Burning Man isn’t your usual festival. It’s a city wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the experience. The Playa (the desert stage location where the Man, the temple and much of the art is) is a culturally curious place, one part hedonistic, one part idealistic.
At its heart, Burning Man is a celebration of artistic self-expression for those who have a utopian vision of the world. For some it’s about creating a spiritual sense of oneness in an intentional community based upon 10 principles. For others, it’s about all-night parties and dancing. But no matter what archetype defines you and your experience, anyone who has done the pilgrimage to the desert is known as a Burner, and this may truly alter the course of your life.
Ironically, Burning Man takes place over Labor Day weekend despite the enormous amount of sweat and labor that goes into making the temporary art installations. The end result is the biggest interactive art installation in the world, situated in a lunar setting that gives the whole thing an unearthly feel. The desert will be patrolled by mechanical fire-breathing dragons, art cars that resemble magic carpets, and perhaps a life-size shipwreck from the eighteenth century. This Mad Max-meets- Alice in Wonderland experience transforms into a surreal visual show at night that will make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time to when you were four and first saw the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland.
Of course, there is the ornately constructed temple, which is ceremoniously burned on Sunday night following the primitive, tribal burning of the Man on Saturday night.
Theme camps make up Black Rock City’s cultural dead ends. These camps, which frequently feature up to a few hundred people in their tents, hexa-yurts, and RVs, depending on the year’s theme, contribute to the festival’s local flavor. If you’re visiting for the first time, it would be ideal if you could join a group of Burners. In the alternative, you might get in touch with a theme camp to inquire about joining their village.
Burning Man is about exploration as well. Every year at the festival, more than 2,000 free seminars, workshops, and activities are offered for people who want to learn. There are a variety of courses available, ranging from How to Drive a Vulva and Understanding Personality Types to a Vegan Coconut Ice Cream Social and a Human Carcass Wash (especially useful because you’ll have desert dust in every crevice). You’ll need to either make plans in advance or leave it to chance given the abundance of irreverent and educational workshops and events. While we advise the latter, you can get ready by reading Rockstar Librarian’s annual music guide.