Burning Man, the annual week-long art festival in the Nevada desert, is not only a bunch of dusty, acid-tripping naked hippies, and candy-tripping techno ravers. It is, and always has been, ruled by all kinds of techno-smart futuristic punks.
Burning Man is a week-long art party in a handmade city that is doing its level best to kill you. Either the sun is baking dry ground that is blinding white, squeezing water from your body, or the wind is blasting mile-high storms of dust across this enormous barren plain at fifty miles an hour, enough to take your tent away if it isn’t attached to rebar, or a starry desert night is damn-near freezing you to death.
Occasionally the climate likes to remind you you’re actually partying on an ancient lake bed — the playa — and rains for days until the solid dusty ground turns to thick soupy mud that adds inches to your shoes in seconds.
Who thrives in that environment? People who are a little bit crazy, quite a bit determined, and a whole lot of wiry and smart. People who do what it says on the ticket — voluntarily assume the risk of death. People who are brought roaringly to life in this killer of a desert, and fight fiercely to build an all-inclusive volunteer-driven civilization that lasts for as long as a mayfly.
Burning Man is crawling with law enforcement and officialdom; they’ve just gotten very good at blending in. The notion that you have complete freedom to openly flout federal or Nevada state law is a dangerous myth.
Notice, newbies, that when I keep calling it a city, I’m not speaking metaphorically. This is a city with roads, street signs, with a volunteer force of street gas lamp lighters, with public services like coffee and porta potties and sewer trucks and water trucks to douse the roads, all included in the price of your ticket.
Surviving Burning Man
Drink water whenever you’re not talking which is a good rule to obey if you don’t want to end up in the med tent. “Drink enough water that you piss clear” is another. “Leave no trace” — hard as it is to believe, the vast majority of Burners actually follow this rule religiously, to the point of chasing wind blown trash for miles.
These are, generally speaking, people for whom the Golden Rule is a suggestion. But expect people to drop everything to help a stranger with a cut on his knee, or a camp of strangers with a wind-torn shade tarp, or sign up to help some mad sculptor with insane ambitions of building a giant steel rocket ship, are a little beyond needing to be reminded to “do unto others.”
Best Air Filter Dusk Mask
Do yourself a favor and protect your lungs from the swirling dust and blowing sand. Grab a stylish air filter face mask, dust mask, or rave sleeve. Brands like Vogmask, Cambridge Mask, or iHeartRaves have a variety of colors, fabrics and sizes to protect yourself from a desert storm.
Everything else that happens on the surface of Burning Man — the partying, the techno music, the whimsical city-wide improv act complete with Mad Max-scenario — is icing that sits on the cake of this deep and genuine community spirit.
The ultimate misconception about Burning Man, though, is that it’ll be around forever. The whole idea is that it won’t. The event is a celebration of impermanence and change — the clue is in the title, and in the vanishing city that gets packed in and packed out.
Larry Harvey, Burning Man co-founder, has long said he’s preparing for the day when it will be no more. Eventually the crush of extra people at an event that’s adding up to 10,000 new attendees each year will get too much, the culture will collapse, it really will jump the shark. It doesn’t matter, Harvey insists — the spirit of Burning Man burns brightly in dozens of what are known as regional Burns, held around the year.
For many grizzled veterans who no longer go, that day has already come. It doesn’t matter. People are always on the edge of phasing out of Burning Man; that’s why “it was better last year” is one of the most common memes on the playa, right up there with “leave no trace.”
So far, however, Black Rock City has absorbed far more immigrants than it has spat out emigrants. There’s healthy stream of new attendees (and yes, new tech billionaires) to replace the old. For all its sham, drudgery and imperfect visions, Burning Man the event, not just the spirit, is still gaining strength.
It’s high time we started seeing it for the phenomenal jerry-rigged punk-built human achievement it is — rather than the oft-ruined hippy fest of media legend — before it leaves no trace one last time.