How do you convey a particular dream-sensation? Its perception is seemingly comprehendible only by the one that experiences it. For me, that is how I would begin to describe Burning Man. Countless times leading up to the trip, I would ask my friends, who had attended, just what I should expect. Upon answering, they would always seem at first a bit speechless. The look over their faces fixed with a stare that immediately transferred their sight into another world. I would get bits and pieces of information on what to pack, what the weather would be like, what artwork and music camps might be cool to see, but never an easy explanation of its meaning as a whole. I can now step into the shoes of those friends when answering the same questions by people who have never attended. It is simply an expedition that cannot be understood unless it is undertaken.
People of every walk of life travel from all over the world to attend Burning Man. It is located on one of the largest alkali/mud flats on Earth. When the assembly of people attending is at full capacity, it becomes the third largest city in the State of Nevada. I was fortunate to camp with a close friends’ family who were 4th year burners and lived a mere 3-hour drive away on Lake Tahoe. In total, our camp was made up of close to 30 friends and acquaintances. On Tuesday, August 30th at sunset, my friend Jordan Basile and I drove my full loaded truck onto the playa. After waiting a short while, obtaining a thin coat of dust upon most everything, and seeing our first of many naked female breasts, we were finally in.
The next 5 days in Black Rock City can plainly be defined as the best week of my life. To give a full first hand account of the events that took place would easily be like writing a novel. With each passing day, our camp became larger, our friends grew closer, and our adventures broke legendary boundaries. Bikes were the essential mode of transportation to travel across the playa on our daily escapades. Once one breached the outer circle of camps into the core of the city, gigantic, intricate, climbable structures erupted from the earth. At the center rose The Man with the breathtaking Temple of Transition a short ride away. No matter where you looked, your eyes were constantly bombarded by the beautifully and ridiculously dressed people, astonishingly decorated cars and buses blasting music and packed full of passengers, mind bending artwork, and an array of colorful kites and sky divers high overhead. The inner road surrounding the heart of all these shenanigans, known as the Esplanade, took any curious traveler past a plethora of theme camps, most of which showcased live music and art performances. There were roller discos, bars with antique pianos, climbing walls, massive seesaws, foam pits, trapeze ropes, meditation and yoga centers, and an enormous Trojan horse. Anything you could have ever wanted to do or dreamed up could be found.
On our first day out on the playa, taking a break from riding around and playing in the sun, several of us ventured to the Temple of Transition. The Temple is the soul of Burning Man where people visit for a number of specific experiences. The interaction between participants and the monument is deeply personal, such as to express grief or loss, to express love, and to ask for forgiveness or release. Standing atop the center tower, I stared inward into its belly, watching people silently pray and meditate, when suddenly beautiful music began playing from all around. Feeling as heavy as a hundred cider blocks, my breath was taken away. The source of the music, known as the Gamelatron, is an extraordinary robotic Indonesian orchestra of 57 antique gongs and cymbals installed in the inner walls. As it played, I could not move, but only stand and listen, my soul absorbing every ounce it could of the heavenly ensemble. After what seemed like 40 minutes, having been touched in an unexplainable way, we finally got up and continued on.
As the sun crept down over the mountains surrounding the desert and the temperature dropped, the entire city underwent an incredible metamorphosis. Laser beams stretched across the sky as far as the eye could see. Chains of lighted balloons, 500 long, spiraled into the stars. Fire erupted from buildings and art cars as they rolled by. Tens of thousands of people and their bikes glowed and flashed neon, each in their own special way. Each night our illuminated biker gang would set out, not knowing what to expect besides the united joy and excitement of sensational music, dance, and art. By no means have I ever had the pleasure of watching so many highly talented musical acts that I had never heard of before in one place. Back to back every night, from dusk till dawn, my mind was blown and my face melted. There were hundreds upon hundreds of DJs/musicians that played at over 60 music camps, each special with its own unique staging, performers, and genres of music.
Watching live music at Burning Man was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I was blown away by the combined artistic display of all the performers. There were fire blowers, spinners, and dancers, belly dancers, and ring and sheet gymnasts who would all perform in front of and above the musical acts. Several times the DJs played live instruments themselves such as a trumpet, clarinet, or some form of percussion. While all this took place incredible light shows would be enveloping the stage and surrounding crowd. My friends and I all agree that there was not a single performance we saw the entire time that was less than awesome.
The realms of what I thought was humanly possible have since been broken. It is utterly astonishing how creative and dedicated people can become with their work and Burning Man is the showcase for that paradigm shifting talent. Watching The Man burn on our last night, I reflected on the precious time I had spent in the dirt and dust. I thought of the new friendships I had made and the ones I had strengthened. I wish everyone could share the alternate reality of Burning Man. It is a world of its own, unique in its people, culture, and energy. If you ever come across the chance you should not hesitate to go.
I’d like to say the fun ended there and I went back to work the next Monday, but gladly it didn’t. Just two days after we got back, a group of my best friends from Tahoe took over Grand Sierra Resort in Reno to see Pretty Lights. The parking lot was filled with finely dusted cars and RVs just returned from the desert. Not surprisingly, Pretty Lights put on a spectacular show, remixing old classics and dropping new mindgasming hits. The next day I was back in San Luis Obispo, only to be spontaneously convinced to make a quick trip up to San Francisco a day later to attend The Afterburn at 103 Harriet. There, the core friends from my campsite on the playa enjoyed all the best DJs from Burnin Man. It was a great way to bring an end to one of the best summer’s of my life.
Don’t ever be afraid to get out and live more than you ever have before, even if you’re unsure. Step outside of your box and into the unknown. I’d like to thank all my amazing friends for giving me the chance to do just that this summer. I am so deeply fortunate to share all the memories of all its sights and sounds with them.
Pictures you must see: PHOTOS
Videos you must watch: VIDEO
Music to check out:
Love and Lights