Last fall the organizers of the Lightning in a Bottle festival promised their slightly wary Kern County landlords they would be responsible guests.
One full day into the 16th annual, five-day event — the first in the southern San Joaquin Valley after last fall's nomadic sojourn from Monterey County — Kern County has every indication they intend to keep their word.
In fact, many could use a transfusion of the generous spirit in evidence Thursday amid the thumping electronica and blowing dust of the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area southwest of Bakersfield.
Festivalgoers, many of whom had pitched tents, yurts and lean-tos for the duration, were still filtering in at midday, but activities — a massive group session of yoga and an informal illustration class among the choices — were already well underway in every corner of the vast county owned park.
"I describe it as a wellness festival more than anything," said Emma Clow, a college-age Phoenix woman attending her third LIB.
Whatever it is, "there's a strong sense of community" throughout the festival grounds, said her friend Leana Monahan, also of Phoenix, attending her second. "Everyone is just so friendly and willing to be helpful to each other. Like just this morning we gave, like, five people our air mattress pump to use because everyone else forgot (theirs). That was us last year."
"We forgot a hammer," chimed in her friend, Christian Menke, his voice betraying a we-can-laugh-about-it-now edge.
"The people that you meet you just don't find anywhere else," said Cole Mough, who flew in from rural central Texas. "It's just the little interactions. ... You meet with people you just don't get (to meet) anywhere else in the world."
People like the young artist, a walking, talking canvas of blue and black, who was holding court near Buena Vista's man-made lake.
"My name is Rio Sirah, from the star, here from Ya, down here to show you who you are," he said to a hip-hop cadence. "What I like about LIB is that you can be open, you can be who you are, but at the same time there's a very spiritual presence here. ..."
He was not shy about demonstrating.
"I put the power of light, love and pleasure ... in my painting," he said, moving through a series of poses. "This is the wolf," he said.
The festival is a foodie's delight, with culinary choices ranging from pizza to uniquely exotic.
Emily Rakhit of Vancouver, British Columbia, was helping colleagues hand out free samples of yerba mate (pronounced MAHT-ay), a nonalcholic brew with "the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate." She works for Sebastopol-based Guayakí, a regular at this type of whole-earth festival.
She is convinced the world would be a better place if more people experienced this type of retreat.
"The people of Congress need Lightning in a Bottle," she said. "It would open them up to a transformational experience."
Or, at the very least, they'd get a free cup of yerba mate.
Not much else is free, however. Ticket prices range from $185 for a two-day pass to $430 for the full five-day experience, according to the official LIB website. Camping passes are an additional $355 to $475 per vehicle (without power hookups), or $550 to $775 for RVs (with power hookups), or $1,200 for a 40-by-40-foot, five-day RV campsite (with power hookups) that permits as many additional tents as can fit.
Layaway plans are available.