Behind the Scenes with Lightning in a Bottle's Magical Volunteers

Article by: Ryan Mannix

Fri June 02, 2017 | 12:30 PM

Attending a festival like Lightning in a Bottle this past Memorial Day Weekend often sends fans back to their day-to-days with a glorious, radiant glow in which we bask for weeks, or even months. With that glow, we smile wider, love deeper, and dance a little harder. The glow won’t follow us from just any event, though. It’s created by a perfect combination of elements—the new friends and bonds we openly forge at camp and while kicking up dust in front of bass-heavy speaker stacks; the whimsical, sometimes outright insane antics that would make insurance actuaries crap their pants; the once-in-a-lifetime sets by your favorite artists and also those who make us tear at the program to answer, who t.f. is that!? That glow keeps us coming back.

But such magic can’t come together with the flick of a wand or a twitch of the nose. The high production value coursing through the lay of Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) and similar festivals, is brought together by the sweat, determination, and imagination of an incredible blend of production staff and volunteers. For these hard workers, the festival afterglow is on a whole new level, found only by those with such skin in the game.

Do LaB — the laser focused company behind LIB, Dirtybird Campout, the Do LaB stage at Coachella, and more — is notorious for its strong organization and fervent execution of top-quality immersive experiences. Do LaB was even able to swiftly and effectively relocate Woogie Stage plans away from a rare bald eagle's nest, a crisis that nearly cancelled this year’s festival. All the magic of LIB is on account of crew and volunteers pushing body and mind past ordinary limits to reinvent possibilities each year, before enjoying the fruits of their labor and then basking in the aforementioned afterglow.

Festival volunteers — or more accurately work exchange participants — often make up a heavy mix of a production team. At Lightning in a Bottle, work exchangers make up the backbone of production efforts from the build, to the bar, to the breakdown, as well as greening efforts, campsite management and harm reduction. On the hunt for that enhanced creator’s glow, I made contact with Do LaB’s Work Exchange Coordinator, Bridget Baker, to dive into LIB’s work exchange program. Throughout the week leading into the festival, ten, sometimes twelve-hour days were spent assisting the build of beloved LIB installations like the Thunder Stage and the new Lilikoi. I set to work painting, mulching, chopping firewood, and laying carpet—as well as building lasting friendships and stealing time to jump in the magnificent, restored Lake San Antonio. A curious local reporter even sprang from the bushes to snap a gallery of the hubbub.

Throughout the build, I was repeatedly amazed by the spirit, skill, and productivity of my comrades in the work exchange program. Out of the seven hundred work exchange participants, or Lightning Team Members, managed by the Do LaB’s Bridget Baker—and hundreds more under management outside of Do LaB—I was able to connect with a few to share a glimpse of who makes the magic happen at Lightning in a Bottle. Meet devoted work exchangers Sachi, Scraps, Jimmy, James, and Emily.

Sachi with Harm Reduction

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Rockin’ a red shirt for the first time, Sachi was previously accustomed to the culture of hardcore shows and rock festivals. “I used to go to Warped Tour and people there make each other bloody. It’s really sad,” she said. But soaking up the Lightning in a Bottle experience, Sachi found something new entirely.

“The one thing that I really do appreciate is that everyone is really supportive. They don’t just see that someone’s down and walk the other way. Everyone comes together here to make sure everyone is OK. Here, it’s like ‘oh you need that, here I have this!’ There’s a lot of trading and sharing. There’s a consciousness here that I really appreciate. We don’t get paid, but there are still so many go-getters. So, it’s interesting to see how proactive people are just for just the freedom of having live music and the spirit of the festival.”

Scraps with Bartending

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Scraps has volunteered at several festivals from Burning Man to the pizza booths at Oregon Country Fair. “I originally got into volunteering for the free ticket,” Scraps admits. “But then found out I really love being a part of it because I look around and connect as someone who helps make this happen. My favorite is bartending because you get to be right by the stages and the music, work with amazing people, and everyone is so marvelously happy just to be here. It’s a continuous loop of excitement and love.”

Lightning in a Bottle is one of Scraps’ favorite festivals. “I love this festival so much. It’s really cool to be a part of something like this. [I love] the vibe and the people. This is the most creative and conscientious crowd I’ve been around. They’re here to party but also to do yoga and workshops and dive into the spontaneity of the festival.

“My other favorite thing to do here,” he added, “is passing around my poetry book. I print out a few hundred and share my main art that way. I love rolling up on the fire circle at 4 am to offer to read some poetry for the group.”

Jimmy (center) and His Zendo Project Crew

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

“I’ve been following Zendo since 2012,” Jimmy told us at his second Lightning in a Bottle and only third festival. “I finally took the chance to volunteer for the first time at Lightning in a Bottle 2015. I really learned a lot about myself and other people. It was a life changing experience and now I will volunteer at as many festivals as I can.”

When asked why he gravitated toward working with the Zendo Project, Jimmy articulated, “Zendo is fulfilling the other side of our fight to end the drug war — to make psychedelic substances legal for medical use and prevent unnecessary incarceration. If we want to advocate for the legalization of these substances we should be willing to come together as a community and provide services to take care of our own. I want to lend myself to that as much as I can. I don’t have the legal training to get into policy. I don’t have the medical training to get into research. But I can post up at a festival and sit with people having a bad time and share a safe space with them.”

James for Zendo Project

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

James drove from Boulder, Colorado, to attend this year’s Lightning in a Bottle, his first ever festival. It’s been a lot for James to take in, though his favorite part of the festival has been working with the Zendo Project and greeting people and holding space for them “I’m pretty involved with psychedelic harm reduction in general,” he mentioned. “I’m on the board of a non-profit called Psychedelic Club.” He then explained how he was led to psychedelic harm reduction.

“In high school, I realized that everything was fucked up and the world is not a dandy place all the time. I identified the top three problems as mass incarceration, the military industrial complex, and global warming. I didn’t really know how to help the military industrial complex or global warming, but I can advocate for the legalization of drugs, a compassionate prison policy, along with drug policy reform and criminal justice reform.” James also hopes to take up an offer from DanceSafe to work amongst the team at Global Eclipse Gathering in Oregon.

Emily (second from left) and DanceSafe

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Photo by: Galen Oakes

Volunteering with DanceSafe for the third time at a festival, Emily has also worked with artist hair and makeup at Electric Daisy Carnival. Emily prefers working with DanceSafe for her love of the peer-to-peer education and open conversation regarding recreational drug use, earplugs, consent and safe sex.

“We empower each other on the dance front and create a sanctuary amidst the experience. DanceSafe has a foundation in awareness surrounding recreational drug use and offers info for healthy lifestyle choices.” As an experienced festival-goer, Emily shared words of advice on peer pressure for young ravers entering the scene. “There’s a saying, if you lay down flat for someone they’ll complain you’re still not flat enough. It’s best to open your eyes and experience the life that fits best for you.”

Bridget Baker, Work Exchange Coordinator

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Photo by: Kristin Weitzel

Although Bridget Baker recruited seven hundred work exchange participants, she readily says, “We always need more. Even though this is the fourth year at this venue, we still find ourselves with areas needing a last minute push. We add more ice stations, we add more campground stations. We added 10 new structures this year.”

Baker urges anyone aspiring to work a festival to first sign up for the work exchange program. “Not only can crew and work exchangers get to the festival earlier for a gentler entry, but they can have a shower, eat amazing food, and get the rich experience of helping the creation from the ground up.”

Baker also explains, “a lot of the Do LaB started out volunteering in some way.” For all those with interested in joining the Lightning Team and getting a taste of that enhanced creators' afterglow, applications for Lightning in a Bottle 2018 will begin in February.