Burn night

Crimson Rose led the procession up the 6 o'clock boulevard
Crimson Rose led the procession up the 6 o’clock boulevard

The big Man is just a pile of smoking ruins now, even if people are still picking through the ashes, looking for burnt treasure.

We imagine that the biggest treasures have already been scooped up – Joe’s big nuts and bolts, the ankle and shoulder metal, even the cables and anchors that kept the Man upright for so long.

This year’s burn went longer than most. He was a mighty big Man, after all, constructed of 20×20-foot limbs and spine, and the whole thing took awhile to consume, which was not unexpected. You build a big man, you get a long burn.

We  don’t have a problem with a long, slow burn. It has its advantages: More time for visiting, more time for appreciating, more time to soak in the flames. We can think of many times when we have been reluctant to be the person to douse the flames at a campout, because there are times that we don’t want the night to end.

But we admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” and maybe that’s true. But honestly, we always thought that one of the corollaries of radical self expression was that your actions not impinge on another’s experience, and let’s just say there was lots of impinging going on last night. We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.

Crimson gave the signal that the arms should rise
Crimson gave the signal that the arms should rise

Plus, we’d like to be able to HEAR the burn. Not just the exploding shells and fireworks, but also the crackle and pop of the flames, the whoosh of embers falling, and, last night, even the climactic crash of the Man’s big legs.

But no. Last night that was not possible. And yes, we might be the slightest bit cranky about it. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be sound and celebration, because this is the big finish, the Bacchanalian moment.  But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.

Anyway, onward.

The night began as it always does, with Crimson Rose transferring the flame that has been burning at the top of the keyhole in the El Diabla cauldron since Monday to the Luminferous, the wagon that carries it to the Man. A grand procession of flame-carrying stilt-walkers and drummers and Black Rock citizens processed up the 6 o’clock boulevard, then made a circle around the giant Man. When their circuit was complete, it was time for the Man’s arms to rise so that the fire conclaves could commence their show.

From a distance, all seemed well, but up close, it was a moment of high drama.

Joe the Builder had tested the Man’s mechanics early in the week, but only one of the Man’s arms went up. Additional voltage was needed, and there had been a successful test the day before the burn, but still … there was a lot riding on a good outcome.

As the clock neared 9 pm, Crimson stepped forward from the inner perimeter and gestured toward the Man. That was the signal to start the lifting. Joe the Builder stood a few feet away, watching anxiously, almost pleadingly, as the arms began to rise.

Shouts were heard. “C’mon, c’mon, do it! Raise those arms! Get them up!”

And happily, up they went. Smoothly, completely, almost defiantly. Arms in the air.

Then the fire dancers performed, mesmerizingly, all around the perimeter. There were thirty fire conclaves in all, and we wished we could have spent time with each of them.  As it turned out, we spent most of our time with just one, because there was no need to leave. The months of practice was evident, and the joy and exuberance was contagious. Plus, they were crazy sexy.

The fire conclaves put on fabulous performances
The fire conclaves put on fabulous performances

When the conclaves concluded, fireworks began launching skyward. The Man was outlined in sizzling silver, and then a fire started in his leg. Rockets continued to burst as the flames spread. There were propane explosions, and the fire began to truly roar, ferociously.

And then the Man continued to burn, and eventually his massive skeleton was revealed. At the end, his head was still seated atop his spine, and his legs stood strong.

The DJs seemed to be trying to orchestrate his fall, as if the perfect drop would orchestrate his demise. But it didn’t work. He stood tall.

And then, finally, his legs fell, and they fell the same way they had been raised, joined at the torso, a giant triangle crashing to the desert floor.

We made our way back toward the city, not wanting to join the crush of people rushing to the flames. But last night, there were more of us heading away from the Man than there were people moving toward him.

And off people went into the night to continue their celebration of what more and more feels like New Year’s Eve. We heard that phrase more than ever this year: Happy New Year! And the revelry went on and on. The sound cars made their parties, and the sound camps welcomed guests.


Some folks retreated to the comfort and familiarity of the their home camps. Some went on joyrides on art cars, covering as much of the city as was possible before the sun came up. There was dancing till dawn, and there was sleeping till the next afternoon.

But today is New Year’s Day, and it is the time of Auld Lang Syne, and remembrances, and resolutions, and maybe re-examinations. The Temple of Grace will burn tonight, and in general the mood will be somber and silent.

We went out to the Temple of Grace to take a last look around. The early morning light was dappled inside, the gorgeous wooden sculpture hanging beautifully from the dome. Most people were already silent, sitting in corners and writing on scraps of paper or wood.

The Temple this morning
The Temple this morning

There are a stunning number of memorials and testimonials in the Temple, as well as all manner of objects. There are scrapbook pictures, suitcases, and articles of clothing. There are elaborately constructed memorials, and notes scribbled in felt tip on wood.

The notes and mementos were left by grieving sons, daughters and parents; by heartsick lovers and friends; by men and women vowing to do better, to live more truthfully, with less fear.

Someone was playing the sitar outside, and inside the sun dappled gently through the intricate panels on the dome. And there was at least one late addition to the memorials, a handwritten note in ink, ripped from a reporter’s notebook, saying thanks, mom, we miss you, every damn day. We’ll bring the Dewar’s tonight.


Some more pics from the night and day:

The BLM cars were lined up at the perimeter, waiting for the procession to arrive. It was like they were honoring their entrance
The BLM cars were lined up at the perimeter, waiting for the procession to arrive. It was like they were honoring their entrance
The procession made a circuit around the perimeter
The procession made a circuit around the perimeter
Joe and Tracy
Joe and Tracy
















The Man was ringed in silver
The Man was ringed in silver




The Man caught fire while the fireworks still were going off
The Man caught fire while the fireworks still were going off
The fire really got going when the propane exploded
The fire really got going when the propane exploded
At the beginning of the fire, you could see the Man's cladding catch fire
At the beginning of the fire, you could see the Man’s cladding catch fire


Embers floated into the night
Embers floated into the night



Finally the big Man was all the way down


The last morning for the Temple of Grace
The last morning for the Temple of Grace





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.

24 Comments on “Burn night

  • Tiger says:

    >…in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.

    lol you reap what you sow.

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  • mollygolightly says:

    It did feel like New Year’s Eve. There were a lot of night clubs (and day clubs) in BRC this year. There have always been bars and dance clubs but this felt different. There were gated communities and exclusive clubs. I first attended in 1998. This was the first year I camped tent stake to tent stake on the back road while other camps had “Service Entrance” signs and huge open space between circled trailers.

    I had a fine enough time for my Burn Mitzvah (13th burn) but as someone who avoids nightclubs on New Year’s… I am better able to understand my thoughts of “Why am I here?”

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  • Daniel says:

    Those fire dancers looked great! I wish I was there.

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  • G says:

    “But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.”
    Thank you a million times over for that sentiment Mr. Curly!!

    One of my favorite things (was) sitting by the fireside with drum circles, and being able to cue in on my fellow human’s actions and feelings and words.
    No more. The art cars have become so loud that just one of them can be at the art car perimeter and still totally drown out the drum circles and verbal intercourse among people.
    No thanks, you art cars, for effectively making immediacy impossible with your over amplified (not to mention hearing damagingly loud) canned pre-recorded music.

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  • Well put, John.
    The self-promotion of one of the DJ’s I heard that night was astoundingly not in the spirit of Burning Man.
    And your photo of the “fall of the man” is perfectly timed.

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  • Paplaya says:

    “The self-promotion of one of the DJ’s I heard that night was astoundingly not in the spirit of Burning Man.”

    AGREED. I went to watch the man burn, not listen to him talk about his upcoming album every 5 minutes.

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  • Goodtimes says:

    Unhappiness can exist when expectations don’t match reality. Sometimes it’s easier to adjust your expectations.

    Or you could rant about it on the Internet. That will probably work.

    Enjoy it all,

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  • Goodtimes says:

    Also, SERIOUSLY JooberBunny!?!?!?! A drive-by fat shaming? I feel sad for you.

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  • JuberBunny says:


    They lit the wrong Man on fire.

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  • Dave says:

    The Dancetronauts nearly ruined burn night for us. Our fire conclave practiced for months just to have our drummers and performance drowned out by the Dancetronauts MV. If that wasnt bad enough we had to listen to that DB on stange promote his album every 5 minutes. I hope it is the last time they set foot on the Playa.

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  • Brad says:

    Dave, we had a very similar experience. Our conclave is the one in the photos. We had to perform entirely from our minds. It seemed such an intense disrespect to all conclaves in the area to not kill their thumpa thumpa for 15 minutes.

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  • M Pollo says:

    It was a great Man-Burn this year. Unfortunately, I agree – the Dancetronaut’s system really was so loud that several conclave’s music could not be heard, affecting the performance and essentially ruining that moment after many months of practice. As for the constant self-promotion by their DJ to purchase his upcoming release? Thank you so much for that too.

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  • Zipper says:

    I am glad other people are speaking out about Dancetronauts. They really soured the burn for us. They were so not in the sir it of the event. We were about 4 rows from the front and could not hear the drumming for the fre corps. And as people said, they were self promoting the whole time and essentially running a dance stage opposite the official burn.

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  • FireBunny says:

    Dancetronauts is my new favorite art car. Those guys were awesome, by all accounts. Anything that gets Burners this butthurt must be fantastic! I’m only sorry I missed them this year. Epic troll is epic.

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  • Whitney says:

    There were drums???

    Goddamnit, Dancetronauts.

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  • bassmasterkev says:

    I am a drummer in one of the conclaves that got drowned out. We rehearsed for months putting a lot of hard work into our performance. Radical Self-expression, Participation, yes… but not at the expense of compromising somebody else’s art. That’s where Communal Effort and Civic Responsibility come in. Earlier during the week, I joined a drum circle at Center Camp. People gathered, started dancing and enjoying the drums. Twice we were asked by staff to relocate because we were too loud and the band on stage could not hear themselves. We did so out of respect for their art, understanding that they (not us) were the scheduled act and because it was the right thing to do. If the Org can ask us to be quiet or move, they can do the same with the art cars surrounding the Great Circle. At least from the procession to the fireworks. Maybe the art cars are oblivious to the principles. Maybe they don’t understand what it’s like to rehearse for months. Maybe they just don’t give a fuck. Either way… it’s not cool!

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  • BireFunny says:

    FireBunny: There’s a pretty wide margin between being a jerk and an “epic troll”.

    There’s no trolling art in cranking up your radio really loud.

    Here are some examples of (not really) “Epic Trolls”.

    1) Going through a drive thru, ordering a bunch of food, flipping off the cashier and then driving off. TROLLED!

    2) Finding a kid walking to school, and then knocking the books out of his hands. MOTHERFUCKIN’ TROLLED!

    3) Letting the air out of someone’s tire while they’re stopped at a stop light. TROLLED THE HELL OUT OF YOU!

    4) Peeing on someone’s tent. WHO GOT TROLLED? YOU DID!

    5) Pranging someone in the head with a crowbar by surprise. TROLLED ALL THE WAY TO THE E.R.!


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  • Ashlyn says:

    If this is the same john curley who lives in washington and used to work for evening magazine, you used to come in my coffee shop everyday! These photos are amazing and its really cool to know that people in my local community can be so down to earth. Thank you!

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  • john Curley says:

    nope, he’s the OTHER john curley


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  • agnte says:

    The Dancetronauts were almost exclusively promoting their new album throughout the man burn (inbetween any tune they played), to the detriment of any other sound happening nearby. This was throughout the entire man burn (so about two hours or so?)

    Most blatant commercialism I’ve seen/heard on the playa.

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  • bug says:

    Dancetronauts art car promoted their album throughout the whole Man Burn! It really put a damper on the Man Burn. To listen to someone saying buy my album in two weeks! And every 5 minutes saying your listening to DJ (Full of himself) live from BRC! Like we should be so grateful to be in his DJ holy presence! We go to BRC to get away from people trying to shove sales down our throats! they have all year to advertise.The Dancetronauts need to be reminded that commercial promotion of themselves is against what Burning Man is! If they want to GIFT music to the playa that’s one thing! But when you expect to gain record sales from it, it’s no longer a gift at all! If Mr DJ is so amazing anyways then people will look him up after the Burn! I try to stay FAR FAR AWAY from the Dancetronauts but I know that allot of the 20 year old kids like them! I just don’t want the younger virgin crowd to think it’s acceptable to sell at Burning Man. Burning Man can however be a good platform if used wisely. But the way the Dancetronauts did it was tacky! I hope that they stay away from BRC permanently

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  • milky says:

    bug – just want to say don’t be too worried about all the 20 year olds, I’m 22 and totally agree that what they were doing was simply wrong. I wasn’t near them and wasn’t affected by them but from what im reading it sounds like there soured a few peoples burn and thats not cool at all!

    Just saying this too let people know that as a 2nd year younger burner i personally am guna keep promoting what its all about, on and off the playa! Us younguns are not all like that.

    and ps our burn night was incredible. and not because off all the show and light and admittedly amazing performance but because i was surrounded by one hell of a beautiful family and nothing could have shaken the love we were feeling for each other,

    Love you Mountain Mayhem!

    And love everyone else


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  • d says:

    By far, the thing I miss the most about the earlier years of burning man, is the lack of super loud electronic music everywhere. This is coming from someone who listens to electronic music exclusively. I don’t like that BM is becoming, at least in a lot of people’s eyes, a music festival.

    The strongest memory I have about my first burn in 1997 is the sound of PEOPLE, yelling, screaming, drumming, talking, etc. When the man fell and people charged in and ran around him, it was the most primal, human, experience I’ve ever had.

    The second most intense memory of that year was when ¡Tchkung! played at the band stage(remember when there was an official stage for music?). They had these crazy welded metal pyramids scattered among the crowd. They were playing some crazy hybrid of metal and taiko, and me and a ton of the people in the crowd were banging on the metal pieces with drumsticks. Yes, it was amplified music, but it was all made by people, and was super interactive.

    I know that at this point the genie is out of the bottle, and amplified music is here to stay, but I think the event would be vastly improved if it was de-emphasized at the actual burn.

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  • Mama Lupin says:

    I wanted to point out that Dancetronauts didn’t just ruin burn night, the ruined many other nights for myself and other folks who were at various sculptures (some with their own music and lights thank you). More than once during the week I’d be out with a good sized group of people, enjoying the gift a team of visual artists created for months. Along would come Dancetronauts, with their speakers blasting (covering up the resident music or sound) and plop their greedy asses down right next to the art and try to start a dance party. I guess they figured we were an untapped audience because we were grouped together in one place. We were there because we wanted to experience the artwork not listen to your loud, aggressive noise. There aren’t a lot of “rules” at Burning Man when it comes to creative expression but one of them you folks clearly violate constantly is, “Vehicles with Level 3 systems may only play at high volume at 10:00 and 2:00 by the Large Scale Sound Camps, with speakers pointing out to the deep playa.” Dancetronauts obviously has a Level 3 sound system and therefore has no business parking next to “Squared” or “Embrace” or “The Observatories”, etc. It’s time to put an end to this behavior!

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