There’s Nothing More Burning Man Than a Great Story

My eyes blink open and I look northeast out over the playa. There is something about first light when sleeping out on the open playa; it nudges me awake before my 4:45 alarm has the chance to sound. The air is cool and still, vacuum-like in its silence.

I roll over, pull on my boots, and grab my cup. Coffee is ready and the Survey Crew is beginning to mill around the octagon, the only structure on playa for the moment. Trailer Park Buddy serves up some breakfast, and everyone gathers round to listen to Tony Coyote, BRC Superintendent and Survey Crew lead. This is the 19th year the city has been surveyed, and as I learned from Will Roger, Coyote has done it 21 times, but that’s another story.


The day before, following the Golden Spike, the Survey Crew built the octagon, laid out the fire circle, the jump circle, and some initial flags. Today, Coyote told us, we would be putting in the markers for the Esplanade. As breakfast is finished up, stories are told, jokes exchanged, and everyone gathers their tools for the morning. I walk with my team straight out from the octagon on the 12:00 line. We get out to our designated range, Krankypantz sights the rangefinder and calls Coyote. “Two inches to the right. Mark it.” I hammer in a dowel flag and another two at the diagonal. “There’s the Temple” remarks Krankypantz.

“Wait! There’s the Temple?” I say to myself. I look around, my team already walking on to our next spot to mark. I am caught in a wondrous daydream of how different this spot will look over the coming weeks, and a story is born in me.

I came out to volunteer with the Survey Crew for many reasons, one being that I wanted to see Coyote at work. Coyote is a legend at Burning Man. Burning since ’96, Coyote is a natural-born storyteller and a fountain of Burning Man knowledge and lore. He is also Burning Man’s first Storytelling Fellow.

Few people embody storytelling quite like Coyote. He is masterful in his expression and delivery, he has a voice that draws you in, and there is almost always a lesson to be had from his stories. Working on his crew, you quickly notice Coyote doesn’t just tell stories for the sake of getting a laugh or endearing himself to those around him — which he certainly does. But in the context of his crew, Coyote tells stories to pass on important knowledge and tradition about why we do something and how that method came about. Working on Coyote’s crew is like getting a crash course in Burning Man history, and in turn it makes you feel like you are part of the larger Burning Man story.

Telling stories under the stars
Telling stories under the stars

Coyote first came to Burning Man in the mid ’90s, a pivotal point in its evolution. His stories about those days are rich with detail. They’re invaluable records of Burning Man history, and there are relatively few stories out there from that time. Lately, Coyote has decided to write his stories down and share them with the world, and everyone at the Burning Man Project is thrilled. This year, we awarded him a fellowship to support his effort to publish these tales.

We had hoped that Coyote would have four chapters of his book finished by the end of the year, which we would share with the community as a serial release of his book. As it turns out, Coyote is also a tenacious writer. He finished five chapters of his book in only a few months. This enabled us to do something a little different; a five-part podcast of Coyote reading these chapters from his upcoming book, “Coyote Nose: Tales of the Early Desert Carnies of Burning Man,” ready in time for our participants to download for the trip to Black Rock City.

coyote reading at BMHQ

A few weeks back, Coyote sat down at Burning Man Headquarters and gave a reading of chapter 1, “In Through the Out Door.” This was recorded with help from the folks who do the Accuracy Third podcast, and the other four chapters were captured in the following days in a studio. Now they are available to the world over at Coyote’s corner of the Burning Man Journal. Enjoy the stories. You can look forward to more.

About the author: Josh Lease

Josh Lease

Josh is a member of the nonprofit programming team at Burning Man, and is responsible for developing collaborations, managing activity reporting, and building out grant processes. With a Masters degree in International Policy and a Bachelor’s degree in Foreign Language, Josh previously held positions with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program, Tostan, and the World Affairs Council. Josh's first year on playa was 2013 when he was lured by the idea of skydiving over Black Rock City. Josh joined the Burning Man HQ staff in 2014.

5 Comments on “There’s Nothing More Burning Man Than a Great Story

  • Michael says:

    For those of us who prefer reading to listening, can his stories also be found online in written form?

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    • Jack Dodge says:

      Black Rock Blind

      I rode her like a rented mule
      into the desert hard pan
      With a five-inch hoochie mama
      Heel shoved up her bum.

      Rising like the gusts of clay
      Her cat squalled when my rage attacked
      Tumble weeds and bleached blond hair
      Like slicing chicken fat thrown in a stew

      Your ashen body in pieces splashed in the hot spring.
      Away across the playa, techno-music excited the crowd
      How could I be so blind?
      So frozen inside your black rock heart,

      Child-like you said it was mine, all the way
      From Idaho I knew you were a liar always had been.
      A gift without strings, not accidental
      So I gave you one and it gives you worms

      Mr. Postman left the results; I the residue
      Neither of you ever real, no one ever loved you.

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  • Josh Yeo says:

    Hey Josh,
    Great read, Coyote sounds like someone I want to meet!

    We made a burning Man approved short film that we are releasing tomorrow, any chance you’d be interested in previewing it? Its also a great story, but fictional film world.

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  • Robin says:

    Mr. Tony Coyote Perez has no idea who I am, nor how he has put me on a mission to get to Burning Man.
    I followed his band in the mid ’80s between SLC and San Francisco, as I had been living and working and had family in both cities. (One extreme to another I know!!)
    Sitting here in Florida 30 years later-wow- I was watching the movie Jersey Boys and said to my husband “one of those guys looks like a sax player for a band I used to see back in SF.”
    Well, I started Googling and came across Tony’s name and working at a Black Rock City, Nevada. I had done plenty of road trips in my early years and know the west coast from driving using maps, pre-cell phones, or GPS’s and could not remember ever seeing BRC, NV on my mental radar.
    Well, I felt like a hermit in not even hearing/knowing of Burning Man down here in Florida until three years ago, and I have been following everything I can about it ever since. I regret not knowing and attending in the ’90s, but had taken another route in life – but I am on a mission to attend soon. I feel with all my reading up on Burning Man, I’ll be a well-informed, cautious, virgin.
    My youngest daughter is in her second year in school in California, so I have been back west more in the last two years than I had in the last 15.
    Anyway, thank you for your great articles, Tony, and I would be one of the first to buy the book ? And would love to shake your hand and thank you at Burning Man one day.

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  • Great post,Thanks for providing us this great knowledge,Keep it up.

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