Larry Harvey’s Flying Stetson – a true story from the Global Leadership Conference

Larry Harvey and hat (photo by Jim Urquhart, courtesy of Reuters)

This may not seem like much, but for those of us who were there it was electric.

“I wore my hat,” Larry Harvey said as he took the stage for the keynote address at the Global Leadership Conference.  They were practically the first words out of his mouth.

I will dwell on the substance of Harvey’s keynote later – for now, it suffices to say that he opened with a little history about his hat.  About how he wore it, and it became iconic, and soon everywhere he went people were asking him:  “can I try on your hat?”

He always let them, and the hat must have had magical powers, because it always looked good on them.  Gradually he stopped wearing the hat, except for ceremonial occasions.

Then he gave his talk – a talk about how the Burning Man Project is being designed to support the Regionals;  about how there are hundreds of people now across the world beginning the very same journey that he and the other Burning Man founders made.

When he concluded his speech, a half hour later, he said that everything is changing, but his hat still looks best on other people.

Then he tossed it into the crowd.

With a great flick of the wrist, like a Frisbee, it soared up close to the ceiling of the Grand Ballroom … then curved in mid-air, and came down into the crowd.  It was a moment of magnificent theater.

Larry Harvey’s hat was caught by Clovis, a Regional Contact from Austin.

Clovis – wearing his own hat

Clovis held it up high.  The crowd roared.  “I knew this was coming,” he would later tell me.  “I didn’t realize he’d throw it, but, when he started by talking about his hat, I knew he was going to finish with it.  I just didn’t … it came right to me.”

It did.  It flew right into his arms.  He raised it up.  The applause was defining.  Larry Harvey left the stage.

And then … Clovis threw it back into the crowd.

That was the moment.  That was the moment great theatre turned into an epic event.

He got the hat, he held it in his arms, fair and square, nobody would have said a word, we were happy for him, cheering – and he gave it back to the community.

It soared over to the other side of the auditorium.  It was caught, put on a head, strutted around … and then tossed again.  It flew to someone entirely new.  Who put it on, then tossed it again.  And again, and again, and again.  It belonged to us  all, and we wanted it in the air.

“Well, what else was I going to do with it?” Clovis asked me later.  “I mean, obviously I was gonna throw it.”

But it wasn’t obvious to me.  I don’t think I would have.  It wasn’t obvious to Marian Goodell, who said in her own presentation how amazing she’d found that moment, that idea.  He’d gotten his hands on the ultimate schwag of the conference … a status symbol he could dine out on for years … and he gave it to everyone.

It wasn’t an obvious move to most of us in that audience who sent the hat back and forth across the room for a good five minutes, until finally someone brought it back up on stage and gave it to Megan Rutigliano, the Mistress of Ceremonies, who told everyone to get the hell out of there and go to lunch.

Clovis?  The man’s my hero for the week.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man.  His opinions are in no way statements of the Burning Man organization.  Contact him at Caveat (at)

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

25 Comments on “Larry Harvey’s Flying Stetson – a true story from the Global Leadership Conference