Burning Man is a project best known for an eight-day-long annual event that takes place in Black Rock City, a temporary city on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. It takes it’s name from the burning of a large wooden sculpture of a man. But, you probably knew all this. Even if you’ve never been before, the influence of Burning Man on our music scene and maybe a bit of popular culture; the infusion of artwork, community, advanced revelry and participation instead of spectating is undeniable.
Glide checked in with Actiongrl Andie Grace, Burning Man’s go to girl for communications and so much more about this year’s theme, music, getting prepared and more. The countdown is on!
Tickets for this year’s Burning Man are on sale now. How are sales going? How many do you expect to sell?
Ticket sales are looking just fine for Burning Man 2007. Since we sell some tickets on site, and since sometimes people wait until the last minute and others can’t make it to the event after they’ve bought their tickets, it is impossible to project how many people are going to be at the event in any year. Suffice it to say that the rate of sales indicates we’ll be at least as large as last year, with any possible growth probably reflecting the typical trends of recent years.
The art theme for this year is The Green Man. How are themes chosen and what was the impetus for this one?
Our director, Larry Harvey, chooses and writes the yearly art theme. This year’s theme takes its inspiration from many directions – many folks in this community were already "green"-minded, and have been thinking along these lines for years, and the various projects, ideas, and innovations that people have been making and sharing with one another finally all came to a head as Larry was choosing last year’s theme. This is the first theme to really reach beyond the event and into our daily lives in such a profound way, and the response has been astounding! You can read more about it at our website.
The jamband world is experiencing the influence of Burning Man in the festival scene – more costumes, art installations, acts that cross the line into performance art and more. Are you likewise seeing more organic jam style music seeping into the scene at Burning Man?
To be honest, that’s very hard to say, because there are so many different kinds of music represented at Burning Man. Mind you, Burning Man is not a music festival, and we don’t have main stages or scheduled performances organized or planned in a centralized way. We’re often contacted by bands hoping to perform who are shocked to learn that we don’t book a single act at the event.
In truth, any performance that happens at Burning Man is produced entirely by participants — so if you see a band on a stage, that band very likely participated in building the stage and/or creating the camp in some way, no matter who they are. Since there are over 500 registered theme camps at Burning Man and dozens upon dozens of musical stages built by those participants, it’s very hard to gauge any one genre’s presence at the event. Literally every type of music, from ballroom dance to African drumming to bluegrass, can be found in Black Rock City. If you go looking for jam bands, you could wander into one camp of jam artists and spend your whole week immersed in that, while right next door an electronic act or a klezmer band had been playing all week too on their own stage they built themselves. It’s all there, you just have to find it.
Describe how someone might participate in the gift economy.
The "Gift Economy" refers to the unusual system of social interaction that happens in Black Rock City – a place where no commercial transactions are permitted, and the only thing money will buy you is a cup of coffee or a bag of ice in our Center Camp. Other than that, nothing is for sale, so you must bring everything with you to survive. Many folks take it a step further, bringing with them gifts to share with others, and it creates a culture of sharing with and giving to strangers. Mind you, this doesn’t just mean physical goods to share, like giving away free lemonade or handmade necklaces to new friends, or sharing a spare battery with a neighbor whose flashlight dies; it also means sharing of yourself and your talents and time, all without expectation of getting anything in return. This can be done through things like building art, or volunteering for a shift at the Playa Information desk, or helping a neighbor rebuild his shade structure when the wind knocks it down, or just singing a song to a stranger as you pass in the night. It is the prevalent method of interaction at Burning Man, and we are a society that is founded upon these gifts.
What’s the best way for a live music lover to participate?
One of Burning Man’s core philosophies is participation; this means not just watching performances and passively consuming entertainment, but contributing to the community in some way. At Burning Man, you *are* the entertainment. You might bring your axe and play a song while perched atop a piece of art, or lend a hand with one of the many music-related camps, helping them set up, build, or clean up their stage areas. There are dozens of ways to get involved.
Our website’s BBS includes a thread about Bands Seeking Stages/Stages Seeking Bands for the networking of performers with places to perform. Don’t be afraid to just pack up the band and head for the desert, and find a place to play when you get there. As a musician I can tell you playing music for the highly appreciative and colorful crowds at Burning Man is an incredible treat.
First, get your tickets and make sure you’re fully prepared to face your own survival in the desert, by visiting the First Timers’ Guide at Burningman.com. Once you’ve prepared for the journey, then you can start on your art project. Whatever it is, it needs to stand up to the desert as well – it’s an incredibly dusty, very windy, and usually very hot place, so read up about the environment and know how to protect your gear! Anything that will be vehicle mounted will need to pass a "Department of Mutant Vehicles" inspection and be registered ahead of time – no driving is allowed at Burning Man, and only "Mutant Vehicles" or radically modified moving pieces of art are the exception to this rule. Deadlines are coming up! Their info page and guidelines are at Burningman.com.
OK, I’m ready! Oh, and where can I get tips on building a moving, musical machine?!
For tips on building art, many folks use the ePlaya and tribe.net – there are dozens of Burning Man related Tribes there – to share ideas, tips, and tricks with one another. There are also over 100 local "Regional Contacts", a network of volunteers who help keep participants connected year round. Chances are there is a community near you, where you can get in touch with seasoned participants who may have tips for how to construct your project. You might even find an existing local project to join up with and assist, or find other folks to help with your big idea! Visit burningman.com
All Photos courtesy of pixievisionproductions.