The Jam at the Man

Photo: Bobby Pin
Photo: Bobby Pin


by Steve Andrews

It was Wednesday night of my first burn, and I was dancing amongst the treetops of a mobile tropical island. I can’t remember what time of the the night it was, nor did I care, having let go of any inclination to know the exact hour and minute the night before. There are only two tangible times on the playa – sunset and sunrise. Whatever happens between those events seems to blur from one to the next, yet the sun’s daily arrival and departure were already becoming ritualistic times to take a deep breath and smile.

So there I was, some time between sundown and sunup, deep into Wednesday night yet still rocking a Tuesday tutu having not slept a wink the night before. We were far out in deep playa – total darkness in three directions. To the west, a city skyline unlike anything else in this solar system.

The day’s festivities had my adrenal glands on overdrive. I had just spent a few hours catching up with an old friend whom I’d reunited with after 10 years only hours before. We were hunting down the Tiki Island art car, which my friend (Goldie) had helped organize fundraising for. Shortly after sunset we found it outside the french quarter with a dozen or so people in their finest victorian garb enjoying a dinner party. In retrospect the idea of a victorian dinner party on a mobile 3-story tropical island outside a replica of Bourbon Street might seem a little…random. But by now, 3.5 days into the burn, we simply apologized for interrupting their meal, confirmed the Deep Playa shindig at “some point” later in in the night, and continued our exploration of Black Rock City by foot.

On the way to the tiki island party, I hit a wall. The wall came from the realization that I had been awake for two sunrises and two sunsets. I suddenly had my first longing for my tent and to just pass the fuck out. I had just enough energy to make it back to camp, which was a long walk from where I was. So I pulled the plug and wished Goldie good night, and started the trek back to camp.

It took me about 5 minutes of walking toward the city for my course to change from my camp to Osiris camp at the corner of 10:00 and the Esplanade. I’m not sure what specifically drew me there, but it is likely a combination of the beats, the lasers shooting out of the gigantic pyramid, and the fact that it was the closest sound camp from where I was walking. Whatever the reason I found myself amongst a sea of people with much more energy than myself. But like many instances on the playa, synchronistic moments come when you least expect it, and fortune had me dancing next to three of my campmates who were also ready to journey back home for the night.

My camp mate Sandy offered to double back with me on her bike, which I gladly accepted. We managed to get a steady rhythm with me peddling standing up and her sitting behind me and holding on to my waist. Right around the lamps along 9:00 we hit a patch of soft playa and flipped the bike, launching us into the air and creating a dust cloud with our collective thud. As we gathered ourselves, Sandy noticed that there was no line to get inside the spaceship – the man’s support structure and Black Rock City’s center point. We both agreed to take advantage of that opportunity and changed course yet again.

I only write about the events transpiring up to this moment to illustrate just how unplanned the moment that follows actually was. I was parched from two days in the sun, probably drunk, sore, elated, exhausted, yet still somehow had some energy to still feel wonder. The spaceship’s interior was the perfect example of what happens when you combine child like imagination with adult ingenuity and craftsmanship. Add the fact that within a few days everything we were standing in would be hot ashes in a pile, and emotions took control. I felt a sense of pure joy as I took everything in, which only made me want to release that emotion back into the environment from which it came.

For me that expression was inspired by a rotating steel drum. It sat there on the wall of the spaceship’s central core, generating a low bass frequency oscillation. At least I thought it came from the drum. But It very well could have been contrived in my own mind. Regardless of it’s origin there was a beat in my head that needed to become louder. So I started stomping my feet to the rhythm. After a few beats I added some hand-slapping onto the wall in front of me. Bomm – ch – bomm – ch – ch…. – The timber framed spaceship seemingly designed to resonate any impact given to it.

It couldn’t have been more than a few bars when I heard the first person join in. I was so wrapped up in the beat in my head I didn’t notice it at first. But as more people around me joined in, the collective rhythm of everyone invoked more energy, more joy, more immediacy toward this very primal acoustic groove than any sense of purpose I have ever felt. It was the most pure sense of belonging; a knowledge that I was in the right place at the right time, and acted upon an urge to let it all out. A good 50 or 60 people also felt it, and for a few minutes, we shared an unplanned experience that connected each and every one of us to our environment, which incidentally happened to be the namesake of the entire festival.

The jam only lasted a few minutes until it faded again, but not without cheers and hugs from everyone who had just been a part of it. At that point I was completely drained of any reserve energy and knew that I needed to get back to camp ASAP or hope for a comfortable place to collapse along the way. But in the afterglow of that jam, at some point before the Thursday morning sunrise, I had one of those epiphanies that people always talk about… one of those life lessons that will extend into day to day life back home in that old familiar routine. Don’t ask me what that epiphany was; as I wouldn’t be able to articulate it in words. It’s more of an action than a realization, an action that will become a habit the more I allow similar circumstances to happen. It might not be a beat inside a spaceship, but it could be an attitude in a situation that allows me to completely surrender to my environment at that moment in time.

Or, in other words… sometimes you gotta leave the island. But on your way home, you might want to check out what’s going on in that pyramid over there. And perhaps you want to cruise over to the spaceship and stomp your feet, just to get those final fumes of energy out before you go to sleep, ready for whatever tomorrow may bring.

About the author: Tales From The Playa

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

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