It’s crunch time for the scores of Sacramento area residents who will soon drive to the northern Nevada desert to experience the annual counterculture festival known as Burning Man.
For Richard Fehlman, retired network analyst for the state, it means meticulously packing everything needed to run the 7 Sins Lounge, one of the scores of theme camps that band together to create the temporary city at Burning Man. The event, held on a dusty lake bed since 1990, starts Sunday and concludes Labor Day.
“Theme camps really are the heartbeat of Burning Man,” said Fehlman, 62, who goes by the moniker Campmaster while at the event. “It’s what sets Burning Man apart from festivals.”
Unlike traditional music festivals, Burning Man’s culture calls on attendees to help create the amenities of a temporary urban city – from massive, generator-powered dance clubs to morning coffeehouses – and to share them with others.
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“At 15 years, we’re one of the oldest camps,” said Fehlman of 7 Sins Lounge. The camp of 25 people, mostly from Sacramento, touts its shade, chill music and slushy drinks by day and flaming libations and the wheel of sins by night.
Those who spin the wheel volunteer to have their sins discussed.
“It gives people a chance to do something slightly outside of their comfort zone,” Fehlman said.
The same could be said of Burning Man in general. It invites all to find their inner artists and express those through clothing, bikes, camp decor and art projects. People from around the world attend to scratch it off their bucket lists.
The event has grown from a hastily assembled party on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986 to a global phenomenon attracting 70,000 ticketed attendees from around the world.
Participants transform the desolate landscape into a pulsating, vibrant community where no money changes hands, art projects fill the desert, dance parties last all night and hugs are plentiful. The participants are required to bring all the food, water and supplies needed to survive a week in the harsh environment, but many lessen the load by camping in groups.
It’s the most fun you can have in one place without going to jail.
Building things is what drew in Bob Parker, aka Dragon, who went for the first time in 1998 and has been every year except for 2014.
“It’s the most fun you can have in one place without going to jail,” said Parker, a Herald resident. “It’s a disease. It’s highly contagious.”
In 1999, with little oversight, he built a 30-foot-long fire-breathing dragon. It was a memorable start to his Burning Man art career. The heat melted zip ties holding the bottle rocket payload, so rather than launching the payload at the proper angle, racks of bottle rockets shot into the unsuspecting crowd. Things have become more organized and slightly more regulated since.
He remembers hanging out with the founders back when it was just a few thousand people in the desert.
After a decade of seemingly trying to keep Burning Man a secret from the world, the organization is fostering regional networks as key to creating a “year-round extension of the Burning Man experience, and supporting it as global cultural movement.”
“Regional contacts help local Burners connect with each other, while bringing Burning Man principles and culture into their local communities through events and activities, year-round,” states the organization website.
To help foster offseason cohesion, the organization has also created opportunities – much like a county fair – for regions to team up to add some flavor. In 2013, local Burners built and burned the Playa Queen, a replica Gold Rush-era paddle boat. In 2014, local participants built and operated a tongue-in-cheek Playa Travel Agency, offering “insurance” for things that go wrong in the desert. This year, locals are building the “sparkade,” a collection of carnival-type games, which tie into this year’s theme, Carnival of Mirrors.
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Roseville engineer Evin Revello has built a Love Machine Staring Contest specifically for the sparkade.
“It allows two people to be able to stare into each other’s eyes and figure out how compatible they are and their potential for falling in love,” Revello said at a recent sparkade build day. Users place their hand on skin readers. The device then reads the skin’s electronic response and compares that to existing data sets, Revello said.
He said the region’s Burning Man attendees are getting more cohesive. With the Bay Area so close, Sacramento Burners interested in keeping the feeling alive could easily attend larger San Francisco events, rather then developing more local relationships.
Over the years, efforts to organize the local community of Burners have suffered growing pains. The Sacramento Valley Spark, a nonprofit aimed at “supporting the arts in positive social change” for the community, redirects proceeds from Burning Man-related (but unaffiliated) events year-round to support local art grants.
In recent years, the group has had a string of events for which no outside marketing took place because demand exceeded capacity at selected venues.
10 PRINCIPLES OF BURNING MAN
▪ Radical inclusion: Everyone is welcome.
▪ Gifting: Giving without expectation of reciprocation.
▪ Decommodification: Commercial transactions forbidden.
▪ Radical self-reliance: Individuals are encouraged to rely on inner resources.
▪ Radical self-expression: Participants should express their individuality though action.
▪ Communal effort: Community involvement encouraged.
▪ Civic responsibility: Individuals should strive through civil means to strengthen their community.
▪ Leaving no trace: Respect the environment.
▪ Participation: Everyone shares in work and play.
▪ Immediacy: Seek to know your inner self, community.