Thursday, March 30, 2023

Burning Man: more than a festival


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Atlanta Northcutt // Contributing Writer 

There is a city in the middle of the Nevada desert that rises from the dust once a year to bring together those individuals who believe in freedom from societal norms, love for all beings, the ability of creativity and art to bring change to the world and the celebration of being unique and different. This place is called Black Rock City, and it is where Burning Man is held for one week out of the year. Located on a barren playa, surrounded by mountains, Black Rock City is over an hour away from civilization. There is no cell phone service, monetary exchange or any form of marketing once inside the city. The “burner” must rely on oneself to survive and thrive for one week in the desert environment. He or she must also be willing to freely give love, kindness and generosity to the other 70,000 individuals who make up the population of the city. The experience that one has depends solely on oneself and their interaction with the people around them. Anyone and everyone is welcome, regardless if they are a veteran or a virgin of the playa.

Burning Man is not a festival. It is a gathering of free spirits, open minds and nonconformists.

Love and acceptance is an unspoken rule that is easily followed among the population. Strangers quickly become family, handshakes become long embraces and shouts of joy and freedom become a rally call. Upon entering the city, voices can be heard saying, “Welcome home!” The burners are home. They have found their tribe or pack. For one week, people from all over the country and world are united with no barriers to distract them from the fact that we are all one. We are all humans wearing a suit of skin and being held together by bones. Our intellect, creativity, energy and ways of thinking are what join and separate us. However, we love what makes us different equally as much as we love what makes us the same.

Respect the skin you’re in and the land you inhabit


Besides respecting one another, burners are expected to also respect the land and environment they are in. They must leave no trace of any kind behind, keeping the playa safe and organic. This is a good thought process for the Millennial generation to consider since we’re facing the crisis of global warming and the effects from the damage that humans have caused the planet. This mindset of leaving everything exactly how it was before we disturbed it is an important lesson to be learned. Cars remain parked at campsites, and bikes are the main form of transportation to reduce pollution and wear on the playa ground.

Art cars, or mutant vehicles, are the exception to this rule. Although there are many varieties, they are typically double-decker buses decorated extravagantly with DJ’s or music, slides, lights, open dance areas on the top decks, poles for dancing, bottom lounges and anything else that the owners of the art cars can create. Burners can ride these through the desert, dance on the top or sleep in the shade on the lower level in a nest of pillows. People will join the festivities by following these party vehicles while dancing along the desert floor, riding their bikes beside them, hopping on the cars themselves or waving and yelling happily to those who are already riding on them. With these art cars, the creator’s imagination is the limit, and the middle of the desert can become a huge party with large crowds of people dancing on and around the vehicle.

Night Life

At night, the desert explodes with life, lights and music. Pieces of art rise from the ashy floor like beautiful mirages. Light shows, fireworks, LED designs and fire displays shine and shimmer throughout the black night. Music blasts from each little club, drawing in the groovy spirits of those who feel the electricity and vibrations of all the sounds. Everyone is dancing. They twirl, hula hoop, spin fire, shake their hips and move their bodies with absolute freedom and euphoria. With eyes closed, joyous smiles and heads lifted to the starry sky, they have spiritual experiences that are all their own. They dance through the night until the pink, purple and blue hues of sunrise begin to peak over the tops of the majestic mountains.


Morning brings warmth from the frigid night air. The sun caresses the powdery white arms, legs, feet, faces and dreaded hair of the burners. The playa dust covers every inch of the body, especially after dust storms hit. Scarves are wrapped around faces and goggles are worn while riding bikes or walking through the blinding grayish tan winds. Everyone looks like they are out of a Mad Max or Star Wars movie. However, once the dust settles and the sun shines is when the nomadic and caveman side of the human being comes out. This is ultimate freedom.

Nudity is acceptable, along with anything and everything else. After several days in the desert, with dirty, dust-ridden bodies and matted hair, is when the animalistic side of the desert community comes out. The freedom and comfort of nudity feels beautiful under the warmth of the sun. There is no judgement or a particular body type to conform to. There is no fear of abuse or being viewed as a piece of meat. Everyone is beautiful in their own skin. Everyone is content in their own body. Each of us have these parts. It is simply human. This is a safe zone to be completely open and vulnerable. The ability to find comfort, love, strength and beauty while being bare and free is a powerful gift given by the desert. We think of our ancient ancestors, who hunted and gathered food while naked. What a simple life. No keeping up with the Joneses’, no spending ridiculous amounts of money on brand name clothes so others will see you in them, no idolizing photoshopped and unrealistically painted-to-perfection models, no insecurities or comparisons to others and no shallow level of existence. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of having this freedom: self-acceptance, love and the realization that beauty comes from the inside. It is all about what is underneath the skin; however, in normal society, most people don’t take the time to look that deep or are overly influenced by the media or what pop culture tells them is beauty.

Beauty is self-confidence, self-respect, intelligence and the love and acceptance of oneself. This is a beautiful discovery that happens at Burning Man.

Love in the desert

Love pours from the hearts of everyone in Black Rock City. Weddings take place on the playa. There is no need for expensive dresses, religious chapels or pieces of paper stating that two individuals want to spend the rest of their lives together. The tear that streams down the dusty face of the bride, the groom’s smile from ear to ear as he puts his hand on his love’s cheek to wipe away the salty drop of joy and the fact that their eyes have never stopped looking as deeply as possible into each other’s souls is the purest evidence of true love that no monetary event could come close to expressing. Friends, loved ones and strangers cry, cheer, wish the couple the happiest and most wonderful life possible and feel the beauty of life in their hearts as they watch the newly declared husband and wife press their lips and soul together for the first time as one joined being.


At Burning Man, everyone loves each other, whether they know them or not. Musicians play music to touch the hearts of strangers. The stranger cries and feels the acoustic guitar strumming through their body. In return, both give each other one of the most important gifts: mutual respect and appreciation. Strangers hand out viles of playa earth so that fellow burners can always remember the soft, chalky scent of the place where they found themselves and their faith in humanity again. Pancakes, coffees and other homemade goods are given out with smiles so strangers can savor something warm and have food in their stomachs. Long hugs and talks are given until the inside and outside of a stranger is fully understood, and they are a stranger no more. There is no such thing as strangers in Black Rock City by the end of this spiritually enlightened week. Everyone has become a family. Everyone has shared a piece of themselves; a piece of their soul. What if that world was the “real” world? What if we took the time to look past age, race, sex, sexual orientation, political and religious beliefs, social status or even the style of clothing that we put on our bodies? What if we built each other up instead of always trying to be better than someone else? What if we loved fully, openly and with everything that we are? What if we could make this kind of perfect world our actual reality? What if I told you we can? As a whole, our generation can change the world. It simply begins with one person. It can simply begin with you.



“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you can join us, and the world can live as one.” -John Lennon


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