Some 20,000 people got together last Thursday for a "transformational" festival known as Lightning in a Bottle. Monday morning — four days later — they rolled out of their sleeping bags, rolled up their tents and rolled on down the road.

And somehow the Kern County owned Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area, some 15 miles southwest of Bakersfield, was every bit as clean as when the tie-dyed multitudes began trickling onto the festival grounds last week.

How could that have happened? LIB, as it's known, operates on a few core tenets, enjoying oneself chief among them. But responsibility is another one — says so right in the festival guide everyone received on their way in — and based on the evidence Monday afternoon, attendees bought in wholeheartedly to LIB's "pack it in/pack it out" mandate. 

Aren't multi-day festivals supposed to keep cleanup crews occupied for hours afterward?

"That is the classic stereotype," said Steven Shabry, a food vendor working his ninth LIB. "But all of these people are so respectful."

The 16th annual event, in Kern County for the first time after a long run in Monterey County, wasn't just about music — electronic dance, experimental, devotional and folk music — it featured exotic food, jewelry and crafts, environmental sculpture, yoga, massage, meditation, participatory art, learning kitchens, improvisational theater, lectures and a lot more.

Shouldn't LIB be issuing college credit for some of these things? Ticket prices, after all, were roughly the same as a semester's worth of state university tuition.

No. "Just life credit," said Erica Ray, who worked a merchandise booth during the festival.

They endured blowing dust, a lightning storm that shut things down for several hours Friday, and late-spring heat in the low 90s, but spirits were still high Monday.

"So many people are open and community oriented so it's like you go anywhere and you can make friends," said Cat Meyer, a Los Angeles-based yoga instructor who was roaming the near-deserted grounds looking for misplaced friends. "You just sit down and somebody starts chatting with you and wants to hear your story."

"The vibe is a little different," said Philip Dah, who sold Ghanian food. "People want to (be) meeting each other, but in a small concert (setting) you really can't do that. So this is really special." 

Shabry, who runs the Blue Sun Cafe in the Santa Cruz County town of Boulder Creek when he's not hauling around his two huge battle-tested commercial refrigeration units — one adorned with a dozen commemorative stickers from some of the festivals he's worked — said Lightning in a Bottle would have pleased the founders of the psychedelic movement.

"Alan Ginsberg, Timothy Leary — those guys would have liked this," he said. "I think it's kind of what they hoped all of that stuff would become."

The college-age festival goers who represented LIB's predominant demographic might have trouble placing those names in the annals of U.S. counter culture, but they all seemed to appreciate the experience.

"This brings in all kinds of people, and that's the beauty of of it," said Destiny Miller, a pizza vendor from Nevada City. "It brings people from all over the world."

No word yet from festival promoter Do LaB — which paid the county $225,000 to lease the park, plus an additional sum to cover law enforcement and other costs — on whether it plans to return to the Kern County venue. But with concert goers having behaved themselves — law enforcement did not report any trouble — and a potential $2.5 to $3 million tourism bump for the region, LIB would seem to have earned a repeat invitation.

(2) comments


Glad to hear it was clean. No violence and people looked like they were having a lot of fun. That is all that counts.


Everyone I encountered at the fest, even on cleanup duty, was so happy. They were all proud of the work they had done and made sure the park was in better shape than they found it in.

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