Earlier this month, the famed Burning Man Music Festival took place and wrapped up for the 19th time. For those who aren’t aware, Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, where festival goers, referred to as “burners,” create a small camping city for a week, called Black Rock City. It’s here that creativity, self-expression, and community thrive. You can experience everything from live electronic and dance music to impressive art installations. At the end, the festival goers are responsible for not leaving any trace of their time in the desert.
Burning Man was started in 2004 guided by ten stated principles, according to its co-founder Larry Harvey: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.
The whole festival was designed, in a way, for those who are more like minded towards “hippies.” It’s meant to be more of a spiritual experience using art and music to connect with other people and the earth, unlike music festivals like Coachella or Outside Lands that are more focused on the top notch music headliners, Instagram Aesthetics, and building social clout.
You may have heard by now about what happened at this year’s festival, with heavy and record breaking amounts of rain from Tropical Storm Hilary eclipsing the desert and trapping “burners” for days in the camper city.
It looked unbearable. For someone like me, who doesn’t really participate in music festivals and absolutely doesn’t do camping, I was happy to not be in the burner’s shoes. I consumed the images of the impossible muddy landscape and watched the many participant’s varied experiences on TikTok comfortably from my couch in my aptly temperate apartment with a nice cup of coffee.
But as I sat there and watched all this content and experienced Burning Man vicariously through the internet, I noticed a common theme: what happened at Burning Man this year highlighted true humanity and community, which is the entire point of the festival to begin with.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that Burning Man 2023 was a disaster. Heavy waste was left behind in the aftermath, people were stranded in the desert and forced to ration their food and water supplies, and the mud was extremely hard to navigate through. People paid a lot of money to be at this festival only to be stranded, dirty, and anxious. There is no denying that it was not a pleasant time for people and I am by no means diminishing anyone’s experience (again, I would have been utterly miserable).
This would have been me:
However, there were those who didn’t let their situation ruin their time at Black Rock City. They came together as a community and continued to create art, form bonds, and have the best time possible.
But by no means are the events that transpired anything new. The whole event is reminiscent of Woodstock, the original music festival, where humanity, empathy, and the love of music came together to create an unforgettable experience for those who attended and those who surrounded it. Yes, they were overcrowded, they ran out of food and medical supplies, and there were miles of deserted cars because people abandoned them to get to the entrance.
In fact, what made Woodstock so successful was its massive failure.
Why? Because even though the conditions were horrendous and so many people showed up that it ended up being free, there was no violence to speak of, only human kindness. It’s hard to imagine that of the 500K people that showed up, not a single act of violence took place, but it’s true. They were there for the music and peace, love, and unity.
I draw these parallels because it’s important to note where we were at both times in society and culturally. In the time of Woodstock, we were deep into the Vietnam War, which many young festival goers were adamantly against, and the Civil Rights Movement. Today, we are fighting climate change, yet another impending recession, cultural/social/political unrest, and a war in the Ukraine in which we are witnessing human rights violations.
When Burning Man turned into a disaster, it really showed how people come together in difficult times. Yes, conditions were unsanitary and they were still stranded in the desert, but they were also united in this experience and didn’t let it get in the way of what mattered to them: their spiritual experience, creating community, and the art.
About the Creator
Abbey is a writer in the music and entertainment industry and has written about many albums, singles, EP, and so on for independent artists of all kinds. She has a theatre background with a strong passion for powerful storytelling.