Set Your Soul On Fire At Burning Man Festival

25 August 2014

Do you dream of getting off the grid? Letting your cares and your Smartphone fall by the wayside? This is what Nevada's annual Burning Man Festival offers – escape, if only for seven short days. Some call Burning Man the epitome of arts and culture festivals, but it's much more than that.

Burning Man kicks off tomorrow in the States; the dusty playa of Black Rock Desert are soon to be trod by around 60,000 free spirits. Overnight, a pop-up community will set up camp in northwest Nevada, totally self-governed by participants (full participation by every 'Burner' is key).

Just as quickly as it comes to life, the ephemeral city disappears, leaving only tumbleweeds in its place. During its fleeting existence, Burning Man is an artistic utopia where the only things that are sold are coffee and ice and everything else is traded, adding to the community's creative fabric.

Festival goers don't flock to Black Rock Desert to hear Kanye drop beats or bow down to Queen Bey – they come for the promises of self-expression, self-reliance, and a sense of community that doesn't really exist elsewhere in today's world.

 "Linear Transformation" (credit: Anthony Peterson)

So, what exactly is Burning Man?

"Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular colour looks like to someone who is blind," says the official Burning Man website.

On a dry lake bed some 190-kilometres north of Reno, tens of thousands of people gather each year to do whatever they feel like: expand their social circle, practise their sun salutations, feed the masses, create art installations, don a theatrical costume, or ride a bicycle into an expanse of nothingness.

The ethos of Burning Man Festival comes down to Ten Principles, written by event founder Larry Harvey who put pen to paper not to dictate how people should act, but as an organic reflection of how the community developed. The Ten Principles of Burning Man are:

  • Radical Inclusion – anyone is welcome
  • Gifting – placing value in acts of giving
  • Decommodification – protecting culture from consumption
  • Radical Self-reliance – discovering each person's potential
  • Radical Self-expression – celebrating everyone's unique gifts
  • Communal Effort – cooperation and collaboration
  • Civic Responsibility – supporting public welfare
  • Leaving No Trace – respecting the environment
  • Participation – achieving 'being' through real world actions
  • Immediacy – overcoming barriers for self realisation
Burning Man started off as a small bonfire on Baker Beach, San Francisco, nearly 30 years ago. In an act of 'radical self-expression', a group of friends set fire to wooden effigies to ring in the summer solstice.
'The Man' is still set ablaze each year and has become iconic of the event, though he has now grown to around 30 metres tall. He is burned on Saturday evening – an event participants have likened to a primal urge, as though you are discovering fire for the first time.
 "Something About Love" (credit: Anthony Peterson)

What happens at Burning Man?

What happens when a community is stripped of protocols and procedures; where people are free to express their inner-most self? In short, something amazing. Whether you think it's weird or wonderful, Burning Man is an experience that defies definition. Most of us have little opportunity to just 'be' in our daily lives, making a week living by your own rules increasingly appealing.

The foundation of Burning Man is a fine line between survival and expression. Don't forget, this all takes place in the middle of the desert that is known to peak at 40 degrees Celsius. 'Burners' bring their essentials for the week (food, water, shelter) to 'Black Rock City', and are responsible for their own waste.

Visit Black Rock Desert the day after Burning Man wraps up and you would never know the revelry that had taken place some 24 hours earlier.

Each person at Burning Man creates the experience through whatever they have to give – nobody here is a spectator. Some folks deal in toasted sandwiches, others in dance, some in sunrise yoga, others in hugs.

The concept may seem haphazard, but there are plenty of people behind the scenes ensuring things run smoothly. The makeshift city is set out in an arc shape with identifiable streets, neighbourhoods, villages and camps, and around 1,000 portable toilets shared between.

Burning Man doesn't operate for profit, but it does cost money to attend and tickets are known to sell out early. Paying a few hundred dollars to battle the elements in the middle of a Nevada desert may seem a bit steep, but a week of truly belonging, thinking deeply, and gaining perspective is priceless. Burning Man's intrigue is all part of its appeal. Just don't forget the sunscreen.

 "Chi Gong" (credit: Mario Covic)

Quick Hit – Burning Questions

Where is Burning Man?
Black Rock Desert, Nevada – 190 kilometres north of Reno.

When is Burning Man?
The week leading up to Labor Day weekend (late August / early September).

Can I reserve a campsite at Burning Man?
Unfortunately not – it's first come, first served.

How much are tickets to Burning Man?
Individual tickets start at $380, plus vehicle passes.

What is the theme of Burning Man?
Each year has a different theme – 2014 is Caravansary, celebrating the Silk Road.

How do I get to and from Burning Man?
There is community shuttle from Black Rock City (the festival site) to the towns of Gerlach and Empire, running every two hours for $US10.

What is the weather like at Burning Man?
In the desert, temps can range from freezing to scorching. Like the boy scouts say, always be prepared.

Where is the closest airport to Burning Man?
Reno-Tahoe International Airport is the closet (around 204 kilometres away).

Are pets or kids allowed at Burning Man?
No pets, but children can attend provided they are with a guardian aged 18 or over.

Ashton Rigg

When I'm not at home in Brisbane, you’ll find me wanderlusting around hipster bars, eclectic boutiques and arty nooks. From bagels in Brooklyn to strudel in Salzburg, I believe the best way to experience a destination is by taking a bite! Tweets & 'grams at @AshtonRigg