The NOW! Festival — It’s Like Bread, Sliced

This came across our radar, and we’d be hard-pressed to imagine a faster/easier/better way to bring Burning Man principles into your local community — and if the folks who came up with this aren’t Burners, we’d be utterly shocked (albeit pleasantly surprised).

It’s called NOW! festival. Here’s how it works: they pick two weeks a year and encourage people to come up with free and nearly free awesome experiences that serve to “co-create the best possible version of our community for one extraordinary week.” Sound familiar? Thought it might.

Tetherball, people. There's TETHERBALL!
Tetherball, people. There’s TETHERBALL!

So people list their ideas on the website, and the listings are as much an advertisement as an inspiration to others to get off their duffs and create something as well (we’re digging the “Me Too” button).

The list of events reads like Black Rock City’s What Where When guide, only less completely insane. Somebody’s offering a concierge service outside the DMV, another’s hosting a ukelele jam. There’s a tetherball competition, a conversation about healthy eating, and a mobile bike repair station. And of course there’s a “Psychic Friends Pop-Up Healing Station” and a “Midnight Pajama Silent Disco”. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Basically, it’s great stuff that makes any neighborhood a better place to be, pulled together by people who want their neighborhood to be a better place.

It’s happening in San Francisco’s Panhandle neighborhood this week, so check it out if you’re in the area.

And for God’s sake people, please create one of these in your home town!! They’ve got a handy How To guide and a FAQ for all your questionings.

We tip our hat to these fine folks making great things happen.

PedalBump Shows What It Takes to Run an Interactive Theme Camp

PedalBump is a fantastic theme camp that’s been hosting interactive madness on the Esplanade in Black Rock City since 2013. They welcome Burning Man participants to enjoy (as in, smash the shit out of each other in) custom built pedal-powered bumper cars on a circular track beneath a big top circus tent. Hell. Yes.

And that’s all well and good, of course, but they’ve taken it a step further — they help teach other Burners what it takes to run an interactive theme camp at Burning Man. The result? Everybody wins.

Here’s their recap from this last year, check it out if you’re prone to the oh so foolish idea of running an interactive theme camp on playa (we kid, it’s awesome):

We wanted to let you know that our endeavor to teach some folks about running an interactive installation was a smashing success! We will have slots open again this year for some intrepid groups to learn how to run an interactive installation, including joining in our build process, so stay tuned for our 2015 press release!  Meanwhile, here is a quick 2014 RECAP of the Guest Hosting crew endeavors.

(Photo by Sarah G )

At the start of the 2104 Burn, the first time that we handed over the PedalBumps under the big top circus tent to a guest hosting crew, our founding group walked away and looked at it from afar with a broader perspective. It was like handing over our baby. We spent every single day and night running it last year and rarely had the chance to step back and watch the show.

It was hard in a way to entrust it to others. Giving up control over something you’ve created with a tight knit group is never easy. The installation encompasses our heart’s work and each bumper car was fabricated to have an individual personality. The host crews needed to step up to wrangle and entertain several hundred people on the Esplanade, while caring for a truckload of equipment during each shift of the public races. But we knew that having these host crews totally take over was definitely the best way for them to learn the ins and outs of an interactive installation of this scale.  As a group they had to figure out how to divvy up jobs, support each other, communicate in a chaotic environment, keep the party going, troubleshoot on the fly and close up shop when done.

(Photo by Gerard DiNardi)

The crews we interviewed and selected for this awesome opportunity showed up in full force, ready to go and gave us peace of mind to let the mayhem roll. It was well worth it to share this knowledge in a completely experiential fashion. They all created new styles and wacky traditions we may have never thought of for PedalBump. We gave each hosting crew a bunch of pre-instructions via email and all our tips and tricks in person on playa to running this crazy installation. At the start of each shift, we got them started going over all the details but once we stepped away they were fully in charge. By all reports they had a blast. The number one comment they all made was how exhausted they were creating a massive spectacle for four hours straight and that they would do it again in a heartbeat! Here’s a quick rundown of what went on when the 2014 host crews took over.

Steampunk Saloon: It was a lovely, music oriented evening at the races with these beautiful DJ’s and magic-makers. Their witty, polite announcers got the crowds to play lightly with a bump and run style that had riders giggling and showing off. The cameras were out in force. It was a primping and posing night on the track reminiscent of the Preakness. They emphasized delight and the vibe carried into a dance party under the tent after the races ended. The next day we found all the PadalBumps in near perfect condition. The track and surrounding environs were spotless. People came again the next day to show off and pose with the bumper cars.

(Photo by Gerard DiNardi)

Gate Crew: This crew came in HARD! They amped up with some growling music and immediately began verbally heckling riders and spectators. They brought their own orange cones to set up lanes within the track (ala the lines at gate) and spun riders around for complete directional mayhem. They created duststorms by slamming giant pillows on the ground and then incessantly hurling these massive dusty bombs at the riders—who loved it! Their pit crew searched and harassed riders and constantly ran them off the road and caught rides on the bumpers. Impeded by cones, pit crew and dust bombs, riders could not even get enough speed to make it around the track more than a few times before collapsing and rolling off the cars to practically crawl off the track in sheer hysterics.

Kids Day: The kids showed up hours before their scheduled slot waiting impatiently to run the races before most of our camp was even awake. You know kids…. Our original crew helped them set up, got them used to the microphones to announce and showed them how to manage the line. The small-fry got both kids and adults racing for hours and our mechanics helped a few learn how to turn some wrenches to fix a few loose screws and flat tires left over from Gate crew the night before. At first glance, you’d think that adults are going to overpower kids on these things but it is exactly the opposite. The kids have boundless, endless energy and clear lungs for the crazy cardio that pedaling requires and can out maneuver almost any adult within one lap.

(Photo by Gerard DiNardi)

Mystikal Misfits: This talented performance group took the demolition derby aspect of PedalBump to new heights. The next day after these Misfits ran it, all our cars were so smashed and bashed we needed to re-weld over half of them and two of the older models were damaged beyond repair. They invented a new tradition called stilt cocking at the races where a naked stilter walks over the racers before they take off from the starting line.

The Eds: A small but energized group from our own camp took over Friday afternoon. They were new to the whole performance aspect of running the races, but they did have a real life fireman on crew so we trusted everyone was in good hands. By Friday day, word was out that PedalBump is a blast so they had a steady stream of happy people to entertain. The shady tent became a fun oasis for their races. They put on a great show, cracking tons of jokes in matching PedalBump Pit Crew T-shirts and their sheer enthusiasm kept everyone smiling like crazy.

Camp Absofuckinlutionists: They were Canadian and they make awesome homebrewed beer.  At first, they were so timid and polite that the spectators were out of control, cutting in line, jumping on cars and climbing the tent! We gave them some coaching and some whiskey and emphasized that they were in charge and had the right to kick out any assholes. Soon enough they were heckling everyone within earshot and ordering people around like pros.

(Photo by Sarah G)

A special shout out goes out to several individual volunteers, especially Viking, who showed up to help at random times and jumped in to announce, wrangle and fix the cars! They brought a zing of new energy and had a blast! A few of the crews did not make it to their scheduled slots due to the rainstorm and entry delays at the beginning of the week. But those that missed out will be on the roster this year if they want to try again.

We’re sure our 2014 guest crews and volunteers will take their first-hand knowledge to creating more interactive art at their own camps this year!

Watching from afar confirmed our commitment to bringing in new crews to host the races and gave us new energy to improving PedalBump for its 3rd year! We’ll be having some build days and pre-playa races in L.A. this summer for anyone who wants to get involved in advance and we’ll be taking applications once again for hosting crews and volunteers to jump in at the Burn in 2015. Again, stay tuned for details.

Much Love from the PedalBump Crew

Kevin, Sarah, Tanya and Zack

There’s a Black Dot in the Middle of Everything I See

Ranger Halston
Ranger Halston

Kelli Hoversten was a tireless and fearless adventurer. She’d ice climb during the Colorado winters, rock climb in the warmer months, and travel the country in search of her next challenge. She was also an avid reader, devouring four or five books at a time when she wasn’t working on her family’s Missouri cattle ranch.

But not anymore.

At Burning Man 2014, Kelli — you may know her as Ranger Halston — was working with her fellow Black Rock Rangers as a “Sandman”, the caretakers of the inner circle during the Man Burn. While the citizens of Black Rock City watch the Man and the Fire Conclave performances in the Great Circle, Sandman Rangers keep their eyes on the crowd, ensuring nobody makes an ill-advised sprint toward the flames.

Ranger Halston, after the injury
Ranger Halston, after the injury

That was when Kelli’s life was instantaneously and irreversibly changed, when somebody in the crowd pointed a handheld laser at her face, permanently blinding her left eye. And then one mounted on a Mutant Vehicle partially blinded her right eye.

Some Burners think it’s “fun” to aim a laser at the Man, or at the people around them — it’s the functional (and intellectual) equivalent of tagging, I suppose. It used to be no big deal, really. Back in the day, the only lasers that could actually harm somebody were big, unwieldy and expensive, but with recent technological advancements, the $20 laser you picked up and stuck in your pocket can reach 3-10 miles, and it could blind anybody who catches it in the eye. And facing the crowd as they do during big burns, Black Rock Rangers are especially vulnerable.

Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger
Ranger Halston with fellow Black Rock Ranger

Since the accident, Kelli has been forced to relearn everything she’d come to know in her life, and to reconsider everything she’s taken for granted. “I had no idea how important depth perception is. I don’t think anybody does, until they lose it,” she tells me. She no longer rock climbs or ice climbs. “It’s too dangerous with one eye, and the risk of another injury on top of this? If I lose my other eye, well …” She leaves the sentence hanging in the air. She’s lost her job as an arborist because they can’t insure her now. She’s got enough vision left in her right eye to still be allowed to drive, but just barely, and she’s rightfully worried about losing that privilege. “There’s a black dot in the middle of everything I see.”

Don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either.

It’s too difficult and painful to read as much as she used to, but low-vision therapists are helping with lighting systems that will help a bit. “Reaching out to pick up a water glass now requires thought. Even cutting my food is a challenge. And God, shaving my legs is like a bloodbath,” she laughs. “I sure didn’t see that one coming.”

Halston at Rangers HQ
Halston at Rangers HQ

I hear sadness cutting through the laughter, and I’m struck by her strength. She’s angry, and she has every right to be. Her future was stolen through somebody’s ignorance. But she’s not bitter. More than anything, as she comes to terms with the fact that she’ll never have her former life back, she’s most concerned about making sure others are aware of the dangers of modern handheld lasers. Makes sense, really. She’s a Black Rock Ranger.

Kelli is raising funds to cover the lost wages and medical bills she’s accumulated since the injury, carrying her over until (and hopefully beyond) her Workers’ Comp claim gets processed by Burning Man’s insurance company. Please join with us as we help her, if you can.

But more importantly, don’t use handheld lasers in crowds, don’t ever aim them at people, and make sure nobody around you does either. And don’t bring them to Burning Man ever again — it’s just not worth the risk to the livelihood of another human being. Share this story around. That’s what Kelli really wants. That’s what Burning Man wants.

The March of the Little Green Man

On an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday, around 80,000 people sat nervously in front of their computers, waiting for the noon hour to strike. And when it did, they quickly clicked the link to get into the queue to purchase one of 40,000 precious tickets to Burning Man 2015. And then began … the wait.

As we’ve learned, it takes time to process all those transactions. Maddening time. Anxiety-inducing time. Time people spent on an emotional rollercoaster from hell, as they waited helplessly to see whether or not the winds of fate would blow a golden ticket into their hands. And during this time, probably more intensive psychic energy was heaped onto one single thing than anything else in Burning Man’s 29-year history: The Little Green Man.

The Little Green Man
Green Man walkin’.

The Little Green Man (yes, we’re capitalizing it, shut up) was the little dude standing, strolling or running along the progress indicator bar, marking one’s advancement through the ticket queue. As ticket-seekers urged him on with a fervor worthy of a filly at the Derby, he ascended to the level of a little green mythical being of possibility that would make the average totem, rune, relic or fetish (wait for it…) green with envy.

And while technically he’s white on a green background — Burners are known to be loose with aesthetic interpretations — he will go down in Burning Man lore as The Little Green Man. We’ve pulled together some of the sale-day homages to the little guy here (and we’ve saved our favorite for last) …. (more…)

9-Year Old Julia Wolfe’s TEDx Talk about Burning Man

9-year old Julia Wolfe is a Burning Man veteran. You’ll want to take a moment out of your day to watch her wonderful talk at TEDxABQ in Albuquerque, New Mexico about her transformative experiences at Burning Man, and how she’s taken the lessons learned into her day-to-day life.

Julia contributes to the Children’s Hour weekly live radio show on Albuquerque’s KUNM public radio.

Welcome Back, Lake Lahontan!

Our man Taz, who holds down the technological fort year-round in Gerlach, sent us word today that the great Lake Lahontan has returned! Luckily, he sent not only word, but pictures!

Wait, what’s Lake Lahontan, you may ask? Well, our beloved Black Rock Desert is actually a dry ancient lakebed – the lake that was once Lake Lahontan (take a look at the dark rings around the mountains surrounding the playa and you’ll see where the waterline was). And during wet years, water flows from up north and fills – very thinly, it’s cool and creepy – some or all of the playa basin.

Now, given the historical drought that the Western United States has been experiencing this year (historic as in the worst since Charlemagne was emperor of Europe – like not fooling around historic), this is fantastic news. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop nonetheless, and we’ll take it.

All it’s gonna take is a helluva lot more to give us higher hopes of having a smooth, solid playa surface for Burning Man 2015. Keep your fingers crossed. (Click to embiggen the images.)

Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)

Virgins and Turnkey Camps are Ruining Burning Man

We’ve been hearing and reading a lot about Turnkey Camps over the past couple months (haven’t we all?) and I have to say, I’m a little confused by people’s apparent willingness to make or buy into blanket statements and generalizations about Turnkey Camps, virgins, who should be allowed into Black Rock City, etc.

A virgin getting the virgin treatment at Greeters, 2008. (Photo by Dan Adams)
A virgin getting the virgin treatment at Greeters, 2008. (Photo by Dan Adams)

Let me back up a moment and say that I’ve been working for Burning Man for 11 years now, including five years as the Web Team Project Manager and as Minister of Propaganda with the Communications Department for the last six. On playa, I give tours of Burning Man to people who’ve never seen Black Rock City before as part of the eXternal Relations Team (XRT) and I’m part of the new Burning Man Docents team, helping to acculturate folks.

So where was I? Right, here we are…

Did some people do bad things? Sure. Are some people “doing it wrong”? Yep. Will it destroy Burning Man? Nope. Are we learning from this year what we can do better in the future? Absolutely. We are bigger than this, and our community can — as it always has — figure it out, adapt and self-regulate. There’s no question in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not apologizing for Turnkey Camps and virgins who may have mis-stepped … nor are we sweeping anything under the carpet. Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  1. Burning Man has always had virgins. It’s how this thing keeps going and growing. In fact, in the early years Black Rock City was sometimes more than 50% virgins, since the event doubled in size from year to year.
  2. The percentage of virgins has been steady for the past few years, between 35% and 40% of the total population.
  3. Not all virgins are clueless twits. Some won’t know what they’re doing, and some will (but we’ll attempt acculturate all of them).
  4. Some of those virgins are never going to “get it”. Most will. (I had no clue what I was doing in 2001, and I’d like to think I turned out OK in the end. Heh.)
  5. Every single year of Burning Man’s existence, people have lamented how it’s all going to pot because [insert reason here] and virgins are doing it wrong. And it hasn’t. (The #1 most common thing I hear from virgins is “I didn’t understand what it was about, how could I possibly have? But now I get it! I’m a Burner!!”)
  6. Turnkey Camps are not all the same. There’s a broad spectrum from “doing it fine” to “doing it horribly”. The percentage in the latter group is small. Very small.
  7. The “tech elite” have always been at Burning Man. Hell, they’re practically what made Burning Man possible.
  8. Burning Man will always change and evolve.
  9. It is in the media’s interest to generate and stir up conflict and scandal and paint black and white pictures, because money.
Here's a guy in a banana bike, because guy in a banana bike, 1995. (Photo by Dolores Marconi)
Here’s a guy in a banana bike, because guy in a banana bike, 1995. (Photo by Dolores Marconi)

It’s part my job to keep my finger on the pulse of the community in Black Rock City. Here’s my book report for 2014: despite a sensationalist New York Times article that was inflammatory and inaccurate but had legs, Burning Man was happening in all its diverse glory. From the solo hippy in his camper van with a hot plate to lavish camps with catered food and grand performances and everywhere in between, people were participating, making art, making connections, doing their talks and workshops and parties and unicorn rampages, and generally being absolutely incredible. And it’s seriously hard to make the argument that Burning Man’s going to shit and the virgins are screwing it all up when we had the CLEANEST CITY EVER this year.

We firmly believe everybody deserves the opportunity to have a transformational experience, ESPECIALLY the people who may not ‘get it’ right away … they probably need it more than anybody. Is that risky? Possibly, but our culture is so rich that I challenge a newcomer to NOT be impacted by it. And, as our culture gets stronger, it’s harder for a minority element to contaminate it. Think of it like this: if our culture was a thin soup, one carrot could change the whole flavor. But if you toss a carrot into a rich stew like ours, it’s hardly noticeable … but it becomes part of the mix.

It’s our job to figure out how to get more people to experience Burning Man without compromising our principles in the process (INCLUDING radical inclusion). This is all of our work. And as the event grows in popularity, we’re going to have to work harder. But don’t panic, this stew is really, really good.

Tap the Sun! Solar Camping on Playa with RASPA

Dave Marr was Burning Man’s web team project manager back in the day (think late 90s – early aughts), and he now makes a spectacle of himself volunteering for Media Mecca. And well, he’s hopped on the solar bandwagon, and (like every good hippy) now he wants to share the gospel with YOU. Here’s Dave:

“O’ is my power to capture the sun and control the lighting!”

Dave's slick solarized camp
Dave’s slick solarized camp (photo by Dave Marr)

Since 1998, I’ve camped in Black Rock City every way imaginable. I’ve slept in tents, in the back of trucks, in RVs old and new, and even atop of a hay bale on burn night — at a close but safe distance from the fiery embers.

I’ve been a member of small camps and large villages on The Esplanade, on the Center Camp grid, deep within street-sign-required territories, and even once went rogue and guerrilla on the back-side, aka the outer ring, also affectionately referred to as The Assplande.

Electricity, bitches! (photo by Dave Marr)
Electricity, bitches! (photo by Dave Marr)

In all of my adventures, I’ve learned the greatest comfort of all on the playa is, without a doubt, not cigarettes or aged whisky, but having electricity. That mysterious life-feeding juice required by lights, music, A/C, air-pumps, electronics, cameras, batteries, etc. In short, everything annoying, addictive and unholy in our modern world. Apologies to those from Darktardia Village. You live in a world I do not understand.

For me, each year is another opportunity for a new experience or personal journey. This year I decided to go solar by participating in the inaugural RASPA (Radically Affordable Solar for Playa Artists) program provided by those industrious non-profit do-goers at Black Rock Solar. $50 per panel rental, from Aug 18 to Sept 2. Not bad. Not bad at all.

This was my setup:

(1) 235w Solar Panel (1) 750a Deep Cycle Marine Battery (1) 500w Inverter (1) Solar Charge Controller

The panel gathers the energy, the charge controller moderates and monitors the energy flow, the battery stores the electricity, and the inverter is what you plug devices into. Basically it’s less than a milk-crate of gear not including the panel. With this I created my own personal electrical grid to power a handful of LED lights, Bluetooth speakers, iPod, iPad, phone, my MacBook Pro and bevy of camera batteries. I was working on a 20-day documentary project. So I needed power every day, all day, and without fail.

Dave's camp is totally LIT. (photo by Dave Marr)
Dave’s camp is totally LIT. (photo by Dave Marr)

The upside of individual solar: it’s basically plug ‘n’ play, totally quiet (no obnoxious generator sound!), and best of all it’s self-sustaining with no gasoline to buy, refill or spill. No clogged air filters either.

The downside: you have to maintain your deep cycle battery, i.e. continuously use it or put it on a trickle charger year round to keep its integrity. Personally, I consider this a good reason to set up a string of LED lights on a timer in my backyard.

In honesty, I did have one major hiccup … I didn’t properly plug my solar panel into the charge control at the start. For four days I watched (via the charge controller) as my battery level slipped from green to red until it went dead. There aren’t many things that can go wrong with solar but I found an important one. Hook your shit up right foo! When I corrected the wiring mistake it took (no lie) ONE afternoon of sunlight to fully recharge my battery.

One. Afternoon. Bitches. Then, my battery stayed in the green until I packed it out. Oh, and the cost of my solar setup was less than a ticket to the event.