Burning Man is an annual event and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Having conquered every other major music and arts festival in the US from Ultra Music Festival, Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to Electric Daisy Carnival it seemed only natural that I was ready to embark on the journey to take on the 26th Annual Burning Man pilgrimage. On top of being a community of over 60,000 music and art aficionados it is a spiritual refuge where burners gather to reflect on their lives and mourn the loss of loved ones or other obstacles with the burning of the man (a giant wooden effigy in the shape of a man) and then the temple so beautiful it rivals many churches.
Burning Man takes place on a dry lake bed, a vast flat expanse of alkali salt called the playa. Two girl friends and I made the nine-hour drive to meet our three guy friends who drove an RV all the way down from Vancouver and another close girl friend who flew into Reno, Nevada. All sharing journeys of overheated cars and electrical problems on planes, I wish someone would have told us the journey to the playa would take an entire day. But we were finally together, brought some bad-ass army and Indian tribe outfits and stocked way too much vodka and beer with not enough tequila and Four Lokos. Living on an RV in Black Rock City made us the closest hippie family and taught us plenty of valuable life-changing lessons.
As we approached Black Rock City I was petrified. Being dirty for days, running out of water or food and having to unplug myself from my beloved iPhone were all on my mind. The greeters were ecstatic to find an RV filled with seven playa virgins as they made us roll in the dirt and ring a bell proclaiming our freedom. One of them needed a ride to his camp so he jumped on and guided us through the darkness. They forgot to give us maps and schedules amidst all of the excitement so we relied on a man singing dirty songs about his schlong to lead us to our camp. That's when we realized there were no plans or schedules at the playa and we had to trust in the people. We soon learned to conquer our playa fears no longer being afraid of the unknown and a little bit of playa dust or being apart from our cell phones seemed like nothing compared to all the great things we experienced.
2) Disco Sounds Way Better in the Desert
As soon as we got in we explored whatever we could. We followed the beat of the drums and found ourselves in what seemed like an African jungle full of percussions and other instruments. It was a giant adult playground full of magical adventures to be had. We heard an art cart pass by playing “Funkytown” and raced after it on foot. While dancing on the top level the cart, owner Valera said, “We just love your energy, it's so contagious.” Little did we know that he was a member of the infamous Distrikt camp and that we had made a kandi bracelet with the name to gift him. It was as if everything was falling into place and meant to be. On the playa you see everything from a roller disco to a pirate ship, all made by seemingly ordinary people (well, minus the nudity and the face paint). People's dreams become realities and anything is possible.
3) Put the Bottle Down, Get Your Ass Up
After sleeping in way past noon the next day (we stayed up watching the sunrise and drinking champagne at an awesome deep house party), we were ready to take on the playa in our Indian tribal gear. It took more than two hours to get our entire group ready as we were partying in our air conditioned RV and meeting our friendly neighbors. Normally I would be down to stay and do more shots with my friends, but I knew we would regret not getting out and about exploring Black Rock City. I took the lead in saying no to more shots and rallied everyone to get out and explore. Leaders do things for the sake of the entire group, not just themselves and I knew the group would thank me later since we had already missed DJ Dan!
4) Selfless Acts Can and Do Pay Off
That night we found ourselves opposite end of our camp. We had split up from some in our group and had planned on meeting back at the camp before heading out to the Opulent Temple to catch Carl Cox. By then we had been riding bikes all day and the last thing I wanted to do was ride through a whiteout sandstorm to camp. That's where selfless acts become a norm at Burning Man and as we drove back my eyes started to tear. I could barely see my hands in front of me and was terrified I was going to get lost. Yet the thought of my friend alone at the camp waiting helped me push forward. The playa tries it's hardest to break you down, dehydrate you and scare you to death. The beautiful thing is that everyone is enduring the same thing. In a time where you think you will be fending for your life you actually learn to put others needs before your own. Oh the irony!
5) EDM Should Never Be About Idolizing DJs
On the last day we hopped on an art cart that drove us around the playa while our friend played a DJ mix. Then we stopped at a day party that seemed to have magically appeared. There we channeled our inner go-go's on the many platforms, relaxed on hammocks and got painted like a group of tribal heirs. We had no clue who the DJ was nor did we care. Burners from all over the world were coming together to dance, live and love the music and art. The unique forms of self-expression through dance moves and outfits were elaborate and mind-blowing. It took away from the DJ Rock Star phenomenon and really let us feel the music, experience our surroundings and co-exist with some of the most interesting people. Before the EDM phenomenon in the US this is what dance music was all about. You exchanged tracks, smiles, dance moves and maybe caught the DJs name but most importantly you enjoyed the experience.