the level of gratitude and appreciation I have for all of you out there.
This was my first LiB! Ever since I discovered The Do Lab at Coachella in 2010, I have been dying to go to LiB for the past 4 years. With new living situations and Coachella out of the picture this year, I got to go with a wonderful group of 17 people. Half of them I had never met before. That said, I had no clue what to expect from LiB, but I will say it was everything I could ever ask for. Compared to other festivals, the experiences I had with random people were like no other.
On Friday, at the Woogie stage, I was by myself and pulled my LiB booklet out of my pocket. I had $200 in 20s in my pocket and it all came flying out with my booklet. It was really windy and I frantically tried to get it all, however next thing I knew everyone around me was stopping the money and I had hands all around me handing me back my money!! I literally almost cried. That would not have happened at other festivals! People even said to me you are lucky this is LIB!
I had so much faith restored in humanity after that encounter that I was overwhelmed with joy. It was great to see how many people were so generous. We did have a big totem with inflatable dinosaurs on it all weekend, so we sort of stuck out. We were also yelling team chlamydia all weekend and had people coming up to us yelling, “team chlamydia!” My group was amazing. I connected with friends on a different level that I feel like wouldn't have happened anywhere else but LIB.
Last thing: Usually when I come home from a festival, I'm in a daze for about a week! But this festival I came back feeling like a new person. I also felt a sense of clarity! This was probably the most amazing thing for me feeling this way and I will be telling so many people about this. I will never forget my first LiB experience. It was truly transformational!
I've decided to choose one word that sums up my first LIB experience, actually my first camping festival. The only word that seems to fit so perfectly for such a life-changing event is the word “community”. Google defines the word community as, "a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals." Why do I choose this word you ask? Here's why. On Thursday May 22nd 2014 I spent five hours in the car with a co-worker I knew only on the surface. We'd exchanged smiles, hugs, and occasional stories in passing, but all in all we had a distant relationship. We were involved in the same community but never did we form a connection. As we danced in the car lip-syncing to disco music, Katy Perry, and some crazy radio hits, we started forming a bond that LiB would only deepen.
We arrived at the San Antonio Recreation Area in awe of the space The Do Lab was given to create a magical weekend. How lucky we were to have been given this land! So many stories lie in the soil of this land, and here we were about to write another story for the books. We were greeted with smiles, loving words, and conversations with people we had never met. Our community had already begun to establish and this was just the beginning. As new festie goers, we had forgotten essential items such as a hammer to pitch our tent or a big flashlight to use while doing so in the dark.
Insert our new neighbors who eagerly lent these items to make our tent pitching less stressful. Their willingness to help us out was humbling and continued to set the tone for the weekend. We are all one, and this slowly became more apparent. Like little kids on Christmas Eve, we went to bed anticipating what the next few days/nights would have in store for us. I started my weekend off with a Yoga Class where I laughed, held hands with strangers, and continued to make connections with myself and those around me. As the hours passed we found ourselves sitting in a tea tent surrounded by people we had never met but who we instantly became friends with. At this point, you would think the shock value of meeting new people would dissipate, but it continued to blow my mind at how close we were with all these strangers. Never had I ever felt so close to so many individuals in my life, even the ones I never exchanged conversations with.
Fast-forward to the evenings at LIB where the lights from all three beautiful stages lit up each campground in such a way that made your heart smile. I mean, the details of each stage were breathtaking! I had the time of my life dancing to songs I loved and songs that were hitting my ears for the first time. As I took in the light shows, the sounds, the amazing performances, and the love happening all around me I thought to myself "why can't life always be like this?"
The last day of LIB came so quickly. It seemed like just yesterday I was walking around the Village exploring the teepees and listening to the amazing speakers. Had it really been five days? As thousands of campers packed up their things, including their trash (yes you read that right, we took home EVERYTHING), I found myself getting a little sad.
How can I explain my experience to those who were not here? How can anyone understand what just happened? And then it hit me; I can't just tell people about my experience but rather SHOW them.
So as my coworker and I packed up his car full of our stuff, we waved goodbye to our temporary community. We threw up the peace sign and headed back to reality. We both vowed to take what we learned and implement it in our daily lives. We swore we would help change people’s lives for the better as LIB had changed ours. This 5-day experience isn't one that ended there. No, it's one that I continue to incorporate into each moment at work, at home, and with every person I cross paths with.
LIB showed me what it means to open my heart to the world, to lead with love and to leave the world a better place than I found it. To show the world that we are ONE community, we are not separate. Thank you LIB for teaching me how to lead with love.
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