Concrete Barriers, Private Security Forces, and More Plug n' Plays - A Possible Future for Burning Man
TL;DR: The Bureau of Land Management is proposing that Burning Man must contract independent, third party security forces to screen vehicles and participants coming into Burning Man for contraband, and install concrete barriers and steel fences around at least some of Burning Man and/or gate road.
They also want to mandate that Burning Man increase the number of people who take buses in or fly in (most of whom can't bring sufficient supplies for themselves that way) and go onto say that this may necessitate the need for more plug n' plays to accommodate those people.
Is this what we want?
We have an opportunity to be heard. Let's take it. Details below.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft proposal yesterday in response to the Burning Man Project's ("the Org") request for a 10 year Special Recreation Permit (SRP) for Burning Man. For those unaware, the Burning Man event is held on federal land that is managed by the BLM. Every year, the Org has to get an SRP to hold the event, which comes with a maximum population for the event, but they have now requested a 10 year permit that would allow the population to grow to 100,000 people by 2022.
The draft proposal is technically called an "environmental impact statement" (EIS), which the environment in this case referring to everything that surrounds Burning Man, from the actual environment to the impact on local communities to the roads to protecting burners themselves. It's really long! 372 pages across two documents, which makes sense considering that Burning Man is the largest event in the country that receives an SRP.
I've read the interesting parts and skimmed the rest so you don't have to! Much of this is pretty dry but a couple parts really stand out.
The Scenarios Considered
The EIS considers five scenarios:
Should We Be Concerned?
I think so, yes. I'll explain, but you also don't have to take my word for it. Jim Graham, spokesmen for the Burning Man Project, told the Reno Gazette, "Our staff is reviewing the document and accompanying 11 special studies, and our initial review revealed serious concerns with parts of the proposed stipulations. At this time it is premature to provide an assessment until we have completed a thorough review. We will then provide a more detailed response."
I don't know which parts he's speaking of, but there are four areas of concern that stuck out to me when going through the documents. I've read through the stipulations for Burning Man in previous BLM EIS/SRP reports, and there is nothing like these requirements in there as far as I can tell. These are new provisions.
What Can We Do?
I doubt any of you reading this like the idea of concrete barriers and k-rail fencing, and private security forces screening cars on the way in unless you're just trolling. I can see some people liking a 50k population cap scenario, and in future years I might even agree, but it'd be a terrible thing to implement this year with ticket sales already well under way. And if you think Burning Man needs more plug n ' plays, you're probably reading the wrong blog.
Mark Hall is the BLM officer who issues the SRP, and the EIS specifically asks that feedback be sent to him.
We like to say that Burning Man is a do-ocracy. That's true, but I believe that's the case for life generally. If you want something to happen, or oppose something from happening, do something about it, don't just complain. You may not be able to dictate the reality you want, but you can do your best to nudge it in the direction you wish.
His contact info is:
Dr. Mark Hall, PhD
EIS Project Manager
Black Rock Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Blvd.
Winnemucca, Nevada 86445
Mr. Hall's boss appears to be Ester McCullough, the district manager of the Winnemucca District Office. She can be reached at:
The public comment period goes until April 29th, so make yourself heard! Mr. Hall told the Reno Gazette that, "Right now I have an open mind and I'm very curious to see what the public has to offer in terms of our analysis."
I urge you to contact Mr. Hall and potentially Ms. McCullough if you share my concerns, but to do so in a calm and informed manner. Let's paint a positive picture of Burners for Mark and Ester and not deluge them with the equivalent of all-caps emails.
There are also going to be public hearings for comment on the EIS in Reno on April 8 and in Lovelock on April 9th. Details on them are still forthcoming as of this writing (I'll update this when I have them.)
I'm tentatively planning on being at the Reno meeting to see if I can give the reality I want to see a boost. I hope you'll consider joining me.
If you're coming, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll put together a mailing list to coordinate as many Burners that will be at the Reno meeting as possible. I think it's important we have a tight and organized response to the items in here that need to go.
Other Areas of Interest
There are some other interesting tidbits in here that I thought some of you might be interested in.
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
Like the title says! You can check out the history section here, or in the menu above.
I've spent quite a bit of time working on it over the last few years, so if you have any interest in how Burning Man has evolved, I hope you'll check it out!
Last year (2017), a campmate - Ran - and I spontaneously decided Wednesday morning that we'd play the Hamilton soundtrack later that day. Because we're also big fans of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and because the mighty Rum Ham is an object of desire and worship to all of Friendgasm, serving rum and calling the event Rum-Hamilton seemed appropriate. He wrote some shit on a whiteboard advertising it, and put it by Arctica, and 15-20 people showed up for what proved to be a really good time.
This year, we put the event in the event guide, and a lot more people showed up! Not too shabby for a backstreet camp. The below video is about 20 minutes long, and if you're not either a big Hamilton fan or someone who was there, it's probably waaaay too long to hold your interest. That said, multiple people told me after or later that it was their favorite thing they did at Burning Man all week, which made me pretty happy!
Couldn't host it on YouTube, Facebook, or other usual suspects because the rights holder for the Hamilton music is quite strict, and upon trying, I was blocked from using those, so I'm just sharing it from my google drive.
You're also going to have to trust that I'm linking you to a video here, and not something that will give your device a virus. I may be Dr. Yes, but I say no to viruses!
Link to Rum-Hamilton video.
It'll play in 720p. You might want to switch it to 1080p. If you want to view it in all its 4k glory, you'll have to download all 6.6 gigs of it and watch that way.
5:22 – Hamilton’s duel against Lee.
5:46 – Hercules Mulligan incoming!
7:36 – Crowd starts going crazy in Battle of Yorktown.
14:57 – Washington dies, crowdsurfs.
19:42 – Hamilton’s son dies – big group circle with arms around each other.
22:16 – people start eating dead Hamilton’s red vine entrails.
We're going to do this again next year, so if you loved it or missed it, don't throw away your shot and you'll be back. You will be helpless before its sonic glory, and you will be satisfied, because, wait for it.... we just happen to be in the greatest city in the motherfucking world. You'll be in the dome where it happens, right in the eye of the hurricane, and while it may be quiet uptown, it sure as shit isn't going to be quiet at Rum-Hamilton 2019!
Your obedient servant,
Burning Man is many things to many people, but one of the aspects of it that I personally enjoy quite a bit are things that challenge convention or are just unexpected. Of course, the beautiful and epic, like last year's Tree of Ténéré, or this year's Hexatron (the forest of 20' tall LED poles), are mind-blowing, but I really love the weird, personal shit out there.
Whether it's watching an inestimable gentleman suck his own dick at Eggs bar while we cheered him on, or watching two guys in a tricked-out golf cart dressed like law enforcement roll up to people with headdresses and write out a citation, or the even more innocuous like Camp Sharkcage, devoted to the decidedly excellent combination of Nicholas Cage and sharks ("You can cage the shark, but can you shark the Cage?"), I love it!
Sadly, although I have no measurement for it, or even a proxy by which to fake a measure, I feel like the weird factor at Burning Man has slowly been going down, while there's been a commensurate rise in folks for whom looking and feeling 'cool' is a primary drive. You know of whom I speak. You see them dressed in multi-thousand dollar miraculously clean outfits with a photographer with pro-level gear nearby, frequently stopping to preen and pose. Their natural watering holes are places like Robot Heart and Mayan Warrior (both of which are pretty amazing, don't get me wrong) or wherever Diplo (not at all amazing) is playing.
And, I get it - it's fun to dress up and look sexy, and Burning Man is an awesome background for photos, but goddam people, don't you just want to ditch the fashion show and let your freak flag fly? Black Rock City is a great place for it. Burning Man != Coachella or whatever. Let's get fucking weird!
In that spirit, about a dozen of us in our camp Friendgasm declared Wednesday daytime would be Weirdout Wednesday going forward.
(You can follow the - as of this writing - brand new Weirdout Wednesday FB page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/weirdoutwednesday/ )
For Weirdout Wednesday this year, we did a thing one of my campmates - Ginger - has long dreamed about. We made signs saying things like Can't Stop, Won't Stop or Nvr Stop, got some of those dual beer-can helmet holders, put on adult diapers, wrote some stuff on them, and rolled out.
First stop, Duck Pond, where we took over the dance floor to lots of stares by pretty, clean people, and a lot of laughs from others. Excitingly, one guy we didn't know also showed up in diapers, saying he'd seen us, and went back to camp to change into diapers. (He happened to have adult diapers in camp? This guy prepares.)
He went even more hardcore than I did. I hadn't worn shoes, feeling that socks-only seemed even more ridiculous, but this guy eschewed even socks, rocking his diaper and only his diaper. I salute you, unknown diaper soldier.
Other shenanigans ensued, including loudly encouraging people to stop supporting the USS corporate pooper monopoly. Stop using the portas, people! Shit where you dance - in your pants!
Finally we headed over to Distrikt, where we rolled up onto the elevated stage and proceeded to irritate a group of women of the aforementioned Instagram type, trying to get a pristine picture of themselves in their pristine outfits without a bunch of idiots in diapers in the way. They kept asking us to move out of the way so they could get pics of just them, but I mean, can't stop won't stop, so obviously that wasn't happening. Nothing wrong with taking pics of yourselves, but if you can't handle a little Burning Man in your Burning Man, you're in the wrong place.
Then, one of their ladies laid a hand on one of our ladies to kind of lightly shove her out of the way, which was a classic mistake. No photos were taken from then on that didn't have a diapered ass in it! The frustrated gnashing of their teeth was music to our ears.
That was the end of Weirdout Wednesday for us, as it was time to head back to camp for our Rum-Hamilton singalong, because as a camp we do a weird variety of things.
Other Instamodel Shenanigans
Because it makes me laugh, I have to relate another similar incident from our camp. A group was at Sharkey's - an excellent bar - when an Instamodel was spotted in the wild, out in the street, accompanied by a sole photog.
The prey was cleaning herself carefully of any dust, preparing to display her plumage, presumably in order to attract a mate, when Carmen spotted her.
Carmen is a campmate whom I have compared favorably to my sort of fancy, cuddly, but also rip-your-face-off-fierce chihuahua, Chairman Mao. She hadn't eaten yet that day, and was hungry for prey.
In the distance, a ritual warning call was heard, "Hey, I haven't showered in a week!"
The prey was as of yet unaware of her danger, and continued to groom herself.
Carmen swung into motion, suddenly dropping down to do frantic face-down dust angels in order to coat herself in playa.
Up she sprung, making straight for the Instamodel, who was still oblivious to the doom rapidly descending upon her.
"You're so pretty! Can I have a hug?!" said Carmen arriving and baiting the trap.
"Yes," said the prey tentatively, sealing her fate.
The prey leaned in for the barest possible hug, but Carmen was ready to feed, and went for the full koala (that's a bear hug where you wrap your legs around too). Then it was over, and the prey slumped to the ground, defeated while Carmen roared in triumph (ok, the roar didn't happen, but I like the image, so work with me here.)
Thus, the circle of life was fulfilled. Dust to dust, forever unclean. There was cheering from Sharkeys, and disorder was returned to the streets of Black Rock City once more.
Seriously, let's make Weirdout Wednesday a thing.
I'll definitely write about this again next summer before the Burn, but I'd love any help anyone interested can lend in promoting this idea. I mean no presumption with this call to action - I just think it'd be cool if a bunch of people devoted Wednesday daytime to letting their freak roam free. Do the unexpected, the weird, especially in places people go to be 'cool'. Mess with people determined to 'be cool.' Set an example and help bring some Cacophony into burners' lives.
I've read of a couple going to Distrikt this year fully nude with markers to let people write stuff on them, just to keep it weird.
I read of another few people that brought a propane grill to Distrikt and were grilling up food in the middle of the dance floor. I love it! (I don't mean to pick on Distrikt here - it's pure coincidence these all involved that camp.)
What are you going to do for Weirdout Wednesday next year? This is an opportunity for a lot more creativity than the more narrowly-defined days out there, like Tutu Tuesday. I've got all sorts of ideas running around in my head, including taking the diaper shenanigans to a new level.
Leave your ideas in the comments, and later I'll collate them and share them to help inspire others to weirdness as well.
Feel free to use the Weirdout Wednesday graphic below I did up (I can copy and paste, mom!) to spread the word too, if you're so inclined.
(You can join the Weirdout Wednesday FB group here:
This is the camp I've always wanted, filled with people I love and who love me back. Friendgasm v1 was great (though not the heat), but with Friendgasm v2 we really hit our stride! You are the most incredible hard-working, hard-partying, tender, fierce, loving, supportive, non-judgmental group of people I've ever been privileged to be close to. You've reignited that exquisite lust I had for the burn, and I can't thank you enough for it.
We formed this camp to focus on community, after some of us had had a bad experience with a camp in 2016 that had very little focus on community, and it's worth protecting. We limit ourselves to 30 people to stop us breaking into sub-communities. We allow no randoms, and require all new members to have a camp sponsor who can vouch that they will be the kind of person we want to burn with. And it works. It was a simply superb Burn and while I wasn't sad to leave Burning Man at the end, leaving you all was pretty depressing.
I want you to know that at least twice during the week I was talking to Maybe or Ginger about our camp and broke down into tears, overcome with all the feels thinking about how much I appreciate and love all of you and what we've created.
I've made a little video to help us remember our time together. Hope you enjoy it!
Let's do it again next year! Rum Ham!
Dr. Yes: What first brought you to the playa?
Syd: Like many, my gate way to Burning Man was the SF underground dance music scene. I had already heard of Burning Man as early as '97 when some friends I worked with at a group home were going. But it wasn't really on my radar until I had started going clubbing in late 98' and heavily into '99 and 2000 when I was volunteering at Red Melon events and helping organize an intentional underground party called Radiance. That party grew from another underground called Gratitude organized by 'The Community' who were all very influenced by Burning Man communities and culture, as well as Landmark and later Arete.
Radiance always invited other communities to participate to create each party, so I got to know many SF crews and playa collectives. In addition, my first involvement in parties always were 'parties with purpose' and that's influenced me to this day. My friends Tamo and Fannie finally convinced me to go in 2001 and I camped with their group of friends called Garage Mahal, organized by Pleasure Sean and others. Great group of friends, amazing first Burn. I dove in head first, it was the first and only year I wasn't involved in a project, had no responsibilities and acted accordingly.
Dr. Yes: What were the sound camps like then? What were the major ones?
Syd: I remember distinctly standing in front of IllumiNaughty in 2001 on the 10:00 corner and being blown away at what they had created and brought out and set up. As if planting a seed to later overcome, I even remember thinking to myself "Wow I could never pull that off..." I also remember the neon maze at Xara, the Wizard of Oz motif at Emerald City and the small domes that made up Space Lounge. That was also the first year I believe the Space Cowboys Unimog had hit the playa for a full mobile party experience.
Dr. Yes: Why’d you found OT? What moved you to say to yourself, “I should definitely sign up to spend a significant portion of my time producing a sound camp?”
Syd: Haha if only I knew...
Well, in the summer of 2002 I had been laid off and used my severance to have time to help build the Garage Mahal Art Car under the direction of Captain Ken at this house & shop in Mill Valley. It was (and still is) a double decker bus built out of an Entemann's bread delivery truck. In '02 (pre-ubiquitous mega art cars), it was impressive! I also founded Opel Productions in 2002 originally as a vehicle to throw benefits for causes I supported around SF, and so also helped fundraise for it. It was early Burning Man project creation and fundraising practice.
Had a blast DJ'ing on the Art Car but wasn't very good at it yet, and was hungry to create my own manifestations of bringing people together, sharing art and music on a bigger scale than what the Art Car afforded. In 2002 I also met Rich Martin and Chris Sia. Chris was the leader (of sorts) of the Infinite Kaos (IK) performance and music collective when they still had their space on Taylor St. Rich, a fabricator and general mad scientist, worked with IK on their camp in 2002 building a huge steel pyramid and doing sound for them. Rich wanted to work on a new and bigger project for 2003 and approached me to get involved on the production and fundraising end to make it a proper sound camp on 10:00 along with Infinite Kaos. The theme of BM in 2003 was 'Beyond Belief', so to reflect the theme and the communities we called it the Opulent Temple (to reflect the spiritual implications of the Beyond Belief Theme) of Kaos (IK). Chris Sia named it, I later regretted the confusion it caused between my party throwing vehicle in SF (Opel Productions), and the Burning Man camp I was a part of (Opulent Temple). I didn't help by trying to help raise money for BM projects using the Opel name in early parties before I figured that needed to be separated better.
We were located at 10:00 and Creed and built a huge open air steel tension dome, as well as other art projects for the camp such as paper mache statues, a stage that never made it up, and fire lanterns that leaked kerosene. The Infinite Kaos crew lived up to their name, and we had a great time. Even in our first year, I was keen to bring in what I considered more interesting and higher tier talent than just SF / Burner locals, so I brought out Sandra Collins and Josh Gabriel (from Gabriel & Dresden), and IK had invited Tipper, Bassnectar, and others. Partly my motivation was just to be sure I got to hear the music I wanted to hear at Burning Man! Nothing worse than being high at Burning Man itching for a dance floor experience and not being able to find good music.
Dr. Yes: Did you know at the time how much work it was going to be?
Syd: The first year in 2003 was ideal cause my job was to fundraise, organize and book talent, things I was good at. The IK guys provided most of the labor to set the camp up and take it down so it was a nice way to ease into the beast that it became.
We've learned the hard way just how much work it can be because when you're full of great ideas and ambition, you have a tendency to to say yes to too many ideas, and every 'yes' is full of action steps, obligations, money promises and execution problems. We usually came out all right but we've also had some major project failures that were painful lessons.
Dr. Yes: Tell us about one of those failures?
Syd: The biggest was what I still call the 'weird year' of 2007, aka the bamboo disaster. Weird because Paul Addis tried to burn the man down on Monday night during the lunar eclipse, among other reasons. We had two projects to choose from to add to the production that year. One was a bigger version of the Synergy Dome we erected in 2003, and the other was an elevated stage that Rich had designed that was supposed to be in the shape of a star, aka the 'Star Stage'. Feeling that we wanted to push ourselves hard this year, and take 2008 off from any projects, we decided to do both. Spoiler alert - bad idea.
The stage was conceived to be a great platform for a large group of performers, as it provides, in many ways, an ultimate performance venue because it sits 10 feet above the crowd. It would be largely self funded by Rich (taking loans from anyone that would help, parents included), with about 25% of the costs shared by the camp. Out on the playa, due to a design snag, Rich decided to 'open' the stage and not enclose the 'star', though it was delayed getting up because of the problems with the Bamboo Synergy Dome..
The dome, this time made out of bamboo instead of steel, was supposed to be about a 100 feet in diameter. Myself and Dutch led the construction following the same design plans Rich devised in 2003, modified for the bigger size, at a warehouse in West Oakland. Simultaneously while one team was working at the Box Shop on the Star Stage, another dedicated team busted ass to get the bamboo dome pieces done, complete with a hellish night of loading the 50 foot truss pieces onto a flat bed semi trailer right before we left for the playa. On playa, lots of build challenges. Just when we thought we'd have to scrap it due to running out of time, we problem solved and were ready to lift. We used 2 patient cranes from Art Services, and our own forklift to bring it in the air. We were almost there.....
The Bamboo Dome is probably one of the all time great failed projects in BM history. During lifting, a rope got caught under a tire, a key truss broke, and the project was still possible but not safe so we chose to scrap it. Flushing $25k and a summer's worth of work down the drain. We kept the bamboo around a few years for a fence, a bar, etc, but we never had the heart to try again.
Dr. Yes: Ouch. Opulent was already legendary when I started coming in 2010, and it seemed to me that you guys and Root Society were the majors that ushered in the modern age of sound camps. How accurate is my perception there?
Syd: I credit Sol System in 2003 (the pyramids) and '04 ('Sol Henge' and sonic runway) and Lush in 2004 (that crazy twisting wood organic structure and all those palm trees) for kicking that off production wise. For the time, what both of them did in those years was huge and inspired the scale that we evolved in the on-going years. We did have the first (as far as I know) raised line array sound system on scaffolding that escalated the size of sound rigs people brought out.
As some of those earlier generation camps stopped coming, and OT and Root Society held down the corners from like 2006-2010 we both continued to elevate our games.
Dr. Yes: Did you know what OT would turn into? How was its first year compared to now?
Syd: Definitely not. I caught the creative bug that Burning Man sparks in so many. You see a costume, an art piece, a theme camp, etc and it inspires one to want to make and create yourself, and you follow that passion. I was really passionate about the SF underground dance music scene even before BM as a vehicle for spreading joy and therefore (if intentionally channeled), perhaps a force for good. And so once I got into BM and its creation and community spheres, I applied that ethos there too. And we just kept going, and as we rolled we added more talent, and with added talent comes added capabilities and ideas to continue to grow, evolve, create, and challenge ourselves. Meanwhile BM became more known to international producers and DJ's who play the world's biggest and best parties and they came to learn BM was an amazing place to play (except for the part where they had to play for free).
So through my efforts and the event's growth, we were able to host some of the biggest names in dance music and for better and for worse (there's definitely 2 sides), that's standard fare now at the event.
We've come so far, as has the event, that a sound camp with the level of production we had in '03/04 wouldn't even get placed now.
Dr. Yes: In 2005 you brought Tiesto, arguably the biggest DJ on the planet at the time, to play OT. You’ve had big names in the years since (Armin Van Burren, Infected Mushroom Skrillex, Diplo, Carl Cox, etc) but 2005 was way before Burning Man had entered the general consciousness. How the did you pull that off?
Syd: The trail blazing distinction of world class DJ's playing Burning Man belongs to Paul Oakenfold, who at the height of his popularity played for IllumiNaughty in 2000. (Rumors of Oakey playing BM again abounded my first year in '01, but he didn't come back until '05, same year as Tiesto). Tiesto has part of his claim to fame owing to Oakey putting his classic 'Silence' remix by Sarah McLachlan on one of his mix CD's, and I'm pretty sure Tijs (real name) knew about BM from Paul having gone. In 2005 he was touring for Gods Kitchen who had partnered with local West Coast promoter Spundae on some dates. I had worked with Spundae on some benefits and knew their team, one of whom was working with Tijs on shows and somehow they got talking about BM and she pointed him to me and Opulent Temple.
We also had Paul Oakenfold that year, who incidentally only came when he heard Tiesto was coming. (For more competitive than friendly reasons I think.) We got major shit from certain segments of the BM community because by virtue of them being popular, they are automatically too commercial for BM. We don't see it in that way. Being popular should not exclude one from participating at BM, as long as that participation is in the spirit of the event. Which -of course- it was, (ie., no one gets paid and they participate in the project in some way.) Given that the OT also exists to be a vehicle for a message, we see things that elevate the platform of the message (within reason) to be in line with our vision. Anyway, most of that comes from trance haters anyway so we take it with a big fat grain of salt. We also owe it to Oakey that it was him who told Infected Mushroom they should come and play for us, and they've returned many times and put on some of the most memorable performances at OT.
Dr. Yes: This might be a touchy subject, but do you get help from the Org in the way other artists do in the form of grants to help defray your costs?
Syd: We wish. We get nothing from the Org. We don't get tickets, we certainly don't get financial help. We aren't allowed to even apply for grants for new art pieces at our camp and be judged on the same merits that art pieces on the open playa can apply for. We don't get a thank you or a visit from any Org higher-ups to acknowledge in any way the massive contribution ours and the other sound camps make to the success of the event. Only Maid Marian [Burning Man's CEO] has ever said thanks, and made any moves to help us, but that was some years ago. We appreciate her for that, but overall the taste in our mouth when it comes to the Org is very bitter. They tolerate sound camps 'cause we drive ticket sales, but Larry in particular had disdain for what we did, wrote us off as 'the ravers', and last we heard, in our entire history had never come up to 10:00 or 2:00 at night to see what was going on and what we did and how many people were enjoying our offering. Too late now of course.
Of course there's awesome people who work for BM. The Governess has been (mostly) awesome, except the year she wouldn't place us cause we weren't interactive enough. That hurt because it took no account of our previous contribution, but was a heartless 'what are you doing for us this year' calculation. They don't want to treat sound camps like they're special, even though it could be argued - they are. Of course we know some Burners hate sound camps and how ubiquitous the 'thumpa-thumpa' has become with roaming art cars and not being able to escape the ever-lasting pounding bass, and I totally empathize with that sentiment too.
You learn to deal with it and remind yourselves the reason we do what we do has nothing to do with the Org. Of course it'd be nice if they tried to make our lives easier instead of harder. It's astounding we're (as in the sound camp community) all still here contributing in the ways that we do year after year. We are a big reason the event now sells out every year, because it is an international destination for dance music enthusiasts. But they just want to have their art festival while enjoying the financial resources the 'ravers' bring them. I also understand we bring them headaches with law enforcement. Overall they take us for granted because they can. If we stopped coming out, some other camp would take our place and while some within the Org might care, overall the 'Org' as a decision making body couldn't care less.
Now that there's an ego-driven millionaire / billionaire pissing contest around sound camps and massive Art Cars, the Org has even less reasons to support community driven camps like ours with limited resources.
Dr. Yes: So, how do you guys fund yourselves?
Syd: We are funded by our supporters who come to our events, camp members that pay dues, and 3 (literally) supporters who've made helpful donations when we've needed it because they believe in our vision. Our camp budget this year (which includes some year round storage costs that are considerable) is $196,664. This year we threw 11 fundraisers in 5 cities that raised $89,232. (Note - almost half of that was raised in one night when the very awesome and generous Seven Lions played for practically nothing at Mezzanine in SF in April). That party was an outlier in our annual fundraiser plan. Most events make $1500-$5000 so it takes a lot of events. We have 225 people paying dues + crew, production staff etc. In 16 years of OT going to BM, we've ended the week in the black on 3 occasions.
Dr. Yes: What do you think about the sound systems on the playa? What do you guys use?
Syd: I'm amazed (though by now I shouldn't be), at the quality of sound systems people bring out there because sound systems get pulverized in the dust and weather. Concert-level quantity and quality, on the big flat desert. We really have it so good for an incredible music experience to take place. OT's system this year is 20 L'acoustics V-DOSC tops and 24 L'acoustics SB218 subs. We pay a lot for our sound guys to bring it out (from Texas!), but we certainly don't pay close to market rate because they are awesome and believe in what we do and why we do it. (We've used the same sound company since 2006 every year).
Dr. Yes: One last question - you said your first year on the playa was the first and only year you weren't involved in a project. Would you ever like another year like that at Burning Man?
Syd: Not at all. In some respects I'm textbook Jaded Burner guy, and it's a wonder I've gone what will be 18 years in a row. It's the group of friends / community co-creating the annual project and the joy of that process that keeps me coming back. Everything else is diminishing returns.
I can’t emphasize enough that Opulent temple exists and continues to show up because of the awesome people on the core team. Great people, diverse skills and in it for the right reasons.
Dr. Yes: Thanks so much for this, Syd. See you in the dust!
I wanted to get a real expert's opinion here, and so I set up an interview with renowned Burner and mini-submarine fail guy Elon Musk. He describes how he likes to burn below.
"I like to start doing lines of coke while flying in, and then as soon as I get to camp obviously I start downing sizzurp non-stop, because hydration is important out there. That usually puts me in a good place to start assembling my camp [Dr. Yes's note: He means unlocking his RV.] though I'll typically break out a six foot bong to do a few rips in the middle, to keep things on an even keel.
Now, once camp is done, I'm going one of two typical routes my first night out there: Crystal or bath salts. It just depends on my mood, you know? Do I want to go pick a fight with Russian gangsters at White Ocean, or am I in more of a "I'll go rave at Camp Walter, which turned out to be Kidsville..." kind of mood?
Usually by 2 am or so though, I'm going to need something more, so I swing back by camp, smoke a couple packs of cigarettes, beer bong at least one bottle of Mad Dog, and go through a couple boxes of whippits. I'll pop 6 or 7 stems and caps (something I try to do every 12 hours out there, just to keep things weird) and now I'm all sorted out and ready to go back out again!
By 8 am I'm typically back in camp again, huffing some butane, or possibly just gasoline if I'm feeling more Mazda than Telsa. Really takes the edge off. A couple hours later I'm ready to start the day, and after a breakfast of shatter-laced cereal in more sizzurp, it's time to have some real fun.
So, first, I thumb in a methadone suppository and then, as tradition dictates, day 2 out there is always a heavy acid trip day, I'll pop a baker's dozen hits and head out to deep playa, bringing nothing with me, knowing that the playa will provide. One time, it provided not-so-friendly BLM types after I saw what I swear to god was a giant replica of the Sydney Opera House doing the Danube river doggy style out past the trash fence. I, obviously, went towards it to see about participating. [Dr. Yes's note: Ask first folks! #consent]
Acid being a bit of a commitment, that will usually carry me through to dinner time, at which point my body is often feeling a bit tired, as if I'd just squashed another effort at unionization, so I'll head back to camp and hit myself with a couple ampules of adrenaline. You can really do a proper howl at the sunset with that shit racing through your veins, and it's also great prep for a night of heavy, heavy flakka use. I know people say it can cause permanent psychological damage, but at Burning Man, would you even know? Nah man. Plus, I'm Elon fucking Musk. I do what I want. Sometimes that's blowing my mind out on flakka, and sometimes that's building a mini-submarine that is literally useless.
Now, flakka makes you feel like the Falcon Heavy, or maybe the Incredible Hulk - full of rage and power - and you just want to grrrrrr fight someone!
There's only one place on the playa to go when that mood hits you, and that is the Temple, so this is usually the night I dedicate to loudly and angrily appreciating the Temple. "FUCK YOUR FEELINGS!" I have been known to shout in there (also on investor calls...oops), but I hope people understand that's not me talking - it's the drug cocktail I'm marinating in. The other Temple denizens and I have a good time that night. They're usually all around me, clamoring very loudly and angrily at me about how you're not supposed to do this or that or whatever, but it's ok, I'm so off my face they usually morph into something much more pleasant, like clones of Alvin the Chipmunk or maybe the small of Kylie Minogue's back.
Usually, after my flakka night, I need a little sleep, so I'll do a heroic dose of ketamine, drift into the blissful k-hole, and just sit there (wherever there may be....once it turned out to be the floor of Grover Norquist's RV) for awhile, recovering.
After a couple hours of that, I'm back, baby, and I'm ready to go! Few shots of bourbon and a couple grams of molly wake me right up and then it's fucking ON. I'll run around all day while my body temp slowly creeps up to brain damage range, laughing at all the pussies expressing concern for my condition. I'm rolling hard, bitches! Nobody escapes my hugs. (Or the Tesla manufacturing line. Seriously, we make people pee in a bottle so they can keep working without leaving their station. )
I'll typically redose six or seven times, consuming maybe 10 grams total throughout the next 18-20 hours, after which I'm usually feeling like things are getting stale, and it's time to up my game a bit lest I get bored.
That's usually when I'll decide it's time for my own version of a Jeffrey, and I'll combine all the synthetic designer drugs I have into one big dose and just do them all at once. Last year I think I mixed together 3-MPM, homomazindol, some variety of cathinone (there are so many, who can keep track), a little Benzo Fury, and of course some tetrahydrofuranylfentanyl, to keep things in equilibrium. Science, bros!!
I usually try to grab a few hours of real sleep after all that wears off, typically using penothal, though sometimes just a lot of opium, to make sure I fall asleep, because it's important to take care of yourself out there.
At this point, I'm rarely aware what day it is, but I usually just figure that as long as there are still people there, I can continue to judiciously self-medicate, so I tend to devote this entire day (whatever day that is) to krokodil. It comes out of Russia, which is how you know it's good, and strong! Like Putin. It's cool to watch your skin get all scaly. Reminds me of that guy in Game of Thrones, who could really swing a sword!
Usually on the way out, I try to keep things low-key. Hop on my flight out of the playa, snort a little DMT, and if I have a headache, I'll put a morphine drip in and maybe pop a few ambien.
And I mean, that's it really. Pretty basic. You'll note that there's at least one major drug I don't do out there: Heroin. You have to have your limits, and that's where I draw the line. The only dragon I'm riding on the playa is in the form of an art car. Besides, krokodil is way better anyway. You heard it from me, Elon Musk, submarine fail-guy: Heroin is the novice's krokodil."
"So in 1992 I picked up a flyer from The Cacophony Society which was this underground org in San Francisco that did flash mob type things and weird art prank projects. At the bottom was a blurb about an event they were doing called Burning Man. I was part of an underground rave called Mr. Floppy’s Flophouse in Oakland and was a DJ and VJ. I thought what a cool thing to marry up with!
I arranged a meeting with Larry Harvey and he invited me over to his kitchen and I pitched him the idea of bringing a sound camp out to the playa. He thought it was a great prank and that things had gotten a bit complacent at Burning Man. He warned me that a lot of the people may rebel against amplified music but that we should set up exactly one mile from center camp and do our thing. He gave me a stack of tickets to sell for $20 each and I sold about 30 of them. Honestly, we couldn’t give them away - it was too far for people, nobody had heard of Burning Man and the self-reliance part of it was something new to people.
Anyway, I was living with Terbo Ted in an artist warehouse and he and I made the flyer, got a sound system together, made some decorations and promoted it on Haight Street and at underground raves. Again, we only sold 30 tickets. We rented a Ryder Truck that Paradise Visuals projected Tripp’s computer graphics on and Ted did a sound check, forever giving him the title of first DJ at Burning Man. I played under the moniker DJ Niles and also on the bill was Synthesis Dave, B.R.A.D, and Goa Gil. Burning Man back then was only a few days over the Labor Day weekend and there were less than 500 people there total. We played day and night for the whole thing.
So, I took a 20-year break and went back in 2016 by myself. I’d recently battled colon cancer and wanted to go back and ritually rid myself of all the emotions that I carried and celebrate being alive. It was mind blowing to see how it had grown. The vibe was the same but exponentially bigger on every scale. The art, the sound camps, the size of the thing... I met up with Ted and we had lunch with Larry Harvey at First Camp and reminisced about the old days and talked about the future, the Fly Ranch and a permanent presence on the playa. It didn’t feel like 20 years had gone by sitting there with those guys!
Then in 2017 I went back with my spouse and I DJ’d a set near the trash fence. For a spontaneous set we had many more times the people than at those early year parties. I met so many people of all ages that thanked me for our contribution and told me stories about how they in turn were inspired to create and told me what they’re up to. It’s amazing beyond words to think that a seed that I planted has inspired thousands of people to carry it forth."
I don't know about you, but I love the fact that the first EDM camp at Burning Man was partly there because Larry thought it'd be a funny prank to pull on burners. It's funny in and of itself, and funny in an ironic way because of how dominant EDM is on the playa now.
As I mentioned above, I followed up with some questions, to which Craig generously provided his thoughts.
Dr. Yes: What'd you think when you first got to the playa back in 1992?
Craig: In 1992 when Ted and I arrived on the playa it was about 11pm at night. There was no gate road. No gate. We were told to pull off the highway at around a certain mile marker and head east until we saw a lightbulb on a tower. We drove around for about two hours trying to find that tower.
In contrast, coming back in 2016, I could see cars heading to and coming from Burning Man about 100 miles out on a county highway in Oregon so the first thoughts were about the gate, entry and thinking about how long the line may be. I'd read horror stories over the years but I wasn't there on the first day so it was very streamlined.
That leads me to infrastructure differences. Night and day here compared to the early years and like any community that grows, the infrastructure has to be built to support it. I was 100% impressed with the efforts that Burning Man Org and all the volunteers do out there each year. I took some time to find where I was going to pitch my tent (I've never and never will rent an RV to go to Burning Man, just not my thing.) I found some friendly neighbors and set up, and introduced myself. I immediately thought that while more mainstream people may be there these days it's still people that want to be there and for the most part people are there to share, to learn, and to come away with something whether it's an experience, a new love, or shedding some baggage and in those core ways I found it's remained the same. Then the sheer fucking scale of the thing blew my mind. As far as sound camps go, Mayan Warrior was extremely impressive.
Dr. Yes: I thought it was interesting to learn that Larry had invited you guys to come as the first sound camp partly as a prank. Did you view it mostly as a prank, or did you guys just like DJing and thought it'd be a great place to turn it up to 11?
Craig: We were mostly in it for the music but I have to admit I'm a huge fan of pranks. I grew up listening to punk rock and am a DIY sort of person. I was in a psychedelic techno band at the time called Psychic TV and one of the Cacophony Society members was trying to arrange for the whole band to play - that was the initial lead in to the meeting with Larry Harvey, but the whole band couldn't be there so I pitched Larry on having a rave camp (I've never liked the term rave but that's the nomenclature). We called it a sound camp or party. I'm an adventurer and outdoorsperson also so remote places interest me. Shortly after Burning Man in 1992 I left for India and lived and DJ'd in Goa India for 6 months which was amazing. 1992 was a very inspiring year and full of personal growth and change for me.
Dr. Yes: Did you pay much attention to Burning Man and its evolution in the 20 year gap where you weren't going? (Congrats on beating cancer! Fuck cancer!)
Craig: Until the year 2003 I was still living in the Bay Area. I stopped attending in 1996 but still knew many many people going each year and they'd come back and regale me with stories. I also watched the online stream in most years, watching technology grow and get better which interestingly enough is a core of Burning Man now. Burning Man could have only ever have evolved out of the Bay Area. It's a strong hub for the arts, technology, and counterculture. In 2003 I moved to Hawaii for 12 years and logistically to do Burning Man how I like to it it was too difficult. I didn't want to leave the ocean for that long is the short answer!
In 2016 I moved to Vancouver B.C. and looked on a Google map and figured it's only a 22 hour drive. I'd just battled colon cancer and had a lot of appreciation for being alive and also wanted to go out there and breathe any remaining anxiety, and negative stuff out and leave it there. So while 1992 was an amazing year for me, 2016 was a difficult one. I figured go back and if you I could connect the two I can create a change. Synchronicity or coincidence is a huge thing I pay attention to. In 1992 Ted and I turned on the radio after it was all over when we were driving off the playa and this song came on. It's by Marty Stuart and it's call Burn Me Down. The lyrics sounded like they were tailor made for us to hear at that moment. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59Hih1d5T24 I found the song on youtube last year and had a laugh.
In 2016 coming back home a song by Band Of Horses came on the radio (big fan of just listening to the radio on roadtrips) and it was called The Funeral. In a way and in that moment that song rang true to me. I felt like I'd had a bit of a funeral for myself.
Dr. Yes: It's interesting that you say you felt like the vibe is the same, just on a different scale. There's a lot of cynicism out there about Burning Man among veteran attendees, and it's refreshing to hear your point of view there. Was there anything you didn't care for about the brighter, bigger Burning Man of today vs the mid-90s?
Craig: I dig it all, even the sparkleponies.
Dr. Yes: The first Temple wasn't there until 2000. Did you visit the Temple the last two years upon returning to the playa at all? What'd you think?
Craig: I know, that's something I was curious about for sure. My dad had died a couple years before in an accident and he was always very involved with Burning Man. He loved hearing the stories each year. I wrote his name on the wall. He would have liked that I think.
My first trip to the Temple was intense. I wasn't prepared for the heavy grief that was being expressed and took a while to understand and appreciate what is happening there. Terbo Ted has a directive to take some of my ashes and mementos to the Temple after I pass on. I think it's a beautiful place to let go and remember people.
Dr. Yes: This is a potentially controversial question, but since you DJ'd at least partly as a prank, how would you feel about people 'trolling' the Temple burn via music? (Famously, this happened several years ago, though it was ostensibly to honor someone. It upset a lot of people, and made some people go 'fuck yeah.')
Craig: I wouldn't have done that. While the event is about radical self-expression, people should have empathy to understand grief and silence. There's plenty of other nights to make as much noise as you want.
Dr. Yes: All-time favorite experience at Burning Man in the mid-90s?
Craig: Going to the Fly hotsprings in 1992 after the event to wash the dust off . We were chased off at rifle point by a rancher. We were only a handful of people with the pools to ourselves. In 1996 there were hundreds of people in the pools after the owner found he could profit off letting people in. Now that Burning Man bought The Fly Ranch I really look forward to see what happens out there. It's part of Larry's legacy and vision.
Dr. Yes: All-time favorite experience at Burning Man 2016-2017?
Craig: Taking my virgin wife to experience Burning Man for herself. She's heard me tell so many stories that she wanted to go check it out. Also in 2017 this synchronicity happened. We were biking in the deep playa and there was an art installation of the golden record that was on the Voyager Spacecraft. I biked right up to it and realized I had the same symbol on my shirt. This surprised tons of people that came at the same time. One woman proclaimed loudly, "This is the magical Burning Man shit I was trying to tell you about!"
Dr. Yes: It sounds like you knew Larry at least somewhat well for awhile. Any thoughts on how his passing might affect the future course of Burning Man?
Craig: I imagine this will be a special year out there with lots of tributes. I think The Man should have a Stetson on. I believe Burning Man will carry on fine as long as the Trump administration doesn't start getting too scared of 70k people all gifting, learning, and enjoying themselves. We should understand that this administration isn't a friend to free thinkers. [Dr. Yes: A-fucking-men to that.]
Dr. Yes: Will you be on-playa again this year?
Craig: You never know. I'm going back to my mid-1990's plan that if I'm meant to to go I'll be there! I'll be in Southern Oregon camping and looking for rare gems so I'm not far away. Anyone have a spare ticket?
Thanks for taking the time to reminisce and give us your thoughts on Burning Man generally, Craig. See you in the dust!
A two part set from 4 am on Labor Day that Craig performed as DJ Niles in 1996 on the playa can be found here as part 1 and part 2.
Craig's trash fence set from 2017 is here.
If you want to learn more about the history of Burning Man, start here.
What we don't know is why he did it. Period.
We don't know if he intentionally committed suicide in front of a large crowd, or if he had a spontaneous psychotic breakdown.
We don't know if he was on drugs, and if he was, we don't know if they contributed to this event, or whether he took said drugs intentionally. It's not like nobody's ever been dosed without consent, right?
Nobody knows, and anyone asserting they do is full of shit. All I see is utterly baseless speculation, depressingly frequently used to attack a dead man, sometimes even in venues where his family is reading what's written.
Because I know that at least one of his immediate family members will read this, I'm not going to quote anything attacking Mr. Mitchell. In summary though, I've seen many people in the community posting things accusing him of being a selfish jerk for doing this in view of others (including the rangers and firefighters who tried and failed to stop him) and traumatizing them, and/or accusing him of damaging their burn and future burns.
If you're traumatized by watching a man run into a raging fire, I think that's understandable. I'm glad I didn't witness it. However, lashing out at him is really not ok. You have no idea why he did it. You have no idea if he was of sound mind at the time. Unless you know otherwise (and you don't), the only appropriate response is empathy, for him and the terrible way in which he died, and most of all, for his family. And frankly, if he was of sound mind, I think I feel even worse for him. What kind of pain and suffering must he have endured to be willing to run into a fire and try to burn to death?
And imagine what it must feel like to have your husband or brother or son cross an ocean and a continent to get to an event that he, like nearly all birgins, was eagerly anticipating. You give him a hug and send him on his way, looking forward to the stories he'll have to tell.
And then you get a call that you never want to get. A voice on the line tells you that your husband, your brother, your son is dead. Not just that, but you see pictures of him just as he was running into the raging fire that would kill him spread all over the internet.
Then it only gets worse, when people on the internet start attacking your brother, your son, your husband. Talk about driving the knife home.
Think about that before you decide to throw empathy to the wind and convict the man based on nothing but speculation. Please. Let's be better.
I want to include these words from his sibling, Micah, who said this about Mr. Mitchell on a reddit thread I had posted:
"Joel was my brother. I don't want to share to much at the moment but I do want to let the world know how much he cared and loved every single person on this planet. He was the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back, his meal before he had taken a bite, or the last dollar in his wallet (these are actually things I saw him do first hand). He was truly selfless, humble, compassionate, and cared about everyone. He only knew love and nothing else."
Now, for those whose petty complaint is that he 'ruined' the Temple burn the next night, or that the burns will be different going forward because there may be a fence or a wider perimeter or whatever, I have this for you:
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!