Burning Man is a weeklong festival that takes place the week prior to Labor Day, in Black Rock City, Nevada. It’s a curious mixture of people learning survival skills and the creation of art and music. It is capped by the annual tradition of burning the wooden sculpture of a man, created each year for the event. Thousands of people travel to Burning Man each year, paying about $200-300 US Dollars (USD) a piece for the privilege of experiencing this festival. Many make this an annual pilgrimage event, and contend there’s nothing quite like the festival anyplace else on earth.
Burning Man is the brainchild of friends Larry Harvey and Jerry James. In 1986, Larry desperately wanted to burn a sculpture of a man, and did so on a beach in San Francisco. The first “man” was an 8-foot (2.44m) wooden man, and was meant to represent a gift. As the Burning Man ignited, people crowded around to see it ignite, to sing, or to help with the burning, and it occurred to Harvey and James that there was something special, spiritual, and unique about this process.
The decision to repeat Burning Man on a yearly basis was likely inspired by the reaction of the first witnesses. Unfortunately, in 1989, the mood toward this effigy changed, and people attending the 1989 “burning” were not reacting in a spiritual way. Instead obscenities were chanted, deeply disturbing Harvey and James. They sought an alternative to San Francisco, and decided to expand Burning Man, but also limit it, by placing it in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, which is a fairly forbidding place, and especially hot during the summer months. By relocating it, James and Harvey freed it from people who attended just for the sake of seeing something burn.
Today the festival is very much about people living together in community. Food and gifts are shared, and there is little to no commercial presence at the event. Instead, a barter and trade economy is common practice. Many artists travel to the event each year to create massive art installations. Unlike other events that have been considered anti-social, Burning Man works hard with local authorities to safely burn the now 4-stories high man, and to make sure that people don’t damage the environment. Recycling and cleanup are stressed to all who participate.
The Burning Man website sells tickets to the event, and gives lots of practical advice about how to survive in small and crowded campsites. Much of their philosophy, and their ideas of community are stressed. The website additionally sells tickets to the event, and these can quickly sell out. The event provides a unique experience, and due to its stress on moral and civic behavior, tends to be a safe one. The festival does not condone the use of illegal drugs and their good relationship with the local authorities has led to very few problems at events in past years.