Burning Man for the uninitiated

It is Burning Man season again, so I felt it’d be appropriate to give a quick introduction to what the hype is all about. Exposure to Burning Man is one of the side effects of living in Reno, unless you’ve been living under a rock. Every year people from all over the world come together at Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to build a thriving, but temporary metropolis focused on art, radical self-expression, and self-reliance. They call this event Burning Man, and the site is often referred to as Black Rock City, or simply the Playa.

The quick rundown

  • Held at Black Rock Desert in Nevada, approximate 100 miles NNE of Reno.
  • Occurs the week before (and including) Labor Day, and lasts nine days.
  • Promotes the ten principles such as radical self-expression, inclusion, and self-reliance.
  • No money is exchanged; instead goods and services are gifted.
  • Bring your own food, shelter, drinks, etc… it’s like extreme camping.
  • Lots of music, drugs, booze, artistic performances, live music, and nudity (the good and bad kind).
  • There is lots of nudity and sex. And yes there is an Orgy Dome.
  • There are no showers (unless your RV has one), so everyone will get dusty and gross.
  • Ticket prices range from $425 to $1200.
Burning Man
Photo Credit: wegow

When is Burning Man?

Burning Man Love
Photo credit: wegow

Like-minded individuals (colloquially named burners1) come together weeks ahead of the event, typically held the week before Labor Day including Labor Day itself, and start constructing various structures that would form Black Rock City.

This year it was held on August 23 2018 – September 3 2018, during one of the hottest weeks in the year. The playa can often bring violent and unpredictable weather patterns, combined with strong winds that kick up huge dust storms. It’s common to see attendees sporting goggles of some fashion.

Burning Man
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man aerial
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Black Rock City (or the Playa) is a temporary city built in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Made up entirely of tents, RVs and structures built by attendees, the playa is located approximately 100 miles NNE of Reno, and is quite an impressive metropolis. It is lively, relatively well organized, self-regulated, and is packed full of drugs, sex, and booze. Words cannot begin to explain the sheer size of this place.

In the middle of it all lies an effigy of a man, that is lit on fire on the Saturday evening of the event. Hence the name of the event “Burning Man”.

Using the word “radical” to describe the level of self-expression, inclusion, and self-reliance experienced at this event would be an understatement. Men and women can be found dressed in rather interesting outfits (or none at all), strolling around without a care, and participating in a very intriguing culture.

The Burning Man project promotes ten principles:

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Gifting
  3. Decommodification
  4. Radical Self-reliance
  5. Radical Self-expression
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility
  8. Leaving No Trace
  9. Participation
  10. Immediacy

What goes on at Burning Man?

So what goes on at Burning Man? Or rather … what doesn’t?

Anyone who does a cursory Google search of Burning Man is greeted by images of people dressed up in strange clothings, intense rave parties, the Orgy Dome (yes that’s a thing), mutant vehicles and more. Each year, organizers of the event choose a theme and that sets the direction of what kinds of things might show up at the playa.

There is an abundance of art installations scattered around the playa for one to admire. Beautiful structures such as these are a common sight at Burning Man every year.

And as I had mentioned before, in concert with the radical self-expression tenet, you’ll often find folks dressed up in very interesting outfits (or not dressed at all).

And people even get married at Burning Man!

Burning Man wedding

Attendance

To say that there is a immense cult following the Burning Man project would be an understatement. In 2017 alone, approximately 70,000 people attended the event, and it’s projected that up to 100,000 could attend in 2018.

So that begs the question: can the surrounding towns in Nevada handle the increased traffic?

Most of the towns that lead up to Black Rock Desert have no more than a few hundred residents. With Burners zooming at 75mph to get to BRC, often times driving way past the (25mph) speed limit, weaving in and out of traffic, and driving aggressively, residents of these small towns have learned to cope with the increasing hazards of the event.

Who goes to Burning Man?

Burning Man attendees regionsBurning Man draws crowds from all over the world. While a large percentage (76.2%) of burners hail from the US, there is a large number of people who come from other parts of the world.

There is a steadily increasing amount of people visiting from places in Europe, all the way to the far reaches of Australia and New Zealand.

In addition, you have the likes of Elon MuskMark ZuckerbergLarry Page, and Sergey Brin who’d either pop in for the day, or attend the event in its entirety.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have also been known as a Burner according to The NY Times.

What do you bring to Burning Man?

EVERYTHING. While most commodities and services can be traded or “gifted” in the Playa, it’s still wise to bring the supplies you’d need for the event. Think of it as a weeklong camping trip in the desert, where you’re bound to get super dusty.

As no cash is exchanged in the Playa (with the exception of coffee and ice, that can be purchased), event goers are expected to bring their own food, water, shelter, sunscreen, and whatever they want or need to survive. The event website even suggests that participants bring bicycles to get around, and costumes or toys to express their creative spirit.

Attire

Everything goes. One of the core tenets of the Burning Man project is radical self-expression, and Burners take that very seriously.

You’ll often find event goers dressed in very extravagant and creative outfits, chock full of color and adornments. Really, anything and everything goes. Even full nudity, body paint, or BDSM outfits are completely acceptable. There are no rules and limitations.

In fact, the crazier your outfit looks, the better. Take these people for instance:

Burning Man style

The drive to Black Rock City

The Reno/Sparks area is the closest metropolis to BRC. It is an approximate 2.5 hours drive away.

For more detailed driving instructions, you can visit the Burning Man website.

What is the theme?

2018 Burning Man theme
I, Robot | Photo credit: Burning Man

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

— Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

The theme for Burning Man in 2018 is I, Robot, named after the book authored by Isaac Asimov.

Every year, a different theme is chosen and participants are encouraged to theme their outfits, vehicles, and art installations in accordance to the year’s chosen theme.

What’s next?

The next Burning Man event occurs on August 25, 2019 – September 2, 2019. Tickets usually go on sale months before the event, so definitely keep a reminder to purchase your tickets if Burning Man is on your radar.

Last year alone 26,000 tickets were sold within the first day of release. We’ll be sure to do a re-cap prior to the event and get you amped up and ready for the next Burning Man.

Thanks for reading. If there’s something else you think we should/should’ve included, feel free to leave a comment below.

Footnotes

  1. Burner (n): a citizen of the worldview that is Burning Man. May be encountered everywhere.
Matt

Matt

Traveler, blogger, photographer and all-out badass. I'm absolutely passionate about travel, coffee, and definitely food. I spend most of my time parking at coffee shops working on projects, planning future adventures, and writing. Sometimes I write music too.

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