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California’s Lightning in a Bottle Is the Feel-Good Music Festival of the Year

By Matthew Phenix

05.10.18

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Photo by Michael Roush

From May 24 to 27, this immersive cultural exposition will attract some 30,000 enlightenment-seekers to the dusty San Antonio Recreation Area in Central California.

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At most big music festivals, music is sort of the point. At the Lightning in a Bottle Festival, the music—and there is so much music during this four-day annual extravaganza—is more like a means to an end. This most Californian of California music festivals is, say its founders, “designed, built, and curated based on a core ethos centered on sustainability, harm reduction, cultural respect, and most of all, creating an environment for extraordinary experiences.” 

In addition to parading dozens of musical acts across three huge stages, Lightning in a Bottle is a hippie theme park of family-friendly extracurricular attractions, including otherworldly art workshops and exhibitions, a beauty salon and a barber shop, a Wild West–themed village, all-night karaoke at the bottom of a nearby ravine, a soapbox derby for grown-ups (at least in the legal sense), mass yoga pose-offs, guided moutaintop meditations, and a giant gong-surrounded healing sound bath (which may be the only bathing that happens here for four days). There’s also a giant bar tent, a giant tea tent, and all sorts of vendors selling food, most of it actually good for you. Because California.

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The festival kicks off on Thursday, May 24, although impatient showgoers will start filling the dusty Lake San Antonio Recreation Area, near the town of Bradley, on Wednesday. Things wrap up late on Sunday, May 27, but campgrounds will remain open until Monday. A four-day pass runs $360 per person (add $82 for early arrival); a car-camping pass costs $140 and allows you to drive right into the campground and crash in your back seat for a few minutes before your qigong workshop.

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