Inspiring Urbanism with Larry and SPUR

After interviewing Burning Man founder Larry Harvey today for this Bay Guardian blog post, I thought about how long we have been talking about his interest in urbanism and his desire to have a high-profile headquarters in San Francisco. He really wants to bring the values of our “experimental city in the desert” back home to San Francisco.
That desire is what prompted Larry to make “Metropolis: The Life of Cities” last year’s art theme, which he announced at the 2009 event. I wrote about that and his headquarters search in the Guardian at the time, and it also went into my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture.
I’ll be promoting the book and discussing Black Rock City’s contribution to urbanism during a March 8 event at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s Urban Center, along with Larry and several other burner luminaries. And to feed that discussion, I thought I’d post another chapter from my book, this one beginning on page 250.

Inspiring Urbanism

Gabriel Metcalf was just giddy when he heard about Burning Man’s 2010 art theme: “Metropolis: The Life of Cities.” It beautifully brought together two of his main passions. In addition to being a four-time attendee of the event at that point, he’s the executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, the city’s premier urbanism think tank.
“I can’t believe the Burning Man theme. It’s just so awesome,” he told me after the 2009 event, barely able to contain his glee. “Black Rock City is one of the great cities of the world.”
That’s high praise from someone whose days are devoted to studying urban life and its myriad challenges, and a testament to the fact that Black Rock City has successfully made the transition from frontier to city.
“I try to capture the zeitgeist with the themes,” Larry told me. That particular sense of the times really settled in during his visit to New York City, which was experiencing its own urban renaissance at the time, converting traffic lanes into separated bikeways and open space, setting out tables and chairs and letting people create informal spaces to just be with one another.
“It looks like the playa,” Larry told me. “I watched people creating conversational circles.”
In discussing the urbanism ideals that led to the theme – using design to facilitate community, getting past automobile-based systems, transforming cities into the basic societal building block – Larry once again showed himself to be well-read in the works of influential thinkers: “Urban planners, ever since way back in the ‘70s, when Jane Jacobs wrote about the ‘Life and Death of American Cities’…have been waiting for years to do stuff like this.”
Gabriel certainly had been, which is why Larry’s theme was so exciting to him. “One thing I love about Burning Man taking on the question of urbanism is it’s going to not just be about physical placement, how you lay out the blocks and streets, but about community in a larger sense,” he said. “The exploration of different forms of community is what I think is so interesting and transformative for the people who go there.”
Gabriel saw great potential in what Burning Man was trying to do next. He said that Larry “is trying to make it relevant and to speak to the big issue of the day. Metropolis speaks to the biggest issue, human settlement, how we’re going to live together. It’s asking the big question.”
Larry confirmed this to me and said that the burner community finally seemed ready for a discussion like that, particularly given the stubbornly sluggish economy in those years. “As people reduced their consumption, they seem more attracted to our values,” Larry said. “They come for the art but stay for the community.”
I think he’s right. The art is the draw, the thing that really defines the event and is the focal point for the community. But most of us wouldn’t keep going to that much trouble and expense, year after year, just to see the art. After all, the fire arts may have been cultivated by Burning Man, but by 2009, they also existed elsewhere, from Oakland to Governor’s Island in New York to Amsterdam’s Robodock.
The Crucible’s Fire Arts Festival in Oakland had it biggest year ever in 2009, with some truly mind-blowing new pieces and old standards, combined with the performance art and fashions derived from the Burning Man culture. And it was just 50 bucks and a quick trip from San Francisco.
But most of my friends and acquaintances who had been to Burning Man went back again in 2009, even those who had recently lost their jobs or were wrestling with other economic hardships. With the future looking uncertain, Black Rock City was still grounding, affirming, and exciting, a place where they still wanted to be.
“People are reassessing what they value, and apparently they value us,” Larry said.
One indicator of that was the fact that even as the population dropped slightly, the number of theme camps applying for placement increased, a signal that the communities that form up around camps were still thriving even if independent or newbie burners weren’t.
“We had so many theme camps they couldn’t all get placed,” Larry said. “People were putting more effort into it than ever. They’re valuing their social connections to people.”
Larry said he felt more social than ever that year. In previous years, First Camp (where Larry and other Burning Man employees and VIPs camp) used to be like “a command compound,” Larry said. But this year, he said it felt more social and open to outsiders. “I probably had the best year I ever had. I felt like I was in a village for the first time,” he said, a claim that rang true with my own interaction with him on the playa this year.
Not having attended Burning Man in the anarchic early years, Gabriel has always seen Black Rock City as a city. “In the absence of state-imposed authority and control, you take 50,000 anarchists and put them in the desert and they’ll create order out of chaos.” And the city they created, he said, is “like being a protagonist in a movie when you arrive in the big city. The Esplanade is one of the great main streets in the world.”
Gabriel has also pondered its symbiotic relationship with the city where he lives and works. “Is Burning Man an expression of San Francisco, or has Burning Man reconceptualized San Francisco? I think Burning Man has had a big influence on San Francisco, and at the same time, it is San Francisco’s gift to the world.”
But Larry said BRC had only recently been accepted as a city – with roads and rules and a distinctive urban culture – finally making it possible to use the event to discuss urbanism. “Four or five years ago, this would have been a hard sell. They still discussed whether they liked the streets and the rules we imposed,” he said. “People have come to respect its urban character, so we’re ready for a discussion like this.”
Larry said his personal observation, and what he has heard from many others, is that “it’s become a better and better social environment.” And that’s what finally led him to let go of his sociopolitical ambitions for Burning Man and just let it become what it was: a beautiful, inspirational city.
“I thought it was about the rest of the world for a long time. It’s really about the world that we go back and live in,” he told me, bringing some closure to our long-running conversation about exporting Burning Man’s big ideas and ethos. “It’s got to be about something that is in the world.”

Thank you!

Thank you all for making my book launch such a huge success! It really exceeded our expectations and made us want to throw more events like that. I’m so filled with all the love and support that I received all night long. I was particularly touched by the many people who so sincerely thanked me for writing this book, and I feel fortunate to be in the position to chronicle this amazing culture that we’ve all helped create. If you agree with me that it’s time to celebrate this world that I wrote about, and if you like the book, please say so to your groups, in reader comments to Amazon and other sites, and whatever else we can do to penetrate the mainstream consciousness and share our stories and our vision. This is your book as much as mine and hope you’ll help us get it out there. Stayed tuned to upcoming events and I’ll see you next time.

Chicken John was the liveliest of my guest speakers that night.

Chapter 1, The Tribes of Burning Man

It’s tough to decide which chapters to read at my book launch party tomorrow night. Some will be dictated by the special guests that I’ve invited to come speak because I want the crowd to hear how they’re portrayed in the book before watching them come to life, talking about whatever is on their minds. Let the chaos provide!

But as a preview, I’d like to pass on a sentimental favorite of mine because it grounds the modern Burning Man event in the larger sociopolitical moment, which I think is interesting and important. I’ve always thought of this as Chapter 1, even though it actually follows a Prologue, Introduction, Foreword, and the first of seven “day in the life” sections sprinkled throughout the book, which I use to paint a vivid and personal portrait of life on the playa. Anyway, here is, see you all tomorrow night.

Bush Pushes as the Playa Pulls

It was a gloomy day in San Francisco, like the whole town was hung over. Most of us probably were. What else could you really do but drink as the Fall 2004 election returns rolled in? We woke up achingly aware that Americans had actually validated this naked emperor, George W. Bush, as our president, and rewarded him with a second term.

After washing the stink of several dour campaign parties off of me, I headed into work at the Bay Guardian. This was an independent, progressive newspaper that openly scorned Bush and we had fought hard before the election, pushing on the boundary between journalism and activism with our cover story “Ten things you can do to help defeat Bush and save the country.”

We didn’t feel bad for so aggressively singling out one politician, or even the de facto backing of a Democrat we didn’t much like. Our assessments were backed by years of solid reporting on how Bush had plundered the country and made the world hate us. After giving the rich a huge tax break and placing capitalists in charge of regulating their industries, the Bush Administration used 9/11 as a pretext for extrajudicial killings and kidnappings, torture and other gross human rights violations, and two disastrous wars sold with calculated lies.

With a record like that, I didn’t understand how he might actually be reelected, a possibility we labored mightily to prevent. But now, it was over.

I thought about “Ten things…,” a project that I had conceived and executed with help from others on staff. It ran in early August, even before the traditional political season began, a clarion call to oust Bush on the grounds that he was a war criminal, a pawn for powerful oligarchs, and a proven liar and incompetent.

Yet personally, I was feeling a little guilty at the time as I prepared for my second trip to Burning Man, that annual festival of countercultural creativity and glee. There were good arguments being made all year that we ought to be putting the time, energy, and resources that we were using on this weeklong art party in the Black Rock Desert into defeating Bush.

The most poignant call came from John Perry Barlow, the former Grateful Dead lyricist and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who circulated an essay calling for people not to go to Burning Man: “If someone like Karl Rove had wanted to neutralize the most creative, intelligent, and passionate members of the opposition, he’d have a hard time coming up with a better tool than Burning Man. Exile them to the wilderness, give them a culture in which alpha status requires months of focus and resource-consumptive preparation, provide them with metric tons of psychotropic confusicants, and then…ignore them. It’s a pretty safe bet that they won’t be out registering voters, or doing anything that might actually threaten electoral chance, when they have an art car to build.”

In the case of my camp, Opulent Temple, instead of an art car it was a huge steel DJ booth, along with several big fundraiser dance parties in San Francisco to generate the $20,000 we needed to rock the desert with a wall of sound. But the point was the same and it was a good one that also bothered our camp founder, DJ/promoter Syd Gris.

Syd and I bonded over progressive politics probably even more than we did the great parties that he threw in San Francisco. Just about everyone we knew hated Bush, but Syd was the only DJ I knew who so directly infused politics into his nightlife schtick, opening his gig-plugging e-mails with socialist rants and often doing consciousness-raising midnight rituals at his parties. It actually really bothers some of our fellow partiers and DJs, but I’m a radicalized political junkie, so I’ve always admired and connected with it.

Bush was in office, the country was at war, things were fucked up and our community of smart, awesome people were putting their resources into Burning Man rather than social action,” Syd told me later, recalling that pivotal, poignant year. He had also read Barlow’s essay and addressed it directly in his missives at the time.

That was sobering and it definitely got me thinking. And where I came through, in that little thing I wrote, is we do this because this one event feeds the human spirit in ways, well, I don’t know any other way to be that. It fuels you up to get through the rest of the year and have a little hope in mankind. And that was certainly one of my first reactions to Burning Man is it renewed my faith in people.”

It’s the reaction that many people have to the event. We are awed by the seemingly limitless creativity and goodwill that Burning Man puts on display every August, which is such a marked contrast to the real world, particularly under the criminally overreaching Bush Administration. Yes, we should fight them, but we did fight them in great numbers during his march to the ill-fated Iraq War, and it didn’t matter. So, for many people, it was tough to devote our lives to helping Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry report for duty.

We knew Barlow was presenting a false choice. If we could trade Burning Man for Bush’s downfall, most of us would have done so willingly. But would that have happened if we’d gone to New York City to protest the Republican National Convention instead of spending that week on the playa? Doubtful.

Still, maybe that’s why I pushed this cover story so hard. Was I trying to assuage my own guilt or maybe urging our readers to pick up my slack while I was partying on the playa? All I know is that I desperately wanted Bush gone and was aghast it was even a close contest. All fall, the Guardian unloaded at his regime with both barrels – and I probably wrote more words in that quest than anyone.

And still Bush won. Sitting in my messy office, ignoring the periodically ringing telephone, looking over the detritus of a busy few months – desk piled with press releases and stories marked up with my edits, manila folders labeled “the case for impeachment” or “corporate crimes” filled with documents, long checked-off to-to lists – the words rang in my head: and still Bush won. Never had an incumbent president presented such an easy target, never had so many millions of Americans mobilized so passionately to push for electoral change, and still Bush won. It was depressing, maddening, dispiriting, unbelievable.

But there was one thing I was thankful for: that I’d gone to Burning Man anyway. At least I had that, those beautiful memories and intimate connections with good, interesting, life-affirming people. Lost in a moment of blissful reverie, I studied the Opulent Temple photo montage that was the screen saver on my computer: Rosie and me in front of The Man, Syd spinning records in the DJ booth, people feeling their musical bliss, smiling faces, crazy costumes, inspired artworks, fire. Ah. Then I snapped back to the present reality. Bush. Us against the world. A rainy day. Of course it was raining, but I still needed to attend the late afternoon anti-war rally.

My arrival in San Francisco had been tightly intertwined with peace marches. I first saw the Guardian ad for a city editor on a packed Muni train en route to the massive march in January 2003, when about 100,000 people filled Market Street for miles. Two months later, during my second week on the job, Bush invaded Iraq and mine was one of 2,000 arrests on a massive day of protest. I fell instantly in love with my new city and its creative expressions of people power. But this was still Bush’s country, even if we voted for Kerry and protested the war.

It was probably good that the anti-war movement wasn’t giving up, but I felt only dread about covering the event. It was going to be a joyless march, a real antithesis to all the beauty and wonder that San Francisco and Burning Man had inspired in me and others. Things seemed bleak, dismal, hopeless – but even though I couldn’t see it at the time, the conditions were right for a transformation.

Tribes of Burning Man Table of Contents

With my book formally blasting off at our launch party this Thursday at Project One, I thought it might be a good time to begin dribbling out some excerpts on this blog, starting with the Table of Contents. Check back regularly for more excerpts, or you can check my schedule of readings on my Amazon Author Page, with more dates being added regularly.

The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert isShaping the New American Counterculture
Prologue: Stating our Intention

Introduction: Welcome Home.

Foreword: Defining my Terms

Part I – Rebirth (2004-05) – In the wake of President Bush’s reelection, Burning Man’s artists stage a rebellion against the event’s leadership, sparking a grand existential debate over its direction as I help create the Opulent Temple sound camp, launch a series of newspaper articles on Burning Man, and become embedded with the Flaming Lotus Girls as they create their masterpiece: Angel of the Apocalypse.

Part II – Baptism (2005-06) – The Borg2 artist rebellion is a colorful and amusing flop, but Burning Man’s renaissance begins anyway, triggered by serendipitous circumstances. As the big sound camps evolve and the party hits its prime, Hurricane Katrina gives burners a new mission, summoning them to the Gulf Coast with a sendoff by NYC’s Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. And in San Francisco, Burning Man and its artists make a triumphant homecoming, finally embraced by the city of its birth.

Part III – Renewal (2006-07) – Burners Without Borders, launched by a disaster, becomes a vehicle for good works around the world, standing alongside the Black Rock Arts Foundation’s success finding new homes for Burning Man artworks and initiatives. Opulent Temple brings the world’s best DJs to the playa, blowing their minds and putting Black Rock City on the musical map. Green Man is launched and burners run for public office in the default world. But the event is revisited by ghosts from its past, including a lawsuit-wielding founder and a rebel-turned-arsonist who torches the Man early.

Part IV – Striving (2007-08) – Larry Harvey reaches for greater societal relevance with his provocative “American Dream” theme as the country’s long political nightmare ends. But Burning Man has an inertia of its own, a spiral of sex, drugs, dancers, art cars, and Indie Circus freaks, despite those striving to make it more. Tom Price goes solar and I explore the long road between Burning Man’s counterculture and Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention, with revealing insights.

Part V – Evolving (2008-09) – Burning Man doesn’t change the world or buy an epic piece of property (though it does try, tapping some powerful players in the process), but Black Rock City becomes a world-class Metropolis anyway, with tentacles everywhere, from Austin’s Flipside to NYC’s Figment to Fourth of Juplaya to the club kids from London to Boise who help save Opulent Temple. As Wall Street crashes, Reverend Billy runs for mayor, I find rejuvenation in my sister’s Grey eyes, and my Flaming Lotus Girls mentor goes out on her own.

Part VI – Metropolis (2010-The Future) – Burners finally arrive at the Metropolis they and Larry have been seeking to create for years, completing the event’s second act and setting the scene for its third. The frontier has become a city. The Man’s arsonist emerges from prison, triggering another round of old recriminations, answered by trying to turn the whole event into a nonprofit enterprise and let the community formally take its reins. Flaming Lotus Girls, a Space Cowboy, and eclectic group build the Temple of Flux, a telling centerpiece for the greatest Black Rock City ever created.


About the Author


Watch the Tribes characters come to life

My journalistic engagement with Burning Man, which resulted in my new book, began in the fall of 2004 when hundreds of the culture’s artists staged what became known as the Borg2 revolt. As I worked on an article about it for the Guardian, I had the magical experience of watching the colorful characters in the book I was reading suddenly come to life.

I want to give that same experience to the readers of my bookThe Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture – and that’s how I’m structuring my Feb. 17 launch party. You’ll hear me talk about the book and read excepts from it, interspersed by meeting and hearing from characters in the book.

This is Burning Man by Brian Doherty is an excellent account of the event’s early years until around 2001, my first year, that I was reading when many of the book’s main characters launched their rebellion with an ad in the Guardian. Showman Chicken John and artist Jim Mason were the top signatories, their main foe was event leader Larry Harvey, and they had allies in co-founders Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger) and John Law and lots of Bay Area artists who were characters in Doherty’s book.

And suddenly, I was talking with these people, all recognizable from the book but so much more in real life, all fascinating, inspiring, multi-dimensional souls. It made the book so much more rich and gave a detailed backstory to the current controversy and those to come.

Some of those same characters and many more have said they’ll be at my event and will say a few words. Larry is returning from South America two days before the event, but he told me that he plans to attend and will say a few words, as will Michael and perhaps a third Borg member, Marian Goodell. Chicken will also be there, in his inimitable style.

Burners Without Borders founders Tom Price and Carmen Mauk plan to be there and speak; Rebecca Anders, a main character from the Flaming Lotus Girls section in the beginning of the book to the Temple of Flux section I conclude with, will be there, along with fellow Flux artists Jess Hobbs and PK Kimelman; Opulent Temple’s Syd Gris, another character who appears throughout the book, will speak and spin at the event; Fou Fou Ha will be there in costume to bring my indie circus chapters to life; artists Michael Christian and Peter Hudson will be there to talk about past projects from the book and their exciting new endeavors; performer Kid Beyond (my cohort in driving from Black Rock City to the Democratic National Convention in 2008) will be in the house and on the mic; Kinky Salon founders Polly Superstar and Barron Scott Levkoff will do a dramatic reading of their chapter on sex; and many more surprise guests.

So this should be a unique night to remember. See you there.

Tribes has arrived! And I explain it here

My book just arrived in San Francisco! I’ll finally hold the product of six years of work in my hand in just a few hours! Then I’ll sign and ship them to those who pre-ordered through my website tomorrow (those who pre-ordered through Amazon may have to wait another week, but that’s beyond my control, just like its cheaper price was).

So what exactly is this book about? That’s a good question that I’ve gotten a few times and haven’t really answered on this blog yet. So what follows is our press release and fact sheet, which should answer that question.


Author Steven T. Jones,, 415-305-3866

Publisher Brad Olsen,, 415-990-2122

New book chronicles how Burning Man is transforming American society

Burning Man is the premier countercultural event of modern times, growing over 25 years from a strange San Francisco beach party into an experimental city of 50,000 colorful souls in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, which burns brightly for a week before dissolving into dusty memories and changed lives, year after year.

Longtime newspaper journalist Steven T. Jones embedded himself in this blossoming culture starting in 2004, a dispiriting year for American politics but the beginning of Burning Man’s renaissance, when it began to explode outward in unexpected ways. The result is the most in-depth book ever written on this intriguing social phenomenon – The Tribes of Burning Man: How An Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture – being released in February 2011 by CCC Publishing.

From covering the Borg2 artists’ rebellion to learning to make large-scale fire sculptures with the Flaming Lotus Girls, from helping Opulent Temple showcase the world’s greatest DJs to cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina with Burners Without Borders, from regularly interviewing event founder Larry Harvey to covering Barack Obama’s nomination convention, Jones gives readers an inside, meticulously reported look at a time when Burning Man reached its zenith just as the country hit its nadir.

Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world have made the dusty pilgrimage to Black Rock City to take part in this experiment in participatory art, commerce-free culture, and bacchanalian celebration. Tribes reveals how Burning Man has taken on a new character in recent years, with the frontier finally becoming a real city and the many tribes that create the event—the fire artists, circus freaks, music lovers, do-gooders, sexual adventurers, grungy builders, and myriad other burner collectives—developing an impactful perennial presence in sister cities all over the world.

The book grew out of a series of cover stories that Jones wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, where he has been the City Editor since 2003. But the project took on a life of its own as Burning Man’s story took unexpected turns, compelling Jones, aka Scribe, to delve deeper into this culture’s wide array of urban tribes.

“The physical landscape of Burning Man is a fascination – but of greater interest to culture watchers is the social landscape that forms there each year. What does this gathering mean to our modern times? Steven T. Jones is both a fearless explorer and the definitive guide to this astonishing terrain,” says Ethan Watters, author of Urban Tribes: Are Friends the New Family?

Wandering through Burning Man’s renaissance years from 2004 to the present, this epic journey features some of the culture’s most inspiring and colorful leaders. From its anarchic early days to its present dreams of world domination – and from the dark days after President George W. Bush’s reelection to the inspiring creation of the Temple of Flux in late 2010 – this is the untold story of Burning Man.


Fact Sheet for The Tribes of Burning Man

Partial list of tribes covered in Tribes: Flaming Lotus Girls, Opulent Temple, Burners Without Borders, Temple of Flux, Kinky Salon, Black Rock City LLC (aka The Borg), Black Rock Arts Foundation, Borg2, El Circo, Garage Mahal, Department of Public Works, Illumination Village/Agua Mala, Gigsville, The Mutaytor, Homouroboros/Tantalus/Peter Hudson’s crew, Black Rock Solar, Flock, Xian, Brass Tax, Space Cowboys, Deep End, Green Gorilla Lounge, Bootie SF, Piss Clear, Imaginarium crew, Crude Awakening crew, American Steel/Big Art Studios, Extra Action Marching Band, Anon Salon, Infinite Kaos, CCC/How Weird crew, Clan Destino, Bohemian Carnival, Vau de Vire Society, Fou Fou Ha, Red Nose District, The Fire Conclave, Ku De Ta, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, Fishbug crew, Department of Spontaneous Combustion, Department of Animal Control, Figment, The Madagascar Institute, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Baker Beach crew, Impotence Compensation Project, The Burning Opera crew, Spin Camp, Electric Numbtastic, Burning Flipside, Neuroweapon, Shadyvil, and assorted tribes that work out of American Steel, The Shipyard, The Box Shop, CELLspace, NIMBY Warehouse, and other Bay Area work spaces and art collectives

The Tribes of Burning Man is the first book to present Black Rock City as the world-renowned electronic music venue that it has become, and it includes interviews with acclaimed DJs Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox, Lee Coombs, Dylan Rhymes, DJ Dan, Christopher Lawrence, Scumfrog, Syd Gris, and more.

While much of the book is set in the San Francisco Bay Area, it includes coverage of Burning Man offshoots in Los Angeles, New York City, New Orleans, Denver, Austin, Reno, London, Philadelphia, Gerlach, the Gulf Coast, Nairobi (Kenya), Port Au Prince (Haiti), and Pisco (Peru).

The book also features well-reported journalism and a candid, six-year running conversation with Burning Man founder Larry Harvey.

About the Author

Steven T. Jones, aka Scribe, is a native Californian who has worked full-time for newspapers in that state for 20 years. Before becoming City Editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, he worked for Sacramento News & Review, New Times in San Luis Obispo, Coast Weekly in Monterey, Santa Maria Times, Auburn Journal, and Lassen County Times. Steve has won numerous writing and reporting awards along the way, including a Maggie and awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (he also serves on AAN’s Editorial Committee). For more on Scribe’s past work, visit his website at You can follow his personal blog at or read his latest work in the San Francisco Bay Guardian at

Paperback: 288 pages

Available in Kindle and other electronic formats

CCC Publishing (February 1, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1888729295

ISBN-13: 978-1888729290

Burners are blazing hot and bright right now

While I’m obviously focused on the imminent release of my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture, that is only one of the fast and furious developments within the vibrant Burning Man culture.
Today was the deadline for artists to submit their grant proposals to Black Rock City LLC, and many of the tribes that I’m connected to and include in my book – from the Flux Foundation (builders of last year’s Temple of Flux) to Flaming Lotus Girls to the crews of artists Peter Hudson and Michael Christian – were slamming to get their pitches and renderings done late into last night (I’m even going to meet some recovering fluxxers for a celebratory drink after I post this). I’ll try to profile a few of the projects in the coming weeks.
I’ve also been in communication with the Extra Action folks who built the amazing but ill-fated La Contessa art galleon. They brought a federal civil lawsuit against Nevada landowner Mike Stewart, who intentionally burned La Contessa to the ground in 2006, an episode I chronicled in a Bay Guardian cover story that I reprise in my book.
They sued under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act, which makes it illegal to destroy an artwork, a statute that carries a steep punitive fine that was the group’s best hope of recovering a significant financial settlement, as well as under federal conversion statutes that ban destruction of property.
But the judge in federal district count in Nevada ruled Jan. 20 that La Contessa was applied art because it was built on a functional vehicle and didn’t meet the statute’s definition of visual art, granting Stewart’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the VARA claim while leaving the conversion suit intact. The crew is planning its next move – and I’ve been playing phone tag with their lawyer – so I may have a more detailed Guardian story on this soon.
Meanwhile, Black Rock City LLC (the entity that stages Burning Man) has been busily converting into a nonprofit called the Burning Man Project and trying to move into a high-profile new headquarters in San Francisco’s mid-Market area (a quest it’s been on for awhile). The deal on the latter could be finalized at any time (it’s subject to a real estate negotiations now that could go either way) while the nonprofit announcement is probably still a few months away. I’ll post something more detailed as soon as there’s more to say. And tickets continue to sell at a record pace, indicating that Black Rock City might well top last year’s peak population of 51,000.
So 2011 is shaping up to be a huge year in the Burning Man community – not least of which because my book is comprehensively chronicling the modern burner culture for the first time. So, buy the book (which my publisher, distributor, and I will receive on Thursday), plan on coming to my book launch party on Feb. 17 at Project One (with lots of special guests and surprises in store), and check back to this blog for stories and updates on the culture.