This California festival hits the sweet spot between Burning Man and Coachella

(CNN) — Lightning in a Bottle isn’t your typical music festival.
What began as a birthday party in 1999 has evolved into a five-day arts and music experience that’s part spiritual retreat and part adult summer camp. And in a time of festival saturation and highly publicized debacles, (the disastrous Fyre Festival comes to mind), LIB and its ethos of creativity and community stand out.
Produced by events company Do LaB, LIB, which took place May 8 to May 13 at Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Center in Bakersfield, California, strives to merge Burning Man’s creative freedom with Coachella’s organized infrastructure, according to co-founder Dede Flemming.
“We wanted to take both elements and bring them together … but give a highly curated experience as well,” he said.
Music was center stage, and this year’s lineup featured more than 240 artists led by electronic acts Disclosure, Big Gigantic and Gramatik. For his immersive set, rapper-producer Flying Lotus transformed the Lightning stage into an outdoor 3D movie. Event staffers passed out glasses in candy pink tubs.
The true LIB experience, however, is creating your own adventure away from the stages.
Art was everywhere, from Instagrammable signage encouraging people to “create” and “inspire” to interactive installations like a rotating prism tower. A medley of tents for yoga, meditation, art classes and cooking lessons stretched across the lakeshore. Some people caught Saturday Night Fever at the Rink-a-Dink roller rink while others stepped into the wild, wild west of the Grand Artique’s Frontierville. Inside the Mixtape’s ’70s living room, visitors popped in cassette tapes of John Fogerty, Paula Abdul, and Boyz II Men.
And that’s just a sample of what LIB had to offer.
“Part of the beauty is you’re not supposed to see everything,” Flemming said. “There has to be some element of, ‘Ah f—, I missed that.'”
Community plays a major part in the LIB experience. All of the event’s festivalgoers camp in tents or RVs, and it’s not uncommon to hear stories of strangers making friends and, in some cases, marrying and becoming family.
“That’s the fuel that keeps me going and a lot of us going,” Flemming said. For him, LIB is truly a family affair. He runs Do LaB with his two brothers, and his parents have attended every LIB since its birth.
It was the festival’s first time hosting at Buena Vista Lake — its fifth venue in 15 years — and building a mini-city in two-and-a-half weeks at a new location came with logistical challenges. Poor weather prevented Friday arrivals from entering the grounds for hours.
Despite the hiccups, Flemming was confident that LIB’s core mission and tight-knit community would help the festival shoulder past growing competition.
“There’s never not a desire or need for art, creativity and a place to express yourself,” he said. “I don’t think that’s ever going to go away.”