A blast from the past story on why Burning Man is a festival more than just sex drugs and rock & roll.
Context: I write this after being asked from half a dozen friends about how my experience at Burning Man in Black Rock City was back in 2013; this is a way for me to share my experience from my notes with a wider audience about why I left in awe and why I haven’t gone back yet
Back in 2011, two mentors of mine, one a professor at a leading business school and second, a tech executive in Silicon valley mentioned in passing about Burning Man. When I Googled it the first time, the impression I had was that it was just a big sex, drugs and rock&roll party in the middle of a desert in California.
It wasn’t a year later when I was in the Lousiana Museum of Modern Art, the contemporary art museum in Copenhagen where I saw a majestic art installation that was on its way to the Playa (the “beach” desert as they call it) and felt inspired when I read about the Burning Man’s 10 principles, specifically around “Immediacy” and “Radical Inclusion” , and watching video documentaries on how the community organizes itself around such principles.
It wasn’t until two weeks before the Burn in 2013 that I made an impetus decision to go all the way from Sweden to California combining this with a business trip, co conspiring with an old school friend of mine, with absolutely no prior preparation.
What I learned is that if you set a strong intent to go, the community is there to help you get there.
I was pleasantly surprised how just about everyone we came in touch with helped us from getting tickets last minute, finding a ride to/from the playa, renting cycles last minute and buying food/water at the Walmart in Black Rock City.
[Hannes Graah \ˈgrā](undefined) ‘s mischief madness, who is kind enough to give us a RV lift to the playa.
The first day will feel wacky and out of place, strangers come and hug you, feed you and give you gifts! The fact that we are all just humans dawns on you after you see enough naked people around you.
Having decided to go in with an open mind, I dove straight in helping build a dome shelter where our group was tenting out.
What blew my mind away is the how much the maker community thrives here; the blood, sweat and tears burners put to create and transport their life size art installations, beautifully lit exhibits that come alive in the nights, interactive toys and fire spitting retro fitted cars.
Getting started day 0.
My first three days were wild with no strings attached; dressing up how I felt like Tutu Tuesdays, dancing to DIPLO’s live rave beats, waking up to the sun in Robot Hearts parties, dropping by camps that give you showers, or make icecream or have a library or even organize TED event. But this is not what I took away from the festival.
I asked myself why people would come all the way to a desert and put themselves in harsh environment for a whole week!? I then realized that this is what Utopia “could” look like today; a counter culture where there is no concept of money, people are treated equally and a celebration of the human spirit.
I fondly remember on my way to the Man, the biker behind me realized I had no goggles on when a sandstorm suddenly hit; she got down and gave me her extra pair.
BEFORE: Day 1
AFTER: Day 7
When I had lows spirits on the third day after not hydrating myself enough after a trip, my camp mates quickly noticed, sat down near me, cheered my own playing the guitar and making up songs.
Working in the tech industry, Burning Man was also an escape from the internet, to slow down, calm my mind and dream about the future.
Everyone I bumped into is free and alive, in the moment, authentic and I hit it off with a lot of the folks in my camp (Hooch Fuzz Patrollers) who continue to invite us.
The temple is a memorial of all the lost ones on the other side of the Man; the messages you read inside are touching and is the one place on the playa I found silence.
Being underprepared for the first time, there were so many folks known and unknown who came to help us and I am planning the next one to take on a full day of camp activities (besides skydiving into the playa)
I left with an intent to come back to contribute more, to give more than I had consumed.
There is a conversation about to be had that Burning Man attracts only the elite who can afford the cost and there is truth to that.
I had to let go my sense of privacy for the week, and if you really need it, you’ll find it back in your tent or RV.
Yo’ll learn to downgrade your lifestyle; personal hygiene will take a hit if you haven’t showered and the sand can get to you.