After months of hype, talk and debate, the Lightning in a Bottle festival is ready to strike.
Kicking off Wednesday at Buena Vista Recreational Aquatic Area, this cavalcade of music, food and wellness has big plans to elevate the dancing feet and consciousness of Kern.
At least that’s what festival co-founder Dede Flemming is hoping for when gates open for thousands of festival-goers, many of whom will have traveled from across country, even the globe to camp and chill in Kern County.
“We came into the county with a pretty good track record,” said Flemming who, with brothers Jesse and Josh, founded the festival from their Southern California-based art/music event company Do LaB in 2006. “We’ve been at this for 15 years. We’ve had a lot of success with our events and we are really good at what we do.”
Confident words for such an ambitious undertaking that just a few months ago was under intense scrutiny from county agencies. Not to mention resident critics and the initial scourge of social networking trolls who jumped at the chance to blast the remote possibility of it relocating to Kern County after being informed it would not be welcome back at its previous site: the San Antonio Reservoir Recreation Area in Monterey County.
Flemming said the requirements put forth by the county were nothing the team had not experienced putting on past festivals.
He said, "There are no surprises for us. We over-prepare, over-produce and we want the best show, not just for our attendees, but for the people putting it together, public safety teams and everyone involved. I think they were very surprised at our responses and concerns, and our preparedness. I think that’s what gave them the confidence that, ‘OK, these guys are for real.’”
Finding the venue
Traveling all over California for the past 10 years scouting potential event venues, the brothers were still surprised happening upon Buena Vista, the man-made aquatic park 10 miles west of Interstate 5, between Taft and the outskirts of southwest Bakersfield.
Flemming said, "To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even know this (lake) was here. I was really surprised that we didn’t know when we started our search. I started looking at maps of county parks, and I saw this little blip, pulled it up on Google Earth and I was like, ‘(Expletive), we passed it a trillion times.’ So, my brothers and I jumped in the car and headed over and found that this was quite a spot.”
Although they happened upon Buena Vista, the brothers were not entirely new to town. Dede covered the Volkslauf run for a reality TV show while working in television production, and Jesse was in an L.A.-based band that played gigs in Bakersfield.
Building the experience
After being given the green light by the Board of Supervisors to proceed with plans, Flemming and his team went to work transforming the recreational area into a full-blown festival similar to Coachella — where the Do LaB installation area has become a featured attraction.
“We are going up the property line and in some areas beyond it. We’re working a neighbor just north of the park and we’re leasing his land for additional camping, parking and whatnot.”
According to the festival’s website, attendees of every experience level will find what they need to curate their own experience between seven main entertainment stages and areas. Among this year’s headliners: electronic music groups Disclosure, Big Gigantic, DJ/producer Flying Lotus (performing in 3D), alternative dance icon Santigold, Slovenian EDM producer Gramatik, chillwave pop star Toro Moi, Latin funk mish-mashers Ozomatli and many more. From the EDM (electronic dance music) world straddling pop and experimental music and DJ sub-genres, if it’s been invented chances are, you’ll hear it here.
“Attendees know they are going to see some of their favorites along with new artists," Flemming said. "So, there’s a lot of value in knowing that you get to go back and there’s a sense of home, a familiarity with it all. And at the same time, there’s the element of surprise."
For those concerned with safety at the event, Flemming said respecting your fellow festival is a common theme stated in detail at the festival website under the "6 Ways to LIB."
“We always try to communicate directly with our audience about real issues and concerns that come up," he said. "We’re talking about looking after each other, substance abuse, boundaries, respecting each other, ‘No means no,’ we’re bringing these issues up. This isn’t just a music festival; this is a city.
"There’s a way to have a great time by obeying the rules of the park, the fest, local and federal laws. Not just for their safety but for us and our longevity. We wanna keep on coming to beautiful places like this.”
To stay within county sound codes, Flemming says steps were taken to keep decibel levels remained within legal limits. You may hear a little bass in the far distance, but unless your residence is a houseboat on the lake, expect to sleep soundly.
“We’re a 24-hour show. Unlike a lot of other festivals, where people get flushed out by security after the music is over back to the parking lot. At nighttime it quiets down to non-noisemaking activities, but we’re constantly going. Then it fires back up at 7 a.m. and starts all over again.”
And unlike facing the extreme, 100-plus desert heat of Coachella and Burning Man, regulars and newbies can expect a comfortable five days with a forecast of mid to high 80s.
“Our audience is well prepared, they know what this is. They stay hydrated, they know how to take care of themselves, building shade in their camps. The beauty out here is they don’t have go far to find a tree to lay under, or a lake to jump in.”
Along with returning attendees, Flemming is looking forward to the locals checking this out.
“This is a one-time, once-a-year event. We hope people get to see this and be pleasantly surprised with what we do and what we’re trying to achieve. Broaden your horizons, get away from the norm, and just throw your hands up and go with it.”