Hello Burners, Happy New Year, and welcome to Burning Man season, 2019 edition! To kick off the year, I've got an interview with Eggchairsteve, who is a very long-time burner and the head of Eggs Bar, the best bar on the playa that's never open.
Dr. Yes: What got you out to the playa the first time and when? Sounds like you were first there in ’94 or ’95?
Eggchair: Indeed, 1995 was the first time I attended, which makes 2019 my 25th consecutive Burn....holy shit!
In the early 90's I had begun hearing mentions of Burning Man in various magazines as well as on the radio, but I hadn't really given it very much thought at all. In particular, there was a morning radio talk show hosted by Alex Bennett. This had to have been '93-'94, listening to his morning show, he would mention it often, which is where I first got a real idea of what this mysterious anarchist-party-in-the desert was all about. But I guess you could say what really go me to first go out to the playa was the early SF rave scene. Though I didn't really consider myself a "club goer" at the time, I was particularly fond of the Wicked Soundsystem crew, and their legendary Full Moon parties. These monthly all-night dance celebrations were always held outdoors, and quite often at Bonny Dunes beach near Santa Cruz. Something about hearing booming dance music while outside in Nature, dancing all night under a full moon, sparked feelings that to this day still give me goosebumps. Fast-forward to the summer of 1995, and I hear that Wicked is planning to bring their sound system out the the Nevada desert to this Burning Man, and it just seemed like the perfect excuse to go, so that was all it took. With a ticket price of a whopping $35 (!), a spur of the moment decision to attend could easily be made. That first year I went with my best friend and my girlfriend, with all of our minuscule amount of gear for our 4-day weekend fitting into my tiny Isuzu pick-up truck. Absolutely anyone who attended that year in 1995, can recall with great fondness and awe the quick and powerful storm that hit us that year, followed by the largest double-rainbow we had ever seen. It even hailed! Having our tiny camp instantly destroyed somehow exhilarated us and made us want to return.
Dr. Yes: Holy shit indeed! And to never have missed a year is kind of incredible too. So what year did EGGs bar first manifest?
Eggchair: Well, EGGS Bar proper didn't actually manifest under that name until 2012, but you're jumping way ahead. We need to go back to Eggchair Camp which first happened in 1997 (with Fertility 1.0) for the origin story.
Dr. Yes: Let's hear it! And why EGGS? I mean, I like eggs, but...
As I started to talk with them, they shared that if I looked closely, the surface of the table was covered with pocketknife carved graffiti, they explained some of the markings were from their older brothers in the 70's, and that, holy shit, this was the ACTUAL picnic table they all first started drinking and partying on back in their day in their local park. It profoundly blew my mind, NOT at all that this was a motorized picnic table (which is cool, but c'mon we are at Burning Man, something so simple barely registers), but the fact that this object held meaningful juju for them, and they had this absurd idea to not only swipe it from their local park, motorize it, and give it a whole new history. To me this is just the coolest. I like to hope that to this day, if you take the time to scratch beneath the surface, you can continue to find amazing original stories from everyone, really about everything. I mean we are all moving through life, with all these material objects floating around us. They only matter if we say they do.
So there we are in '97, the theme is Fertility... Eggs seem like fertility objects, sure that makes sense. We create Eggchair camp and we get placed on the very first officially mapped Espalande! Yes, it was simply a chair, sitting along Esplanade, but hey, people seemed to love it! I'm not sure people truly understood what the chair actually meant to US, (Yes, Eggchair really was placed on Esplanade through 2003!) but I do think there was something about sitting alone, with just yourself, cut off from this cacophonous city filled with distractions and sensory overload, that people connected with. I began to dread that it somehow became a photo-op with literally lines of people getting their pictures taken sitting in the eggchair. It was because of those years that I earned my playa name, Eggchairsteve.
But by 2003 it had fully run its course and it all became a bit embarrassing. "Hey why do they always get Esplande placement? It's just a fucking chair."
But here's a word to the wise: a lesson I learned the hard way that year was about variety, be it musically, or thematically. No matter what your theme or schtick is, it's going to get really old, really fast on 24/7 repeat. Maddening even. One year I was camped directly across from Black Rock Roller Disco (and please do not get me wrong, I fucking LOVE them, I actually LOVE the music) and the constant 24/7 repeat, often the same playlist played on repeat, was literally annoying.
2005-6 I took off from planning any theme camps, and just camped in the back streets. I found it profoundly boring and passive to just go out into the city as a spectator. So we returned in 2007 with a bar-themed camp, still with the old-world facade out front, but much more variety in music and experiences and events, sometimes live bands would play, having variety and not being pigeonholed into one schtick, is everything. For years we would riff off of the years them for our bar name; Metropolis became EGGchtroplos, Rites of Passage became Left of PassEGGch....so when 2012 rolled around with Fertility 2.0 being the theme for the year (at the same time a good friend of mine humorously proclaimed that he was tired of calling me Eggchairsteve, and from henceforth I would be known as simply EGGS) It seemed like a perfect opportunity to shorten the the bar's name to just EGGS, especially since we initially brought the eggchair out for Fertility1.0 and now we would be simply EGGS for Fertility 2.0!
Dr. Yes: What was your infrastructure like its first year and how as it evolved over time?
Eggchair: Having run theme camp for so many years, I what works and what doesn't. I've seen evaporation ponds turn into disgusting swamps. I've seen kitchen setups turn into shambles. I think the two most important lessons of Burning Man are Radical Self Reliance and Communal Effort. So for our camp we have always expected everyone to pull their own weight. And you have to have solid campmates. In the early years when we were such a smaller bar, it didn't take much to just ask everyone to contribute booze and mixers to stock the bar. Our structure was so much smaller that it all fit in a trailer, and we all chipped in to pay for it.
In 2016 we built the current iteration of EGGS Bar, which is much bigger than ever before. We now have to throw fundraisers, as well as crowdsource funding, to pay for everything. We now own a trailer, which now means yearly storage costs. We also serve way more folks.
Dr. Yes: How big is your camp population-wise now?
Eggchair: I personally feel that anything over 30 members starts to fall apart, so we try to keep the camp population around 30.
Dr. Yes: Same here. So what’s the leadership structure of the camp like? How many formal or quasi-formal positions do you have and what are they?
Eggchair: With our big jump in camp presence in 2016, it required a lot more leadership structure. I am the first to admit that I suck at leadership, and I have been blessed to somehow be surrounded with people who support my vision of having one of the best bar experiences on playa. I had to learn to let go of doing everything myself, because it is simply impossible for one person. So we now have several formal positions, Camp Lead, Financial Lead, Build Lead, Bar Lead, LNT Lead, but again, everyone is expected to pull their own weight.
Dr. Yes: How often is EGGS open during the week…even though we all know it’s never open?
Eggchair: Always Closed! Yes, that actually has a funny origin. I made that sign years ago, one side saying Closed, the other saying Open, and for some reason one year it just stayed on the Closed side. It never ceases to amuse me that we can be in the midst of a raging party, and you can point up to the Closed sign, and a patron will be "oh, I'm sorry" and actually walk away! And you have to say, "no, of course you can have a drink!" and it really breaks the ice, and you can begin to have a conversation with a stranger.
Conversely if they are being rude (you can sort of always tell the type that just want to get a drink and continue on their way) and they loudly bang their cup on the bartop, you can always point up to the Closed sign, and they will leave. EGGS Bar strives to be friendly and welcoming to everyone, but we are NOT there to just serve the masses. We truly want patrons to sit down and talk with us, that is the whole point.
To answer your question, we are technically "open" whenever we feel like it, which seems to be all day every day. I really I would like to see it as more of a late afternoon in to evening sort of space, but the last few years have become more of a round the clock bar.
Dr. Yes: You guys have been at 6 in the Center Camp ring for a bit now – when were you first placed there?
Eggs: Actually we have only been placed at that spot 2017 and 2018, and I kind of enjoy having slightly different spots every year. Before that we were in various spots within the Center Camp Plaza, and even earlier in various spots on Rod's Road. We have been part of Center Camp proper since 2007.
Dr. Yes: How much booze do you guys go through during the week and how many people do you estimate you serve?
Eggchair: This is a question that a lot of people ask, and it is hard to accurately answer. We fundraise throughout the year to buy booze, but we also get bottle and mixer donations (PLEASE DO!!) The truth is, no matter how much or how little booze you ever bring, you will always go through it all. We've got a pretty good system going now, of two premixed drinks in 5-gallon containers that we restock as needed, as well as beers, but we also have a stock of special or unusual shots going too. As for many estimated served, I really couldn't even guess, but it is quite a few. But again, encouraging patrons to sit down and talk with us, fills the stools, and discourages the masses of folks that just want a drink and run.
And as a bit of advice to every Burner out there, if you get a drink at ANY bar in Black Rock City, and you DON'T stay and hang out with the bartenders or camp experience, you're being fucking rude!
Dr. Yes: What's the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in your own bar?
Eggchair: That's a hard one to answer, I just love everything about it. Spontaneous things happen all the time. Bands show up to play, etc.
I guess having Bryan Cranston as a patron was pretty cool....
Eggchair: If you are ridiculously drunk (as happens often in BRC!) it's time to head back to your tent. If you are being rude and obnoxious, you can get yourself the fuck out of EGGS Bar - there are a million other bars.
Dr. Yes: What’s your favorite thing about Burning Man generally? What’s kept you coming back two dozen times?
Eggchair: Oh my god, it's EVERYTHING! After all these years it still continues to blow my mind. I think people tend to forget that literally everything you see out there, someone brought out to the middle of the fucking desert, just for us, just for a week! I can't believe that it even happens every year. The art you get to see and interact with out there, you simply cannot do anywhere else, at least on that scale. And music! One of the unique things about dancing in the desert to large scale sound is literally having endless space to dance any way you wish. I hate the feeling of being constricted into a tiny personal space in a dance club. Dancing in the open desert is simply magic.
Dr. Yes: You were there in ’96. That year seemed like kind of peak crazy between the Satan theme, John Law riding the zipline off the burning tower, the existence (though last year of) the shooting range and high speed driving on the playa. How has Burning Man changed for the better and worse since then in your view?
Eggchair: Yes, I was there in '96, sitting on a hay bale, watching the Helco tower burn. I saw the infamous zipline. I did also drive out to watch the shooting range, I'm not at all a gun person, it didn't excite me, but driving out off the playa exploring the outlying areas DID spark a lifelong love of the Black Rock Desert area. |
The questions most often asked after going for over 20 years are "What was it like back then?", "How has it changed?", "Was it better, or worse?" And I don't want to sound cliche, but because I've gone EVERY year, I've seen every incremental change, I've experienced the reasons for every new rule that came along, its truly hard to compare what it was like back then as opposed to now. What I mean by this is, I think of "Burning Man" as one long ever-evolving 25 year long experience that I've been involved with. I can't really separate back then from now. Of course it has gotten bigger, but along with that came bigger and better everything. People tend to look back at those early years as anarchic and wild-west, but there was never the scale of beautiful art and music and theme camp experiences as there are now. So, yes, it's only getting better!
This last year, one night I rode my bike randomly on way back streets, and I was blown away at all the elaborate, amazing camps that I had never even heard of, and I just love that. I truly think that eventually the entirety of Black Rock City should be as interactive as Esplanade. Too many people is not the problem, a lack of participation is the only potential problem.
Dr. Yes: Yeah! Give it up for the back streets!
If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about Burning Man, what would it be?
Eggchair: Hard to say... I guess I'm upset by the new influx of supermodels posing in front of art so that they can post that perfect cool shot on their instagram feed - they just seem to be missing the point of attending the Burn, and because they have an audience of fans, they are inadvertently sending out a very inaccurate image to the world at large of what Burning Man really is.
The whole millionaire/plug and play/sherpa/curated faction of the burn I feel are also fundamentally missing what it IS to attend the Burn....the reason everyone in the world wants to go, is to EXPERIENCE that magic, and that only comes through participation and passion, and collective effort. I think the Org is struggling with this issue a lot, they see all these wealthy and influential people, but are failing to see that THEY are all passively missing the whole point with these curated experiences.
If I had a magic wand, I would use it to wack some common sense into all the federal law enforcement officials who are illegally pulling us over and infringing on our civil liberties. That shit has got to stop!
Dr. Yes: Yeah, it does need to stop! Nice to see that many of the prosecutions were dropped, but it was still unwarranted harassment. Thanks for taking the time and for your verbosity!
Note: If you'd like to support EGGS, they would love your donation here - https://www.paypal.me/eggsbar
I'm Dr. Yes. I run this site, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!