The Kern County General Services Division is recommending that supervisors approve a multi-day music festival in May that has a troubled history in Monterey County, including the deaths of two people in successive years.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the supervisors will be voting on whether to allow the Lightning in a Bottle festival to take place at the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area from May 8-13.
On its website, festival organizers say they are moving from Lake San Antonio in Monterey County because Monterey County’s parks commission is no longer managing large scale events or allowing camping, forcing the venue change.
That's not true, said Shawne Ellerbee, deputy director of Administrative Services for the county’s Resource Management Agency.
She said the county terminated its contract with Do Lab, the organization that puts on Lightning in a Bottle, in part because the festival exceeded attendance limits.
Last year, the festival took in between 35,000 and 40,000 attendees, well above the 20,000 limit set by the county, Ellerbee said.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that the festival also exceeded attendance limits in 2017.
“Overall, it just wasn’t an event that we wanted to pursue any further,” Ellerbee said.
The festival had been hosted in Lake San Antonio since 2014. It was supposed to remain at the lake until at least 2021, but the county cut that short by pulling out of the contract.
Two people have reportedly died at the festival — one last year and one in 2017. The Mercury News reported that Baylee Gatlin, 20, of Ventura, died of “multi-organ failure, hypothermia and dehydration” after taking drugs that included LSD at the festival.
The Modesto Bee reported that Tyler Schripsema, 23, of Modesto, died after dislocating his neck while swimming in the lake during the festival in 2018.
Lightning in a Bottle has been described as a music, arts and culture festival that features an eclectic mix of musicians on multiple stages. Attendees can camp out on the festival grounds during the event.
The event has taken place in various parts of California over the last 15 years.
Ellerbee said that over the five years the festival had taken place in Monterey County, the demographics of the attendees shifted from mainly adults in their 30s to young adults in their early 20s.
In order to take place, event organizers would need to pay $225,000 to lease the facility, the county said last week.
The event would close the recreational area to the public for the duration of the festival, along with several days before and after for setup and cleanup.
The county’s General Services Division said in documents to the supervisors that it expects 20,000 attendees, but attendance would not exceed 25,000 including festival employees and security personnel.