Lightning in a Bottle Festival Alters Refund Policy Following Class Action Lawsuits

A general view of The Woogie Stage during the 2015 Lightning In A Bottle Festival on May 22, 2015 in San Miguel, Calif.
C Flanigan/Getty Images

A general view of The Woogie Stage during the 2015 Lightning In A Bottle Festival on May 22, 2015 in San Miguel, Calif. 

Lightning in a Bottle has amended its refund policy after the festival's organizer Do Lab was hit with two class action lawsuits earlier this week. Both filed on Tuesday, the lawsuits sought unspecified damages from the festival that announced its cancellation in March and originally stated in an email to ticketholders that refunds would not be granted for any reason.

The Central California festival was set to take place at Buena Vista Lake in Kern County over Memorial Day weekend (May 20-25) with performances from Kaytranada, Sylvan Esso, Griz and a DJ set from James Blake. The festival announced its cancellation on March 13 due to the large gathering bans to combat the spreading coronavirus back.

In an email sent to ticketholders, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Yesenia Jimenez, Do Lab said, "Sadly, we cannot offer refunds for the cancelled event. We are however working on a plan to make you whole over the few LIB's. This will include a system for crediting you for future years."

"The reason we are not able to offer refunds is that we are an independent company, we have no parent company with deep pockets or outside investors," the email added. "At this time all of the money that was brought in through ticket sales was already paid out on non-refundable deposits, building materials and staff to bring the festival to life."

Organizers went on to explain that they understood the "news will not be received well" and that they also had to lay off their entire staff, since their insurance did not cover a global pandemic.

"Nobody was more upset about LiB cancelling than us," Dede Flemming, co-founder of Lightning in a Bottle in a statement to Billboard. "The coronavirus has been a crippling moment for the live event industry, especially independent festivals like ours. There is no rule book for a situation like this, and for the last three weeks we have been doing everything we possibly can to find ways to get refunds back to our ticket buyers or allowing them to exchange their tickets for future events."

In the lawsuit filed on behalf of plaintiff Tessa Nesis also lists company's co-owners Jason "Dede" Flemming, Jesse Flemming and Josh Flemming as defendants, and calls the terms and conditions of the refund policy "unconscionable and illusory." The complaint adds that the contract is unenforceable "when one of the parties has the unfettered or arbitrary right to modify or terminate the agreement or assumes no obligations."

Weekend-long passes for the festival began at $319 and went all the way to $999. For those looking to lodge at the event, car camping passes could be purchased for $130, while RV camping passes ranged from $355 to $1,200. VIP camping set-ups or packages ranged from $1,500 to $3,300. In 2019, the Lightning in a Bottle capacity was set at a maximum of 20,000 attendees.

Following the lawsuits filed separately on behalf of Jimenez and Nesis, by law firms Bursor & Fisher, P.A. and Geragos Law Group respectively, Do Lab has altered their plan to refund ticketholders. On Thursday, the independent event producer sent an email to ticketholders stating, "Several weeks ago, under immense pressure, we presented you with a plan to move forward, a plan that fell short of our standards and your expectations. Please accept our apologies; we aim to create joy and human connection, and never want to disappoint anyone."

Thursday's email went on to note how the festival operates on tight margins and relies on sales at the festival to make any profit. The festival stands by its original statement that it does not have the money on hand to refund ticketholders, but has found alternative means to create a "refund pool" to give back as much money as possible to fans who need it.

"We have worked together with the music agents and artists, and are thankful to announce that a vast majority of the artists, despite having incurred their own non-refundable expenses in planning for their LIB performances, are returning their deposits in an effort to help us in this time of crisis," stated Thursday's email. "Our goal is to build the largest pool of money possible so that we can then use it to help refund ticket purchasers. However, we need you to understand the situation, and that is if the majority of our community request refunds, it may mean the end of Do LaB because the pool will be far too small to refund everyone, and that debt will be crushing."

Do Lab asks that fans who can make it without a refund either transfer their ticket to the festival's 2021 0r 2022 edition or "gift" their 2020 purchase to the festival in order to ensure a "shared future."

"We understand that this is a big request of all of you, and far from a perfect resolution," the email continues. "But we also know that you care about LIB as much as we do, and that we likely cannot keep it afloat without your cooperation."

Jimenez is represented by Scott A. Bursor, Yeremey Krivoshey and Brittany S. Scott of Bursor & Fisher PA. Nesis is represented by Matthew J. Geragos and Michael Geragos of the Geragos Law Group and Reza Sina of the Sina Law Group.

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