Power to the people

When you have a party in the desert, you have to bring your power with you.

The Power crew is my new favorite crew on the playa, if only for the fact that they seem to be the hardest-working folks in the desert. … Wait. That’s not fair. That’s a distinction that’s  impossible to make —  EVERYone is working hard here. But the Power crew seems to be working longer than everyone else, and that has to count for something.

Actually, in the beginning they were really only working half days — from about 9 in the morning till about 9 at night, well after darkness had fallen. So they were only working for about 12 hours. Half a day.

The head of the crew, Garth, and his aide de camp, Leeway, can usually be found in one corner of the playa or another, checking on various projects and figuring out where the power team has to go next. They’re not just supervisors, though. They do more than a little digging and splicing and connecting themselves.

The other morning, one of the other key players on the team, the Hun, was directing the crew in an Army-like task: Take all these cables out of the container’s they’re in, count them, note it in the inventory, then put them all back in the containers. It wasn’t quite digging a hole and then filling it in, but it felt something like it.

There are a LOT of cables to keep track of: about nine mile’s worth.

But this is the kind of thing you have to do when there are so many moving pieces to keep track of. Think about it: This crew has to distribute 2.4 megawatts of power from 21 generators through nine miles of cable, and they have to make sure it’s done safely and efficiently.

(And to get a sense of how much 2.4 megawatts is: An average home uses about two kilowatts of power a day, so the Power crew is supplying enough energy to meet the needs of a city of 1,200 homes.)

Everybody and every crew that makes things run around here — the Commissary, Center Camp, the Depot, the tech team, Emergency Services — they all need power to make it happen. And the Power crew has to get it to them.

The organization used to subcontract the job, but they took it in house three years ago, under the direction of Joe the Builder. Joe’s still the man whom Garth reports to, but it’s Garth running the daily operations.

The supplier of the generators, Kohler, is one of the few brand names you’ll see on the playa. And Burning Man is one of Kohler’s favorite things. They pull resources from all over the country to make sure Black Rock City has what it needs.
It’s all about distribution, really. Kohler gets the machines to the desert, and Garth and his crew of 17 get the juice from the machines to the places where it’s needed.

“It’s beautiful and it’s challenging and there’s a social climate you don’t get anywhere else,” Garth said.

Ash does some of the heavy lifting in the middle of a whiteout.


Garth in his trailer, getting word from the radio about what’s needed where.


Leeway has a background in stage lighting and power distribution, two key skills in Black Rock City.


The Hun keeps track of it all, and her smile never seems to leave her face.


Truffle says “We’ve got to build it out so people can use it.”


Just because it’s dark out doesn’t mea the Power crew stops working.


Hey Red at the wheel of one of the Power trucks.


Cables are run from the generators to distribution boxes, which gets the power to where it’s needed.


Ash is a master electrician who sometimes has to work by the light provided by truck headlights.


John Bastard heads for the next job.


Ryan’s working with the Power team; he’s also been a crew chief for the Temple team.


Miles of cables means miles of trenches, too.


Take the cables out, then put them back in, then take them out again to where they need to go.



About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

5 Comments on “Power to the people

  • HK says:

    Thank you very much!

    Report comment

  • Jason Mongue says:

    You do an amazing job with these articles. Moving photography and very well written. Thank you for bringing us the pre-playa.

    Report comment

  • John Curley says:

    thanks for your kind words and support, HK and Jason …

    Report comment

  • Roberto says:


    I really enjoy reading your daily updates on all things BRC. I also share the same sense of wonder and amazement that you do when you really consider what has to take place before the feast begins.

    During some of my early arrival mornings I’ll ride my bike out to the entrance gate and around the “infrastructure” zones to see how many tractor trailers are stored (a metric shit ton), the amount of electrical gennie zones, the heavy equipment camp, and so on. In a previous life I developed and built residential subdivisions for a living and I know what it takes to create an environment for human habitation. Let alone the part about removing it after its one week of life!

    Keep up the fine work of articulating your curiosities for all of us on this side of the fence. And watch out for sharp objects from all directions.

    Report comment

  • osho says:

    THANK YOU! Thanks for the updates.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.