Tadia Taylor didn’t even want to go to Lightning in a Bottle.
When some friends invited her to the 2015 iteration of the festival, Taylor was reticent. It was a camping event, and she didn’t really camp. People would be partying, and she was abstaining from drugs and alcohol. With its yoga, meditation and ecstatic dance sessions, LiB represented an apex of vibe-y West Coast spirituality, and as someone who’d spent 15 years in New York City, Taylor says, “I kind of had that jaded edge.”
But despite these reservations, Taylor packed her stuff, got in the car and drove north to the festival, then held in central California. As fate would have it, the weekend changed her entire life.
“It definitely just cracked me wide open,” Taylor says. At the fest she met interesting people, listened to talks that resonated, heard music that made her move and had the kind of peak moments that have made believers out of so many LiB attendees over the years.
“I had this visceral experience where the Ferris wheel was in the background, the Thunder stage was on the right and this guy was standing on top of a van playing the trumpet as the sun was setting,” she says. “I remember having this moment where I was like, ‘I want to be a part of creating something that makes other people feel the way this is making me feel right now.’”
Seven years later, Taylor is doing exactly that as the Assistant Music Director for the Do Lab, the Los Angeles-based company that’s produced Lightning in a Bottle since the early 2000s. Stepping into the role last year, Taylor now works with Do Lab Cofounder, Owner and Music Director Jesse Flemming to curate lineups like the one for Lightning in a Bottle 2022, which begins today (May 27) at Buena Vista Lake near Bakersfield, Calif. (It’s the first LiB since 2019, with the past two years cancelled due to the pandemic.)
In her role, Taylor has helped evolve Do Lab lineups to reflect a more diverse collection of artists than are typically seen at many festivals during this post-pandemic moment of social reckoning when events that aren’t diversifying simply look lazy and out of touch.
“[When Jesse offered me the job],” Taylor says, “every part of my body wanted me to say, ‘Yes, I’ll take it.’ Then I had a moment where I said ‘Jesse, you know I’ve wanted this job ever since I started working with you, but I cannot take it unless you commit to diversifying this festival.’”
Flemming said yes, Taylor did too, and the pair began a work partnership that has delivered the Do Lab’s most diverse lineups in the company’s more than two decade history. “Diversification has definitely been a goal of ours for awhile,” Flemming says, “and having Tadia help focus on it is super helpful… She’s also really good at keeping her ear to the ground and figuring out what’s hot before anybody knows what’s hot.”
Taylor’s path to her current position required hustle. In 2015, she was working as a singer and dancer and managing restaurants in Los Angeles while also doing production work on film and television projects. But fresh off the natural high of her first LiB, she knew she had to get into the festival world. Her first break came when she was offered a volunteer gig at the October 2015 Dirtybird Campout, which was co-produced by the Do Lab.
“I was like, ‘I’m 34 years old, am I going to go volunteer at a music festival?’” Taylor recalls. “But I was like, ‘If I really want to do this I’ve got to get humble.’ So I got humble.” While her dream was to work in artist relations, she was offered a paid gig doing food hospitality at Lightning in a Bottle 2016. That led to a gig at Coachella, and soon the woman who’d been on the fence about attending LiB at all was working at 10-12 festivals a year while also bartending at venues like the Hollywood Palladium to further immerse herself in music culture.
The years passed, Taylor’s contact list grew, and when the Do Lab’s then Assistant Music Director was leaving for maternity leave, she asked Taylor to step into the role while she was gone. “She gave me an hour long crash course and was like ‘I know you can handle this, I’m going offline’,” Taylor recalls. “So I basically taught myself how to do the job.” When this previous Director announced she wasn’t coming back, Taylor permanently took over the position.
When Billboard catches up with Taylor backstage at the Do Lab area during the first weekend of Coachella 2022, she’s demonstrating her efficacy, buzzing around like a rave mom/hostess, making sure everyone is happy, hydrated and welcomed. “She’s out and about every weekend at shows, checking out all the artists and meeting all the agents and the managers, networking in a way that like, everybody loves her,” says Flemming. “Having that kind of skillset and bringing it to the table is amazing for me, because she’s like, ‘Oh I know so and so; I can call them.” You can do more backdoor deals and get stuff done when you have personal relationships with people.”
When Big Freedia arrives to perform in the late afternoon, Taylor greets her like an old friend, offering a hug and a cocktail to one of the artists helping forge the Do Lab’s most diverse Coachella lineups since the group started hosting a stage at the festival in 2004.
“I think we have 17 brown and black artists on the lineup between both weekends,” Taylor says as a set by twin production duo Coco & Breezy thumps from the speakers. “That’s unheard of at a dance music festival. You don’t see it. You see two or three, five at the most. This is a massive win for me.” As South African amapiano duo Major League DJz take over the decks, Black Coffee — who’s been hanging out backstage nodding his head to the beat — pulls Taylor aside to tell her that the diversity she’s been working to achieve, it’s happening, right here.
“I’ve never seen this many Black folks hanging out here,” Taylor says, tears streaming down her face as she surveys the scene. “Coco and Breezy are up there dancing. Phil from Life On Planets is here, Black Coffee. It’s really just inspiring, and I tend to pretty humble, so taking compliments for me is weird, but I just had a moment of, I f–king helped create this, and it just felt really good.”
Taylor may have such a moment again this weekend, as she and Flemming launch a Lightning in a Bottle lineup featuring a barrage of artists of color, female acts and LGBTQA+ artists — including headliners Kaytranada, CloZee, Big Freedia, Black Coffee, British rapper Little Simz, Maya Jane Coles and a loaded undercard that spans “diversity not just in color but genre,” Taylor says, with reggae, hip-hop and more featured amidst LiB’s standard electronic fare.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, such diversified lineups are drawing a more diversified crowd, with Taylor hearing anecdotes about Black and brown people who’ve never been to LiB before buying tickets for the weekend, because of all the Black and brown people playing the show. Taylor — who with a Ghanian father and a mother who worked for USAID, lived in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Camaroon and Tanzania while growing up — also recently started a group called BUFU (“By Us, F–k You”) for Black and brown creators in dance music. “A lot of us were the tokens,” she says, “and now we’ve all found each other.”
For the historically very white West Coast transformational festival circuit, it’s crucial step in embodying the values of diversity and inclusion the scene so often touts. And for Taylor, who seven years ago watched the sun set at LiB and dreamed of creating life moments just like that for others, it’s a goal fulfilled.
“What I do know is that for most people, music is a safe space, a place of comfort, a place of joy, a place of release,” Taylor says. “Being in a position to expand all of those emotions and expand the palette and the expand the people and share it all, I could never dream of anything more.”