By Ed Fletcher a.k.a. Major Sexy Pants
On June 7–10, Burner community leaders from Northern California and Nevada gathered among towering Sierra Nevada pine, aspen and spruce trees to discuss the past and future of Burning Man.
The campout — dubbed the Multi-Regional Summit (MRS) — was held at Cisco Grove Campground (elevation 5,643’). It was the summit’s fourth year but the first time it featured talks from key people in the Burning Man organization, including co-founder Danger Ranger.
Dressed in his trademark ranger hat, the gray-haired Danger Ranger took the 50 Burners from Sacramento, Tahoe, Reno, North (SF) Bay and East (SF) Bay areas from Baker Beach, to Black Rock desert and into the future, sharing his vision of how Regionals will carry on the mission started on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986.
In particular, he pointed to the 2011 ticket sellout as a pivotal year for the Burning Man organization and the Regionals.
“Burning Man grew and grew and grew until it reached a point where we couldn’t get anymore people [in],” said Danger. “The road to Black Rock Desert is a two-lane asphalt highway, and you could get only so many vehicles per hour [into the event].”
In the face of ticket demand that far exceeded the event’s ability to grow, the founders began to look outward.
“So what we realized is that Burning Man goes beyond the Black Rock Desert and what that did was place more emphasis on the Regionals,” he said. “That is why we are all here tonight.”
The Growth of Regionals
But the growth of Regionals and the push beyond the playa began long before that catalytic year, and Danger shared some of that journey, too.
In 1998 the first Regional burn began in Austin as Burning Man Texas, which became Burning Flipside in 1999. Others communities soon followed suit with their own Burns.
“We noticed that other people who came to Burning Man wanted to have Burning Man-like events where they came from,” said Danger. “Larry and I decided we needed to encourage and promote this idea of Burning Man Regional events.”
In 2001 Danger decided to visit these burgeoning communities by launching the Silver Seed Tour of America. For two months, he travelled across 15 states In a 40-year-old RV that “looked like a spaceship” — from Nevada, to Mississippi, to Illinois and back.
The trip left him wondering about what Burning Man was doing to bridge these communities, and so the idea of the Principles was born — though they initially didn’t appear in the format we know so well.
“In 2004 Larry came up with the 10 principles as a kind of guide to illustrate what Burning Man is and why it matters,” said Danger. “He said ‘I have nine principles to tell you what Burning Man is.’ We said, ‘Larry, there has to be 10.’”
Those Principles have since inspired an ever-growing frontier of Burns across the world. “That is where Burning Man is happening now and is continuing to grow,” said Danger.
Culture, Counsel and Campout
The summit also featured $teven Ra$pa, Burning Man Community Events Organizer and Member of the Official Events Committee, arts coordinator Maria Partridge, and theme camp placer Bravo.
If you want to call your event an official event, you start by working through your Regional Contact, but Ra$pa and a dedicated team of volunteers are the ones that work hard reviewing things to ensure the principles are upheld and that going to a Burning Man event means something special.
“We don’t want our culture devalued to a dress-up party,” said Ra$pa, as he outlined the steps and reasons for people seeking official sanction. Start early, he urged.
Both Ra$pa and Danger stayed to enjoy the campout, with Ra$pa offering counsel into the night over high-end bourbon and Danger Ranger spotted collecting firewood and hosting new friends at his campsite bar.
The lead MRS organizers, Sacramento Regional Contact Kathleen Hoffman and Reno Regional Contact Dale Weber, said they started the summit to foster stronger connections to nearby regions and their unique resources and strengths.
One of the highlights was the awarding of a Burners Without Borders grant through an MRS-participant process, Hoffman said.
Weber said he was happy participants could learn about Burning Man’s Fly Ranch property and share their thoughts on its direction. The organization is reaching out to the broader Burner community, general public and earth science and skilled professionals to gather ideas for preserving the delicate nature of the property while exploring other uses to coexist in a balanced, responsible fashion.
New Burn and Old Burner
The annual summit has also been planning to launch a multi-day Burn that includes participation from Sacramento, Tahoe, Reno and possibly Bay Area communities.
Planning of the event took a leap forward when Gemini, a long-time Ranger and Reno-based Regional Contact, proposed a June 2019 date. In a nod to the region’s two assets, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and earthquakes, the project is proceeding under the name project Sierra Shake. The official name is likely to be chosen by a participant-driven process.
An unexpected summit attendee was Hager, who staying at the campground when he saw a familiar logo.
Hager was an early Burning Man employee who walked away from the organization in 2000. “My last official duty was driving Larry and Marian during the [DPW] parade in 2000,” said Hager.
He described meeting his wife at the Black Rock Salon and early risk-taking that would be shunned now. After listening to Danger talk, he said it sounded like the soul of the organization he walked away from was still intact, and he was eager to come back to the playa.
Photos by Douglas Hooper