It’s the second week of May and Dede Flemming is already out on site working to bring Lightning in a Bottle to life.
The first group of teams charged with building the Memorial Day Weekend festival arrived a few days earlier and, over the course of the next few weeks, they’ll transform Kern County’s Buena Vista Lake into a temporary hub for music, art and meditation.
For Dede, one of the three Flemming siblings who co-founded Lightning in a Bottle, this preparation period is his favorite part of the experience.
“We come from the festival world and this community that we get to work and create with are special,” he said during a video call earlier this month.
Back in 1999, Dede’s older brothers, Jesse and Josh, celebrated their birthday with “a little mountain rave.” At the time, only Jesse was living in California. Dede and Josh were still based in Pennsylvania, but, they too eventually moved out west and, within a few years, the birthday rave turned into a music and arts festival. Dede oversees operations and logistics while Jesse and Josh focus on the music and arts components.
Lightning in a Bottle, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, remains the flagship event for the brothers’ company, The Do Lab, and operates independently from the country’s major corporate concert promoters and ticket sellers.
“All the responsibility and all the liability and all the risk is on us as a company and, ultimately, as individuals. That makes things challenging,” he said.
“We stand on our own two feet, but it’s also the ultimate freedom as well,” he added. “Whatever decisions we come up with, whatever goofy ideas we come up with, it’s our choice. We don’t have to run it by anybody. We don’t have to get approvals from a parent company or anything like that. We get to be nimble and move freely.”
That flexibility is reflected in the festival’s lineup, which brings together artists from across the wide spectrum of dance music, like Grammy-winning nu-disco star Purple Disco Machine, L.A.-based beat producer and Dome of Doom label-founder Wylie Cable, electronic rock duo Phantogram and beloved L.A. house DJ Marques Wyatt.
As an indie festival, they aren’t working with the same kind of budget other events might have, Flemming notes, and their ability to book artists can be impacted by practices like radius clauses in contracts.
“It forces us to be more creative and crafty in the booking process,” he said.
It also presents an opportunity to include up-and-comers and Southern California favorites alongside established talent like Rezz, Sofi Tukker, Zhu and Diplo. This year’s festival also includes performances from LIB favorites like Beats Antique, Random Rab, The Polish Ambassador and The Glitch Mob.
“These are people that have been with us for many, many years, since the early days,” Flemming said. “It’s exciting to have them back.”
It’s not just a nod to the festival’s past, but to the legacy of the Flemming brothers’ production company The Do Lab, which has also hosted a stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio for 17 years and, back in the ‘00s, threw a number of one-off events in downtown Los Angeles, and their roots.
Cruel World set times: When to see Siouxsie, Iggy Pop, Billy Idol and more
5 jams we want to hear at Long Beach’s I Love RnB Festival
A new, free LGBTQ+ festival launches in Long Beach this week
Just Like Heaven Festival delivers divine vibes in Pasadena
Photos: Early Saturday performers at Pasadena’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ festival
“We come from the festival community ourselves,” he said. “We didn’t just start this to create a business or whatever. We started it because we love going to music festivals. We’re friends with a lot of these people. We built a festival around our lifestyle.”
The lifestyle is part of the festival, which is also home to talks and workshops on a variety of subjects, yoga sessions and interactive art installations.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for LIB has been finding suitable locations.
“It’s not easy to find a location where you can fit upwards of 30,000 people for five days all camping with music that goes deep into the night,” Flemming said. “That’s a big ask and you have to be pretty rural to find something like that, to actually just find it, let alone get permission to do it.”
For Lightning in a Bottle, which has been held at a handful of different destinations over the years — including Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado and Lake Skinner in Winchester — the challenge is also finding a venue that fits the vibe of the event. An urban setting doesn’t work when the intention is to have people connect with nature while they’re enjoying the music.
“The landscape, the geography, everything really dictates how we lay out the festival, how we curate it,” he said
That the festival is currently held lakeside offers a unique opportunity to work with the environment.
“All of our stages are in close proximity to the water, which is a pretty cool thing, when you can walk around a peninsula and the main attractions of the show all have water access,” he said. “It’s visually beautiful. It’s calming. It’s really nice.”
While it truly takes most of the year to get Lightning in a Bottle ready to go, in these final few weeks before the show, the ordinarily small team will swell to several hundred people. During the five days of the festival itself, Flemming might overhear guests sharing their memories about years past, or someone might mention how their life changed because of Lightning in a Bottle.
That’s what makes the work with it.
“That’s the reward. It’s certainly not a financial reward. This business is brutal,” he said. “The reward is seeing the satisfaction that people get out of it and the change that they get to go through.”
Lightning in a Bottle
When: Wednesday, May 24-Sunday, May 29
Where: Buena Vista Lake at the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area, 13601 Ironbark Road, Bakersfield
Tickets: Passes start at $449 for five-day general admission and $785 for five-day VIP admission; Car camping passes are $165 and parking passes are $40. All pass ticket options can be found at libfestival.org.