Hundreds of art cars were circling the Man, shining in the dark. A thousand more bicycles were parked outside of his perimeter, covered in glow-wire. They formed a barricade around the Midway, late at night, as though watching the Man in case he made a sudden move.
I walked towards the Midway, maneuvered through the art cars, and entered through the giant mouth of what I can only describe as an evil clown. I was in the belly of a beast
Do you know what a midway is? It’s a carnival, it’s a con, it’s a chance for shady characters to offer you suckers bets on games of chance, it’s a place where strange museums trade in impossible curiosities. It’s an opportunity for you to be the farm and lose your shirt and see behind the curtain. It contains dozens of games ranging from warped ski-ball to impossible arcades. There are two stages where opera singers and fire dancers practice their arts. At its heart is a maze of mirrors.
It is as glowy and chaotic and blinky as anything else at Burning Man, but it is also something that, for a few years, people were wondering if Burning Man was in danger of losing: it is personal.
As Burning Man ticket sales have leaped and bound over the years, the playa experience has gotten bigger, louder, and grander. This is not a bad thing: did you see the Trojan horse burn? The sea of art cars and art installations have begun to reach out to deep playa. There was never anything like it on earth, and then more people came.
But so much of Burning Man had been defined, even just a few years ago, not by incredible spectacle but by moments of supreme synchronicity, of seemingly impossible personal connection, and moments where the gift of a stranger transforms the whole world.
That never went away, but some of us wondered if the sheer grandeur of a 70,000 person Burning Man was making it hard to find people in all the spectacle.
Then last year we got the Souk, and instead of asking the regionals to build even more sculptures to burn, Burning Man was asking them to create small scale, human sized, experiences – and keep them going night after night, day after day, so that tens of thousands of people could make a personal connection.
We loved it. Are you surprised? Much as everybody loves a spectacle, much as everybody loves building art, and burning it – having a stranger make you laugh is just as rewarding. Having a stranger touch your heart … isn’t that what we live for?
The Midway is a continuation of that. Bigger, louder, more of a spectacle in its own right … but just as human. It’s a carney barker asking you, yes you, to pick a card or find your lost love.
Burners I’ve talked to coming out of the Midway have mostly told me that they’re enchanted. A few have said they preferred the Souk – they don’t like clowns or they have actually been to a midway in their lives, while a Souk presented a whole new frontier – but the message I’ve heard after that is always the same:
“I like where this is going. Can we have more?”
More stories from the Midway coming soon.
Photo by Franco Folini, original art by Nina Kempf