Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: there is nothing else on this planet like Burning Man.
If you've never been, but had the unfortunate pleasure of hanging out with a group of people who have, you are undoubtedly familiar with the ravenously evangelical turn conversations in those groups inevitably take.
"You just can't describe it, you have to see it to believe it," is usually the gist of what uninitiated folk are told as they try to understand why a week in a hellish desert climate with no showers, port-o-potties and no trash service (you have to remove all of your own, even the water you use to brush your teeth) could possibly be some transcendental, life-altering experience.
And then you go. And then you see.
I shared many moments on the outskirts of the Disco Knights ‘dancefloor’ dome with a Santa Claus, an orange bear, a policeman, a panda-hat clad Nicaraguan minx, a leather and vinyl-wearing dominatrix, a red zebra print hat and black platform boot sporting impeccably gay man...and many other friends, old and new.
The single most significant difference between Burning Man and every single other gathering of people centered around music and art is this: Burning Man is the only one of these where the aesthetic, the art, the music, and the general feel of the entire event are not solely in the hands of the organizers.
Rather, the Burning Man credo mandates contribution from all participants, whether it's an 80-foot-tall electro-luminescent statue of a woman, a simple trinket that you bring to "gift" to those you meet along the way, or a DJ set at one of the MANY soundcamps (the music guide is 28 pages, front and back). And that vibe is absolutely contagious in the makeshift metropolis known as Black Rock City that rises out of the delicate playa sand each year at the end of August.
It becomes the ultimate in escapist environments. There is no currency (all that is sold is ice and coffee). There is no cell phone service. There is no dress code, or even requirement to wear clothes. There is absolutely nothing to do out there except exactly what you want to do. And that can be an extremely powerful experience. You don't realize exactly how much baggage you have to let go of until you actually feel yourself completely unburdened by it all.
And the music, oh, the music! To name just a few singular experiences:
Hearing Andy C rip through the dense nighttime on what sounded like a billion watt sound system at Bass Camp with his thunderous mash-up of drum n bass, dubstep and even breakbeats proved to be an exercise in keeping from howling every single time the bass dropped. Preceded by vicious dubstep sets from David Starfire and No Thing of San Francisco's Babylon System, the stage was set for an utter meltdown and Andy C had veteran Burners saying it was the most intense set they have ever heard on the playa.
But if one camp stole the show this year, it was Disco Knights. If sinister basslines defined the fire and neon-drenched nighttime, it was the impeccable house music found at this relatively new soundcamp that ushered you into the daylight with grace. Friday morning's soundtrack came courtesy of longtime Burning Man vets Wolf + Lamb, who partnered with Soul Clap for an extended morning set of luscious grooves.
Against all odds, Saturday morning's music was even better as hotter-than-inside-your-tent-at-4-pm collective Visionquest partnered with Crosstown Rebels mates Hot Natured for the 5:30 am to 11 am slot. The basslines were chunky, the chords were as warm and enveloping as the encroaching sun, and people were moving their feet every single second.
I shared many moments on the outskirts of the Disco Knights "dancefloor" dome with a Santa Claus, an orange bear, a policeman, a panda-hat clad Nicaraguan minx, a leather and vinyl-wearing dominatrix, a red zebra print hat and black platform boot sporting impeccably gay man...and many other friends, old and new.
In a word, it was divine.
And this is not to mention all of the fire dancing, all of the artwork, all of the insane art cars (essentially converted mobile party floats, which are the only way to use a motorized vehicle on the playa), the glitter body painting, the burning of a gigantic Trojan Horse, the burning of The Man, the burning of the stunning Temple of Transition, the menacing Steampunk fire-breathing octopus contraption, the flame throwers, the lasers, the fireworks, the stretches of illuminated balloons spanning the entire inner playa, the costumes, the revelry, the merriment, the debauchery…
It's all there. But most impressively, Burning Man is exactly what you want to make of it, no more and no less. And that is the real beauty of it because even though there is a guidebook that tells you what to see and where to be, you can leave it in your car, drive up with a best friend, and just allow the playa to take you where it may and you are guaranteed to have a seminal lifetime experience.
I know I did. But you have to see it to believe it.