What is Burning Man festival? A deeper look into this cultural movement

What is Burning Man festival? A deeper look into this cultural movement
Source: Wikimedia Commons, BLM Nevada

What is Burning Man festival? The history of Burning Man dates back to the San Francisco summer solstice of 1986, as a group of thrill-seeking friends ventured down to Baker Beach to have a night among the elements. Legend has it that Larry Harvey and Jerry James, the main co-founders of Burning Man, set out one night to “burn a man.”

Shortly after, the team set off to build an 8-ft. human-shaped effigy made of wood for a social bonfire on the beach they’d never forget. What was supposed to be an intimate beach gathering among a small group of Francisco’s free spirits known as the Cacophonist Society, attracted everyone on each side of the beach to spectate the first ever “burning man.”

Photo by Stewart Harvey

As beach bystanders gathered around the inflamed sculpture, the initial group was soon transfixed by a number of different happenings: strangers all coming together, tunes from guitarists and tambourine players and a woman that mindlessly took the hand of the burning man, creating a photographic memory that would last a lifetime.

The spontaneity of this performative camaraderie was the initial spark that not only created an intimate and deeper sense of community, but also was the start of an event that would become one of the most renowned cultural gatherings in history.

Burning Man relocates to the Nevada desert

Years passed and as the gatherings grew larger (including a 40-ft. sculpture by 1989 and a 300+ crowd), the burn at Baker Beach grew into something too immense for police to contain. Harvey and his crew of San Francisco bohemians set out to the middle of Black Rock Desert with all the appropriate gear (including the 40-ft. wooden sculpture) for the biggest ceremonial torching they’d ever provide for the community of “Burners.” In the years that followed, the phenomenon received mass media attention and attracted tens of thousands of participants wanting to be part of this culmination known as Burning Man.

What started off as a local bonfire at Baker Beach has evolved into one of the biggest cultural movements and gatherings worldwide. By 2004, Larry Harvey developed 10 principles in accordance to this newly-formed social gathering: radical inclusion, decommodification, radical self-reliance, gifting, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy.

The fact that the event was moved to the middle of an inhospitable environment meant no water, no greenery and a barren landscape. If you’re thinking this is your average music festival, think again. Burners would strictly consider this a community or a temporary city thriving on set principles and the ideas behind togetherness, art, self-expression, creativity, love and fire – lots of fire.

Burning Man 2021-2022

Picture this, you’re inside a seven square mile radius in the middle of Black Rock Desert surrounded by a temporary city constructed by seasoned burners and participants of this collective. Everywhere you go there’s a variety of different vendors, RV pop-ups, innovative art installations and human-made sculptures standing 20-ft. high in front of you.

Some are interactive or fueled by the energy of the wind, while others are breathing fire as you stand next to them. Fire performers and stilt walkers prowl the desert while people on bikes and one-wheels cruise through the endless barrenscape of Black Rock. Roaming through the city’s brutal conditions are transportable art cars and Mutant Vehicles built from scratch, scraps and LED lights, while the rest of the desert is accompanied by sandstorms that peel away at your skin after a couple days.

This nine-day gathering is definitely not for your average Coachella devotee, so if you’re thinking about attending, consider everything you need to know about Burning Man before trying to participate. For more than 30 years now, Burning Man has accomplished creating this (nonprofit) inclusive desert metropolis.

However, because the effects of the pandemic have forced the event organizers to reschedule Black Rock City for 2022, the team at Burning Man Project have developed another way to experience the event. Technology and fundraised adoptions of NFT artworks have allowed the crew to provide the community with a Virtual Burning Man that’s scheduled from Aug. 21-Sept. 5, 2021. Come prepared to experience a full 360 virtual realm of Burning Man 2021: The Great Unknown.

Although the global crisis prevented the team at Burning Man Project from continuing on with this year’s traditional event, Invitation to the Future has become an option to ensure future participation for Burning Man 2022. Up to 1,000 reservations for US$2,500 will be available beginning on April 10, 2021.

The Invitation to the Future reflects upon those of the community that are able to “demonstrate their belief in the global cultural importance of Burning Man and Black Rock City – a way to invest in the limitless possibilities of our co-created future.”

Thanks to the dedication, commitment and willingness to provide the best experience possible, the world is anticipating what’s to come for the future of Burning Man 2022. As the Burning Man Project promises, “Wherever you are this year, in 2021, we Burn together. We will always burn the Man.”

Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at tips@themilsource.com