The Early Burn

Burning Man is all about ritual. It’s an event rich with symbolism, although the meanings attached to those symbols vary widely.  You can get as many theories about what prompted Larry Harvey and his pals to burn that first Man on Baker Beach as the number of people you ask. The answers will vary with circumstance, even from Larry himself, but it wasn’t because of a breakup with his girlfriend. It started as a romp, a thing to do because it sounded fun to do.

So it is with the Early Burn. Two Saturdays before the start of the big event, the people who are here building the city get together to burn a bunch of stuff. It’s  really no more complicated than that, but the interpretations again vary widely.

The big crews build effigies that either mean or do not mean anything. Last night, the Heavy Equipment camp burned the effigy of a radio — the thing that drives us crazy and nevertheless is a big help in making all this happen. The Oculus crew, which builds the Center Cafe, built a “Tim Burton tree,” as described by Goatt. Did it have anything to do with this year’s burn, or any year’s burn? Maybe, maybe not. But you get the sense they did it because they could. Much like Larry and his pals in 1986.

Anyway, the Early Burn has become a custom and a ritual. Effigies are burned, and many of the people come dressed up as someone else in Black Rock City right now.  Some of the similarities are chilling, they are so good, such as the Weld Boy alter ego, but I’m  guessing you wouldn’t get much out of a description. It’s almost like your Aunt Sara imitating your mom; it’s hilarious for your family, but for outsiders it’s … eh.

By the end of the night, all that was left were piles of flaming embers.

Anyway,  Micheal Michael, one of the founders of Burning Man and the man responsible for setting up the Black Rock Rangers, was talking last night about how the Early Burn is reminiscent of Burning Man in its infancy.

In 1990, the first year in the desert, after the celebration had become to large to stage at Baker Beach in San Francisco, there were only about 80 people around to see it.  No roads, no Porta Potties, no shade.

“We were so hot we climbed under our cars in the heat of the day just to get out of the sun,” he said.

(Newbie note: It’s hard to realize just how hot you can feel out here. This desert is at about 4,000 feet, too, so you have to acclimatize yourself to both the heat and the altitude. It’s really not a  bad idea if you can delay the heavy activities for a day when you get here. Give your body a chance to adjust.)

Last night, there was a small-town feel to the festivities. In contrast to the hugeness of the Burning Man event itself, this little gathering let you run into the people you know, or talk to  the people that you’ve seen before and would like to get to know.

There were fireworks from Dave X to get everything going, and then the effigies went up pretty much at the same time.  There wasn’t any need for a perimeter ring; when the fires got going, you had to move back to get out of the heat. (more…)


WE GO TO Burning Man for many things, COMMUNITY, EXPRESSION, MUSIC, CAMPING, UNICORNS and FRIED BUTTER ON A STICK, but for those of you who truly come out for the ART, this is a banner year. We have 300+ registered installations in 2011. There are 93 FIRE PROJECTS, up from 71 last year. We have what will be the LARGEST PROJECT EVER TO GRACE THE PLAYA and we have some new TRADITIONS.

Let me tell you a little about it.

This year our FEARLESS LEADER, the REVOLUTIONARY ANTHROPOLOGIST EXTRAORDINAIRE, Mr. Larry von Harvey has decreed the MEME THEME RITES OF PASSAGE. I’m tickled as a playa mantis in a cup of dew about this year’s ART that’s being built on the TABULA RASA of the empty playa floor at this VERY MOMENT. You lucky CITIZENS will be welcomed to a Playa that is full to overflowing with monumental, whimsical, technically spectacular and stunning ART, much of which will burn with the intensity of so many who have worked all year round to GIFT it to you.

Creating ART to take out to Burning Man is very much a RITE OF PASSAGE. All our ARTISTS will be in their LIMINAL STATE and full of joy in that playa apparition situation just in between the SEPARATION of months of working their asses off and fundraising and the eventual REINCORPORATION of disassembling or immolating the ARTISTIC FRUIT OF THEIR LOINS REALIZED. They’ve really outdone themselves this year so you’re in for a TREAT.

We also have a HUGE crop of NEW TO THE PLAYA ARTISTS making art and doing everything from a zip line to an upside down tree. Welcome and enjoy. This event will change you my friends.

Baptême du Feu

My dear friend Mr. Steve who also is involved with the ART SCENE, and I were discussing the fact that there is INDEED something GROUNDBREAKING IN A WAY that the existence of Burning Man facillitates. It is something we see very much of this time of year. In our SOCIETY OF SPECTACLE PEOPLE WITH MANY DIFFERENT SKILL SETS AND POINTS of view are working COLLABORATIVELY on COLLOSAL projects, the SCOPE and VISION of which is BECOMING GREATER and MORE SOPHISTICATED each year.. It isn’t so much that this hasn’t happened before, but just as the SCALE of our event is growing, the SCALE of this approach to MAKING ART is GAINING MOMENTUM and is specifically happening at this moment, with those of us who are part of this whole BURNING MAN thing. We are ALL indeed a bunch who are rich in spirit, experience and art who are building something new.

Speaking of all the people who work their asses off to MAKE the ART, this year once again ANARCHIST JIM and EVONNE HEYNING have put together their AUDIO TOURS which are just so entirely cool to have in your AUDIO TALKIN’ DEVICE as you’re walking around encountering ART and as a BONUS this year Jim, Patti Glenn and Reena Shah put together a PDF DOCUMENT that is OVERFLOWING with information, photographs and stories from the artists themselves. And it has a MAP. Seriously. A MAP with the ART PLACED ON IT. I love these people in the ARTery and I’m lucky enough to have worked with them since 2003 because they are some of the BEST PEOPLE I’ve ever met. I get to read every project every year as I build the INSTALLATION PAGES. So if you’re truly INTERESTED IN ART, well let me give you something to get your motor running and I’m PLEASED TO GIVE YOU this year’s


the Temple rises

There’s a giant structure being built at the far end of the playa. It’s somewhat  reminiscent of  last year’s Megatropolis,  in that it looms so large on the landscape, and how it aspires to scrape the sky.

And the comparison is doubly apt, because many of the  people who brought you Megatropolis are working on this new giant, the Temple of Transition.  An international crew, headed by Kiwi, the thoughtful New Zealand firebrand,  has been bivouacked in Reno for months, putting together the pieces that could be put together in advance.

The crew includes other New Zealanders, who spent large sums of money just to make it here, and a fair contingent of  folks from the rest of the world — Irish, English, more New Zealanders, — even a New Yorker or two. And there are also a fair number of hard-driving locals from Reno and Tahoe. It’s a powerful mix.

So there are familiar faces toiling in the dust and heat, but maybe what links the Temple of Transition to Megatroplis most directly is its ambition.

“The noble Brutus hath told you that Ceasar was an ambitious man; if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caeser paid …”

The central tower of the Temple will soar 120 above the desert floor. It’s being constructed in levels, and eventually five will be lifted on top of each other and then secured into place to form the centerpiece of what feels like a Temple village.


How’s the playa? It’s fantastic!

One of the key questions leading up to Burning Man is always  … HOW’S THE PLAYA THIS YEAR??

Well, I’m happy to report that it is amaaaaazing. I’ve never seen it so flat and firm in eight years of coming here. You veterans know what a difference that makes, and for you  first-timers, I think you’re in for a treat.

There was a LOT of rain on the playa over the winter. In fact, it showed up in October, when the Playa Restoration crew had to do their work in ankle-deep water. And the water stayed around in places until last month!

And that’s exactly what the playa needed. It was like a hard reboot for the desert, because when it gets good and inundated, it tamps everything down the way it’s supposed to be.

There’s still going to be dust, and plenty of it, so definitely bring your goggles and face masks. All the cars and trucks and RVs are going to pulverize the hard crust on the desert floor now, and the wind is going to send it all flying through everything.

But it should be a lot easier getting around, especially in the far reaches of the playa. There aren’t many of those nasty, thigh-grinding piles that make you get off the bike and walk. We think it’ll be a lot easier getting around, for sure.

The funkiest area is in the open playa between around 1 and 3; there is a pretty good number of mounds out there.

But overall, things are really really good!

There are cracks on the desert floor about an inch and half deep. Under that it's dark and firm.


And here's what it looks like if you pick up one of those clumps.


Most of the floor is smooth and hard, perfect for biking around.


There are some mounds in the further reaches, out between 1 and 3.


Need a lift? This crew’s got you covered

Chaos, who runs the heavy machinery yard, made a stunning announcement on the second day of the building of Black Rock City.

“We’re all set and ready to go,” he said. “Just tell us what you need.”

Heavy Machinery has one of the biggest setups out here, and the fact it was all squared away within a day of everyone getting here was nothing short of amazing. Sure, there are still fine details being worked out, and the camp will continue to take shape over the course of the build, but the fact that they were in place and rarin’ to go by the second day is an incredible achievement.

This is Chaos’s first year of running the whole show. Last year, he was connected to three radios at a time when he was the main dispatcher. He knew where every piece of equipment was, and where it was going, and what time it needed to be there. You get the feeling he still knows all that stuff, but he’s not the radio voice of the operation anymore.

And it’s quite an operation. There are trucks and lifts and towers all lined up in the yard. How many? Glad you asked:

— four reach forks
— six boom lifts
— four skid steers
— two ride-on trenchers
— one walk-behind trencher
— nine scissor lifts
— one backhoe
— three hysters (big fork lifts)
— forty light towers

The Heavy Machinery camp has  shipping containers that have been remodeled so that crew members can live in them. “It’s a safety issue,” Aristotle was saying. “If an operator has heat stroke, they’re going to kill someone.” So the containers have air conditioning, and they’re quiet, and you can get some sleep there. (more…)

Burning Man at SXSWi

If you’ve spent time in Black Rock City, you know what it’s like to be inspired. You know what it feels like to design and build incredible things for the sake of how it makes you feel, rather than what you earn from it. You’ve seen what’s uniquely possible at Burning Man. Now, imagine if we were able to get in the room with the country’s leading innovators, and share what we’re learning about creativity and innovation the way it happens at Burning Man — through personal empowerment, collaboration, self-reliance and self-expression? Well, we have that chance … and we could use your help.

The Machine, Burning Man 2005

As we have for the past four years (actually, Larry Harvey spoke at SXSWi back in 1991 … so there’s history here), a contingent of Burning Man staff members will be attending the SXSWi conference in Austin Texas in March 2012. It’s an incredible opportunity to meet with, learn from, and share knowledge with leading-edge drivers of interactive technology, cultural innovation and more.  While Burning Man’s “fit” with SXSWi may seem odd on the face of it, we’ve found SXSWi attendees are eager to glean what we’ve learned from our experience, since Burning Man is in essence a massive, far-flung social network — a tightly-knit community connected year-round by technological threads. (more…)

it’s not the destination …


We all have our tales of woe about getting to Burning Man, but this one is of another order of magnitude.

The getting ready is always a challenge. You have to remember everything you need to make it for a week in the unforgiving desert. And you want to do more than just make it: you want to live with some style.

But doesn’t it always seem that the unexpected rises up and bites you in the behind  just when you’re about to leave? It sure did for Epona, Witchcraft, and 10-9.

They had originally planned to leave from Oakland last Thursday, but that’s the day Epona discovered that the water pump on her truck had stopped working. But her regular mechanic (and boyfriend), Alipato, was already on the playa. The repairs would have been really expensive, so they decided to use 10-9’s car instead, and they pushed back their departure until Friday.

On Friday, 10-9 found out that a friend had died a few weeks earlier. That’s a different story for a different day. But 10-9 could no longer leave on Friday, so they pushed back their departure again, to Saturday.

Witchcraft called Epona on Saturday to see where  she was. “Oh, I’m in the emergency room,” she said. While she was packing, a knife fell from a top shelf  and pierced through the back of her hand. And not just any knife — this one had been a gift from her ex-boyfriend. “Oh, going to join your lover in the fabulous desert?” the past seemed to be saying. “Oh no you’re not!”

So she got patched up, and the new plan would be to leave on Sunday. Finally. Three days late, but they’d get here.

But no. Not yet. (more…)

Power to the people

When you have a party in the desert, you have to bring your power with you.

The Power crew is my new favorite crew on the playa, if only for the fact that they seem to be the hardest-working folks in the desert. … Wait. That’s not fair. That’s a distinction that’s  impossible to make —  EVERYone is working hard here. But the Power crew seems to be working longer than everyone else, and that has to count for something.

Actually, in the beginning they were really only working half days — from about 9 in the morning till about 9 at night, well after darkness had fallen. So they were only working for about 12 hours. Half a day.

The head of the crew, Garth, and his aide de camp, Leeway, can usually be found in one corner of the playa or another, checking on various projects and figuring out where the power team has to go next. They’re not just supervisors, though. They do more than a little digging and splicing and connecting themselves.

The other morning, one of the other key players on the team, the Hun, was directing the crew in an Army-like task: Take all these cables out of the container’s they’re in, count them, note it in the inventory, then put them all back in the containers. It wasn’t quite digging a hole and then filling it in, but it felt something like it.

There are a LOT of cables to keep track of: about nine mile’s worth.

But this is the kind of thing you have to do when there are so many moving pieces to keep track of. Think about it: This crew has to distribute 2.4 megawatts of power from 21 generators through nine miles of cable, and they have to make sure it’s done safely and efficiently.

(And to get a sense of how much 2.4 megawatts is: An average home uses about two kilowatts of power a day, so the Power crew is supplying enough energy to meet the needs of a city of 1,200 homes.) (more…)