Black Rock City has been around as we know it for a little while now. The population has steady increased like any other town in America, the urban planning has developed to a point of satisfactory stability and the citizens understand the basic laws of the land. The “everyday life” here is not like any other place, however there are daily procedures by the citizens that keep sanity around. But, within this routine there are the anomalies; the unexplained. The stories of people they have scene, events that took place, or of times before the order of the land are now all a part of the lore of Burning Man, and in this contemporary context, these stories have become what we can consider urban legends.
Urban Legends at Burning Man have a common thread of being completely crazy, zany and fun, but at the same time they are completely believable. For example, it is rumored that Perry Ferrell attends every year. That’s not too hard to believe, for where else could he go and travel in the open, but completely under the radar for a week? Another famous face that is rumored to have graced a few stages is Paul Oakenfold. Previous years Oakenfold has played a show at the event, but this year it was rumored the face did not match the name on the playbill for the scheduled evening. Both these artists are believable legends for the event with the advent of the enormous electronic music trend that graces the playa. Other rumored names that might be brought on like moths to a flame are DJ Spooky and Phish. Phish’s appearance is the most highly rumored on the playa, however, I asked many of the organizers about this and every single one laughs it off with a roll of the eyes.
Funnier experiences are such legends as Waldo. One person dresses up as Waldo every day, and if you see him, you see him. No big deal, but funny.
There are things on the playa, too. Rumors of a porta-potty fully equipped with curtains, newspapers, fresh scents and other amenities that would make it the most desirable one on the playa.
Disasters are rumored, as well. Airplane crashes, people dying from falling off an art car, money being stolen, or even muggings are rumored. It seems that every year there is a story of a large camp losing a lot of sound equipment, or having vandalizing occur while performance groups are off performing. These are aspects of an evolving city, which makes it a complete urban landscape.
One myth to dispel is that Larry Harvey doesn’t walk around and do stuff anymore. That is simply not true. Larry is the most laid back large event organizer I have ever met. My friend Jeff, a photo journalist, and myself went to a press conference to ask him some questions and we were totally blown away by his down to earth stature. So, if you see Larry say hi and thank him for giving you a chance to find yourself.
New Burning Mans
After this 2004 year, the Burning Man organizers are beginning to focus their attention on regional events much more than in the past. Information about year round playa details can be found here from the Burning Man website. Regional events are mini-Burning Man events located all over the country. Andie Grace oversees these events to make sure they follow the basic 10 commandments of Burning Man. Right now there are 85 people running 65 regional programs all over the world.
Regionals are important for Burning Man because the playa can probably only hold about 50,000 people, which would mean a new place would have to be sought. Finding another place more desolate than Black Rock Desert seems a stretch, so the regional events are hoping to compensate. Initial concerns from participants are this process is “dilutive”.
“More the merrier” is the general attitude countering the dilutive concern. Regionals are an attempt to introduce the social aspects Larry Harvey is trying to get across with the event to new groups of people that cannot make it to the playa or cannot handle the playa. “Fuck them!”, is the initial counter to branching the event out from the playa. The organizers feel, however, it is more important to have ideas like the gift economy and loving your neighbor rather than simply living on the playa.
Serious cynicism believes the new regional promotion is, “I think it is a marketing line…a play for money…franchise the whole fucking thing.”
Larry’s drive for the event is different than that. He feels like the yahoos that come to the event with beer hats looking at girls and to see things burn, who are really not understanding of the initial premise behind the event, if they can come to the event and learn about the sociological aspects of the camp, the community aspect of the camp, then he has done something right. They go home and they start talking about it, stop being a yahoo and that makes things better in the world. It might stop someone from buying an Escalade with two TV screens in the backseat.
Conversations immediately head back to the money aspect, which I address in “The Woes of Creating Burning Man”.
Beyond money, the regional events are a new evolution of thought on how to promote the ideas that Larry desires to have spread in the world. What strikes me is how this branch out is very American in it’s development. Looking at the regional map, the dots on the landscape remind me of the proliferation of Walmarts and Home Depots. Ironic since Burning Man is so strictly against the corporations. But, the organizers seem to be learning from the corporate examples and taking what they need. Corporations like WalMart and Home Deport, no matter how much you disagree with them, they have phenomenal business expansion examples. Copying their example through voluntary expansion does, in theory, take the event and its philosophies to an audience that might not be able to experience the playa because of intimidation, travel distance or simply not knowing about the event.
I recently received a notice for the San Francisco decompression F(a)ire in the Jack Rabbit Speaks. Andie Grace outlined many guidelines for the event including noise hours, street conduct and neighborhood consideration. I will not be able to attend this event, but I would have to guess that some of these rules might be a deterrent from the normal social environment at Burning Man on the playa. For those that have not participated at the playa, their initial experience for the few hours will be significantly different from the playa.
Other regional events take the better course of a week in some locations. These events seem to have a better chance of mimicking the playa and seclusion. If the areas are far enough from the nearest town and the participants are there to pack in, pack out and to participate in the gift economy, it might be a successful event. I hope some of them have inclement weather to parallel dust and windstorms of the playa, though.
I am partial to the playa, and a part of me shares the sentiment of the few people I interviewed regarding this. I made a trek to a foreign place to an environment that demanded I participate in a community. My first few hours at the playa I was not a happy camper. My initial sentiments were very different from my feelings at the end of the week, but only because I got beyond thinking about dirt and wind and began to have a seriously different lifestyle from the norm. The urban tapestry was amazing, too. I wonder if the regional events will even try to mimic the urbanism of the playa, or if it will be more resembling of the earlier chaotic events when there were only 300 people.
Regionals have a potential to reach out a positive message to a much larger group than keeping the event centralized to the playa. Although the associated events will have to overcome the preconceptions of the event, the groups that can be affected by the message will hopefully allow new people to alter their lifestyles as Larry would hope.
"Documenting this event is like describing a kaleidoscope to a blind person."
--Carol, aka "Big Momma", Burning Man 2004
Nothing could be truer. Never have I experienced a city, place or environment like I experienced in the past 7 days. The people I met spanned the globe, yet we were all bonded by an event meant to be for the cleansing of demons inside us.
I have hours of tape to sort out and 300+ pictures to deal with. I spend every day on the playa riding my bike all day to see everything I could, and I barely even scratched the surface. My mind was overwhelmed with the variety in expression and celebration. The next month I will decompress what I found out about the event, the participants and myself in the Featured Projects section of Glowlab.
Before I go any further I want to thank everyone I met and talked to at Burning Man for spending a few minutes with me for this project. Hopefully I will run into you all again.