It Is Upon Us

We’ve fallen behind because Burning Man has fallen on our heads, and we can’t get up.

Argus said tonight that he thought he’d been at Burning Man for a week already, “and it doesn’t even start for four more hours.” That’s true, technically: The gates don’t officially open to the city until midnight Saturday night, but there are already many many people here. And if you’ve been here since there were only 25 people staying on the playa at night, well, it feels crowded. Real crowded.

Cobra Commander held his last DPW morning meeting on Saturday, and he used the occasion to articulate a lot of the things that a lot of us were feeling. He talked about falling asleep early the night before out of sheer exhaustion, then waking up at 1:30 in the morning, remembering that there was a party that he just HAD to go to, “so I staggered out with a cocktail in my hand … and everything is happening! And people are lit up, and there are people from Burning Man headquarters who don’t have to be at a 7:30 meeting and they’re running around … and I thought, oh! Burning Man!”

Laura Kimpton's 2016 piece; close-ups after opening day, because #nospoilers
Laura Kimpton’s 2016 piece; close-ups after opening day, because #nospoilers

The crowd was laughing, and listening intently: “You may be a little crispy right now, and you may be really attached to your DPW (work) … but I encourage each and every one of you to do two things: One is to look around you and look at this team we have. … It’s amazing that we can come here and pull this thing off. … And the second thing I encourage you to do is to get out there and see Burning Man; take a moment to surrender your identity, take a moment to let that thing become a part of your life in the deepest way you can. What we do out here is provide a unique experience that is incredible, and you need to take a moment to engage with it. Let it do its thing. You’ll probably find it very valuable for your life.”

Now you have to understand, these words were spoken to a very rough, very dusty, very tired, very edge group of maybe 200 people, people who drag their sorry asses to the Depot every damn morning of the build season, no matter how hard they’ve worked the day before, no matter how hard they’ve partied the night before, and yes, Burning Man hasn’t even started yet. The thing that unites this group, motivates them, gets those same sorry asses back to the desert every year, or draws them to the desert for the very first time, hasn’t even started yet.

But now it is upon us.

The gates will open tonight, and thousands and thousands of people will come roaring through, and they’ll be bright and shiny and excited and happy, finally able to release the force that’s been building inside them for months and weeks and days and hours, finally able to get out of the damn car or truck and look at the sky and hear the music and … yes, feel the Burn. Feel the real Burn.

It is upon us.


Friday night around the city felt a lot like it did ten years ago on a Monday or maybe even a Tuesday of the event week. Stuff wasn’t finished. Camps were being set up. There were bikes on the playa, lit up by blinkies and glowies, but not the full-on orgasmic light show that we will see later in the week. There were art cars prowling around, too, but not very many of them, and none of the gigantic sound cars, pumping out their electro thumping madness. Later in the week it’ll sound like you’re sitting in your driveway with the radio blasting and the windows rolled up, but tonight … just bits and pieces here and there.

But it’s here. It is upon us.

And this is when we loosen our grip, give up the pretense of trying to stay on top of this thing, because there is no way any one person can do that. You can touch the elephant here and there (and by touch the elephant we do not mean anything racy, but that other touching will happen too, and lots of it. If you’re lucky.).

Scarecrow will be ready for you in D Lot
Scarecrow will be ready for you in D Lot

But we’ll go with the flow and go our own way and meet with our friends and have the unexpected conversations and the too-late nights and the craziness will settle down upon us and we’ll be bent and cracked and the light will get in where the cracks appear. Because that’s what we’ve come here for. We don’t come here to watch, or spectate, or speculate, or simply take pictures, or try to make sense of it all. That can’t happen now. That can come later.

For now it’s time to discover again what kind of person you are, and what kind of person you aren’t. It’s time to hear the things you need to hear, do the things you need to do, dance to the beat you need to dance to, stumble across that thing or person you need to stumble across.

It’s all crazy and cheesy and easy to make fun of, and easy to dismiss. Especially if you’re not here. Especially if you haven’t made the sacrifices you need to make to get here, given up the comforts and routines you’re used to, let yourself be tossed by waves you didn’t even know were forming, and now they will come crashing down upon you.

They’re about to hit the shore, and you are standing there waiting.

It is upon us.

Alarac wants to remind you about Black Out Black Rock: on Wednesday evening at 11 pm (the night of a new moon), turn off your lights or gel them red and enjoy the night sky
Alarac wants to remind you about Black Out Black Rock: on Wednesday evening at 11 pm (the night of a new moon), turn off your lights or gel them red and enjoy the night sky







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.

16 Comments on “It Is Upon Us

  • sabrina says:

    My daughter and fiancé r experiencing it for the first time

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  • Lucia says:

    yes. so much yes to this article. Thank you the heart in this writing.

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  • Juno says:

    It is definitely upon us. And you have done it yet again, John Curley. Endless gratitude.

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  • cheryl says:

    My daughter is there also…hope she gets what she wants/needs from this experience as she quit her job to be there….

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  • Sandra says:

    While I won’t make it out until Tuesday… My spirit is already there. I eagerly anticipate my first BM experience. The sights, the sounds, the feel, the smells, the tastes, the art, the people-and most importantly the spiritual journey my soul craves!

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  • Micheline says:

    My family and friends are there. Again. With several amazing art cars! Can hardly wait for all the incredible pictures!! Feel the burn. – M.

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  • Burner says:

    The people that bought presale tickets for $1000-$1200 because of bmorgs greed and sold them for half that are ecstatic.

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  • Paul Broman says:

    Twelve of us as a group (mostly virgins) tried getting tickets. None were let through the queue. Maybe we were vetted? Minnesota artists. Anyway, it feels like “radical exclusion”. Not even a parking pass. Twelve of us, a half hour early, logged in, accounts and credit cards ready. All denied. What are the odds of that? Most other camps I know had few problems. So yeah, almost impossible. We’re feeling quite excluded this year.

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    • Steve Kord says:

      Sorry for you ticket issues. I am a first time burner, we rolled out of Reno at 9pm arrived at our spot 3am Sunday morning. Set up camp today & having fun. Getting tickets, I logged in 5 min before start time from my phone & was in queue 20 minutes before getting tickets. I am from Socal & feel very fortunate to have received tickets. Please don’t give up & try again next year.

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  • Karen says:

    This is awesome to see The Tower of Assension being constructed. The BM has changed our sons life! He, Seth Brink is one of the Artists that has helped build from an idea from Swig Miller. Great to see the project coming together on the Playa!

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  • Kjell says:

    Burning Man 2016 ☀️

    Here are some tunes to get you started:
    For when your on the road, sitting in front of your tent/SUV, hanging around on the playa or burning somewhere else.

    Everyone have a great time on the festival or if you are not going keep on burning!

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  • Annette Carrington says:

    Eager to follow. My son made me aware of this event..and educated me as to what it is..not the incorrect rumors of what people though…who had never been. Enjoy all…I hope the experience helps your spirits grow!!

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  • Betsy Kent says:

    Hey John,

    My son and his girlfriend are amongst you. It’s their second year. I hope to be there with them in 2017 (they asked me to wait one more year so they really know what they’re doing). I can’t wait ’til it’s my turn. Thanks for your beautiful writing.


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  • Lisa Steinkamp says:

    Your heart shows in your writings…I have yet to experience this fascinating adventure and must live vicariously through others…Thank you!

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  • Siggi says:

    My son Paul with her Girlfriend spend also their in this fantastic event. Nice to participate with the webcast as parents!

    Have a good time with good spirits!

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