By Lush Huxley, Editorial Assistant LuxEco Living
On a bright and sunny Wednesday in Los Angeles, I am sitting in a pleasant backyard under a great oak tree. The house looks inconspicuous enough. And the two people in front of me seem like average, well-educated members of my own peculiar generation. But the secret Jesse Fleming and Shena Turlington are hiding is that they are actually two of the brilliant minds behind The Do Lab, the luminary Los Angeles artist collective responsible for this next weekend’s Lightning in a Bottle arts and music festival (May 28 – 31st,, Oak Canyon Ranch, Irvine, CA). From this quaint abode they have tirelessly planned for months to create an epic four day wonderland that will giddily bring together bohemian locals with overlapping interest in belly dancing, urban gardening, and spiritual exploration.
I was excited to interview the two about Lightning in a Bottle (LIB), having been introduced to the festival universe last summer at Rothbury 2009, a fest in Northern Michigan. The refreshing news, fellow members of the southland, is that there is a place for explosive creativity in our own backyard. “If Burning Man and Coachella had a baby, LIB would be it,” proclaims Jesse, who founded the event. Jesse and Shena, his partner in creation, seem hesitant to paint a picture of what exactly one should expect at this year’s Lightning in a Bottle, but rather emphasize the themes of participation, energy, and community that will undoubtedly bring a magical presence at the Oak Canyon Ranch in Irvine, CA next weekend.
What sets Lightning in a Bottle apart from its Southern California contemporaries like Coachella and Rock the Bells is its integration of environmentalism into its line-up. The weekend boasts over 50 seminars and workshops on topics like raising urban chickens, permaculture and container gardening, to name a few. But just spreading the word about sustainability doesn’t cut it for these partiers. “Every decision we make, we always run through what would be the best way to actually execute this, regarding the environment,” says Jesse. The LIB team will be planting 30 native trees at the grounds, putting water filters on taps, and fixing fences on the property to ensure they leave the space more beautiful than before.
Shena Turlington, LIB’s sustainability director, shed some light on the subject, “Our philosophy is that “leave no trace” should not be the status quo anymore, especially if you’re going to a place that is environmentally recreated. We want to go and make sure that it looks better and restored. Considering the state of our world right now, we don’t want our generation to have the mentality of ‘we just need to do no more damage.’ We really need to start improving things.”
The festival started out as a renegade birthday bash for Jesse, his brother, and some friends in the forests of Mendocino, CA. They began focusing all of their energy on throwing uniquely elaborate parties, and eventually left their day jobs to pursue their passion. “It’s been a constant struggle to get it to this point,” says Jesse, “but eventually we just realized that this is what we’re supposed to be doing.”
“More fun than you’ve ever had in your entire life!” proclaims the banner on the LIB homepage. If doing downward dog next to ladies with flaming hoola-hoops sounds like your cup of tea, then this bold statement might prove to be more than just shameless promotion. For music fans, the line-up features headliners Booka Shade, The Album Leaf , The Glitch Mob , and the new age vaudevillian circus Lucent Dossier. Festival stalwarts EOTO and up and comers like Beats Antique will also be among the 60+ electronic musicians and performers who will bring their mojo to LIB’s inspired installations. “All the stages will be custom created designs,” Jesse declares. “They are sculptures that all the performers will be performing on.” Shena laughs, “They’re all pretty mind blowing.”
Behind the scenes the LIB team has worked tirelessly to ensure environmental friendliness for their festival on every level. The energy needed to keep the event electrified will be provided by generators running on biodiesel and a solar system able to generate around 500 KW of power. For what power they can’t produce with renewable energy, the Lab is purchasing carbon credits that will go to manage forests in Mendocino.
When asked about ways an average attendee can do their part, “Leave your waste at home. Don’t bring it,” Jesse responds without thinking. While there will be biodegradable cups and cutlery offered on the grounds, the event’s creators strongly suggest you bring your own. “Don’t bring any packaging for your food, and make sure to clean up after yourself,” reminds Shena.
Despite environmentalism being a fundamental tenet of LIB, it hasn’t necessarily been easy for the team to keep their green. Their commitment to the Southern Californian flora and fauna requires “a lot of extra leaps and bounds, and a lot of financial costs,” says Shena. “There are only a few food composting facilities in this state so all of Los Angeles’ food compost has to get driven hours and hours to a central facility. It’s a lot of effort, but we don’t think it’s an excuse. It’s what needs to happen.”
Fortunately, yielding a hefty profit seems to be the last thing on Jesse’s mind. “Our goal is not to make it as big as possible, our goal is to keep it at a nice balance where everyone can contribute, participate, and it doesn’t feel like it will be over-run by the ‘masses,’“ he states matter-of-factly. “We’re kind of a ‘no branding’ festival. We don’t have banners all over the place. We refuse to put any sort of major branding inside of the festival, and we only choose companies that we feel are doing good things.” Charitable initiatives Critical Beats for the Climate and the Rainforest Action Network will be raising funds for activism in South America. The Lightning in a Paintcan project will be selling art created at LIB for the charity Sonic Muze, which purchases new instruments for under-funded schools.
An interesting twist to the LIB story is this year’s change of location from the Santa Barbara area to Oak Canyon Ranch in Irvine, a region better known for its suburban sprawl than its nearby nature. Jesse assures me that despite the festival’s migration the event will still be tucked away from any man-made infrastructure (“besides the reservoir,” he apologizes). Shena is unfazed by the festival’s newfound proximity to concrete and stucco. For her, this transition has inspiring implications. “I think that symbolically it means we’re getting closer,” she says. Jesse continues on the subject: “We’re trying to integrate the community lifestyle right here in the city where people are. We can’t all run away to the woods, as much as we’d like to. (laughs)”
A sizable community has responded to the Do Lab’s vision with overwhelmingly positive feedback. Jesse and Shena hear all the time that their efforts have changed the lives of attendees, and inspired them to come back in following years with projects of their own. A sense of community, participation, and inspired action is what the two aim to bring to those who dare to, as Hunter S. Thompson once said, buy the ticket and take the ride. “There’s so much to create and do,” Shena says as the interview comes to a close. “There’s nothing to stop us except ourselves… [It’s about] taking that leap, that scary leap, and doing something.”