Beside California's Lake San Antonio, hundreds of tents are full of people wearing clothes inspired by a mix of Mad Max and Peruvian villagers. They've arrived for Lightning in a Bottle, an annual music festival created by Do LaB, which sponsors a tent at Coachella, the most popular of these events.
In 2018, Coachella made a blast with its black-centric Beyoncé set, but it is still not known for inclusivity. The Daily Beast ran a headline calling its founder, Philip Anschutz, a "Right-Wing Billionaire Who Funded Anti-LGBT and Anti-Marijuana Causes," and Cara Delevigne boycotted the event in 2018, stating, "I still refuse to go to a festival that is owned by someone who is anti-LGBT and pro-gun."
Lightning in a Bottle seeks to stand for progressive values.
"LIB brings the creativity and social consciousness of Burning Man together with the curated (and more comfortable) festival experience of Coachella," explains Jesse “Y2” Shannon, Do LaB's marketing director. The festival has been held annually since 2004 and took place in late May this year.
The festival, along with techno music, art installations, and definitely some party-hungry hippies, has healing yoga sessions, talks with shamans visiting from Ecuador, conversations with indigenous people on the state of "extractive storytelling," and a whole bunch of activities you wouldn't normally associate with the Instagram-obsessed, culturally appropriating festival-goer.
Cultural appropriation itself is banned from the festival – though there's no doubt people are breaking the rules.
"Cultural sensitivity and respect is part of the Thrive Guide and our Ethos page on the website, so we focus more on education than enforcement," says Shannon, when asked what happens when people wear insensitive costumes. "The messaging, along with the presence of Native American elders who are featured speakers as well as honored participants in the nightly Wisdom Councils sessions around the fire, goes a long way toward preventing culturally appropriative costumes before they happen."
Despite the numerous white people sporting dreadlocks, cornrows, and native garb, the event still emphasizes its social justice message by its unapologetic devotion to environmental and indigenous issues.
"Our environmental sustainability initiatives are where having an ethos got started. Being in nature has always been such a central part of LIB, so preserving that environment and teaching the attendees about Leave No Trace was important," says Shannon, nodding to the policies that forbid campers to leave litter behind. "The sustainability ethos grew from there to encompass more tenets around being good citizens and stewards of a more healthy and inclusive culture."
When it comes to creating a queer-friendly space, the festival is unrivaled. Genderfluid clothing is everywhere. So are LGBT people openly displaying in affection throughout the crowds. Pride flags fly above a number of campsites.
"In a broad sense, we've always focused on creating an inclusive atmosphere where people can feel not just comfortable, but inspired to express their truest, best selves," Shannon says. "We also have a number of LGBTQ people on staff and present a variety of inclusive content like the cross-dressing celebration that is the Do Over Salon and a workshop on Intersectional Healing & Intentional Celebration that looks at the role psychedelics can play in recovering from trauma due to discrimination and systemic oppression."
As at most festivals, drugs, sex, and techno have a sizable place at Lightning in a Bottle. But it seems people of all sexual identities have one too.