Here They Come

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Burning Man

Cars and campers and RVs and trucks and all sorts of STUFF are pouring into the city for what has come to be known as Build Week.

The large theme camps and art projects are arriving, and there’s a lot to get sorted out. HEaT has equipment going everywhere, boom lifts, scissor lifts, VRs, trenchers, cranes, Heisters, everything and everyone answering calls that are coming faster and faster. 

The Placement team has put flags in the ground demarcating the property lines for 1,800 camps. It’s just flags now, but soon the theme campers and maybe some land grabbers will take, or try to take, occupancy.

It’s one of the more delicate tasks that the Placement Team has to negotiate — settling property line disputes in the neighborhoods.

We’ve heard some hair-raising tales involving knives, fists, sledgehammers and wire cutters. You don’t want to do any of that! What you want to do is stay calm (ohhhh, isn’t that a helpful thing to be told) and bring in the Placement team to help you sort things out. We know you’ve likely been in the car for half a day or so, we know you’re facing hours or days of setup, and we know the conditions are, big surprise here, hot and dusty.

But still — be cool. Stay reasonable. It’ll get sorted out. It’s Burning Man!

And on a related note, if you are planning on staying in Walk In Camping for the event, you’ll want to check in with the Placement team to get up to speed on some new processes and procedures meant to, you guessed it, better meet your needs. Seriously, though, things have changed there, and it’d be worth your time to make sure you’re parking and camping in the right spots.


Saturday night’s Early Man marked a big shift in Black Rock CIty’s population. Where once there were mostly only DPW and tech and Commissary and Gate and some other crews, now a civilian workforce will take up residence.

The morning meeting

“It’s time for all of us to have our shit tighter even than we had it before,” Cobra Commander told the morning meeting. “It’s time for us to release whatever psychic hold we had on the playa, thinking of it as ours, and start sharing it with all the people we are actually building [the city] for. … I know it’s a difficult concept, it’s challenging. You sit in a chair for a month, you think, that’s my chair. You show up and there are other people in your chair, you’re like, what’s up? But it’s everyone’s chair.”

The gates don’t open until the weekend, but even amidst all the work, Burning Man is beginning to happen. For example, last night a group gathered for freshly made pizza (featuring only most excellent ingredients, fired in a 900-degree oven). That was followed by a bit of a dance party, then a kazoo recital (which was a lot better than it might sound), and then a musical interlude featuring songs played on an Alchemical Music Box. That’s a hard-to-describe device, somewhere between a crank-up organ and a boom box, only a lot better. Oh and this took place around a smokeless burn barrel that was colorfully lit with LEDs on the inside. It was all ridiculously perfect, on a gorgeous night, and it was kind of an unintentional camp bonding experience. It’s what you hope happens sometime along the way, and this one happened early. Lucky.

There was a suggestion made that the tradition of topless Tuesdays should be revived (to widespread cheers), and Cobra Commander took that as an opportunity to remind folks “to be respectful. Toplessness, nudity … you’re going to see a ton of it out here. It’s just somebody doing their thing. So be cool. Nudity isn’t sexual, nudity isn’t consent, it’s just people not wearing clothes. It’s not difficult as a concept.”

There’s a great deal of organizational awareness about how to handle interpersonal relationships here in Black Rock City. There are meetings, sessions, trainings, all sorts of things. Dave X explained an unofficial  technique that might come in handy:

“You know, you can get in a conversation, and you get to a point and you say hey, you’re an idiot, don’t do that thing, and they’ll say no, it’s reasonable because blah blah blah. And you’ll say no, your logic is faulty, and then they say blah blah blah. Half an hour later, you’re still dealing with this pinhead.

“So right now we’re going to do a quick training. Are you guys with me? (‘Yeah!’) So, what I do with people, after it becomes stupid … somebody ask me a stupid question.” Someone shouts out, “Where’s the hot springs?”

Dave then stands there and glowers at the person, and he says, “That look  I’m doing? It’s pulling your soul out with my mind. Then I’m going to walk away. I’m not even going to discuss it. It’s off the radar, it’s gone. You do that soul-sucking look, let it linger till it’s super awkward, and then it’s done.”

The Greeter gates

Poppy was down there at the Greeter gates on Monday, one of the first group of greeters to welcome early arrivers to Black Rock City.

You may have had the experience already, but when newcomers to Burning Man get past the Gate (where cars and vehicles are searched for stowaways), they get to the Greeter station. There, they are encouraged to get out, roll around in the dust, ring a bell, and maybe get a hug. Some people participate enthusiastically, others just get their guidebooks and keep moving.

Does the bright-eyed enthusiasm ever get on the Greeter’s nerves? “Oh no!” Poppy says. Even though he’s been coming to Burning Man for 18 years, and been a Greeter for 6, what were we expecting him to say? He’s wearing almost nothing, just a little traffic cone on his nether regions. Is he going to be put off by displays of enthusiasm? No he is not.


“That woman in the car that just went in, she was really into it. She didn’t want to get her clothes dirty, so she took them off. … We give them that option.” That’s very thoughtful.

The cars and campers kept streaming in, and the three-person crew was kept pretty busy. The new flags on top of the greeter stations were flapping brightly in the breeze.

Rashida pulled up, stepped smartly out of the car, and proceeded to roll on the ground, covering herself with dust. “I’m a Burner now!” she said. She’ll be with the Red Nose camp, and her travel companion, Francine the Machine, is one of two mayors in Gigsville this year. “We didn’t think there would even be anyone here yet,” Francine said. “Thank you!”


Another car full of participants from New York City who are with the Costume Cult comes through. “Welcome to Black Rock City!” Quota says. “Anything and everything can happen out there, as you already know. Get out of your comfort zone, be weird, do whatever you want to do. The only rules are, the speed limit is 10 mph, and consent. Before you hug anybody, before you touch anybody, ask them, make sure they’re cool with it.  So welcome home, I love you, fuck your burn.”

Francine and Rasheda

Water trucks are continuously circling the city, moistening the roads in the hopes of keeping the dust down. Risky Business reports that there are eight trucks currently making the rounds, but she acknowledges that it’s a Sisyphean task, “a battle that’s not going to be won.”

There’s already a couple of inches of finely pulverized powder in some parts of Black Rock City, and the first big wind is going to put most of it in your tent.

Bring your mask, bring your goggles, and don’t forget your good attitude. It’s Burning Man.


Maria at the Artery

The line out the door at the Artery on Tuesday looked like they were giving away free croissants at Tartine.   

“We thought we were going to get 50 something yesterday,” Maria said, “but we only got 20. Today we were slammed. It was all hands on deck.”

She had people in and out and on their way in a flash; the program that links up artists with specific volunteers with the organization has helped smooth things for all concerned.

There are 427 registered art projects this year, and each one gets its special place on the playa art map, which you can check out for yourself at the Artery. That’s up from 380 last year, and it doesn’t even count the walk-ins that didn’t get it together in time to register. “I have no idea where we’re going to be at the end of the event,” Maria said. Suffice it to say, the art map is mighty crowded.

Free coffee for the artists (and everyone else)

There’s even a coffee bar set up across the Esplanade for artists who might be in need of caffeination as they get ready to set up their hopes and dreams on the playa. It’s open 8-12 every day during Build Week, and of course the coffee is complimentary, compliments of Shots Fired and the Blue Light District camp.

To give you an idea of the diversity of activity here in Black Rock City, we’re going to open to a random page in the What Where When guide and copy and paste the items verbatim:

Friday, one time events: 

Cory Doctorow – Surveillance Capitalism Monopoly: Cory Doctorow, New Zealand’s privacy commissioner, calls Big Tech “morally bankrupt liars.” He’s right.

Sensual Hot Dog Eating Contest – Come get freaky on some hot dogs with us. Grab a bite to eat and get to witness some deep throat mayhem.

Korean Facial Mask Party – Putting a Korean facial sheet mask on your face with an awesome pickleback in your hand with live music! This is what you need on the playa!

Here are some more pics:

The art map is getting very crowded
These are the camps and installations that have fire features.
Ravens are still a pretty common sight.
Zac and his Alchemical Music Box
Caveat was very proud of his completely blank BMID

Heavy equipment everywhere

If you’re lucky, Maeia will be dispatched when you call heavy equipment
Someone was looking extra sharp at the morning meeting
Quota at the Greeter’s station

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.

8 Comments on “Here They Come

  • Tex Allen says:

    Thank you sir! Epic times ahead again!

    (and that shot of Zac tho’…..!)

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  • There are guidebooks to Burning Man?? That somehow seems to run counter to the basic ethos. I insist that Burning Man Org publishes and distributes (gratis) it’s own guidebook, one that would be utterly and grotesquely wrong in every detail. That’ll learn them poseurs and parvenus.

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  • Jarrod says:

    Some of the best words put down that I have ever read. This is beyond all — I can ever expect out of )'(. Thank you for bringing the building of BRC to my eyes!!!

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  • Andy Shwartzentaco says:

    Well done! You got some pictures of black people. But what about other POCs? I’m half Mexican and Jewish and I don’t feel represented in any picture of Burning Man anywhere. It’s like my kind don’t even matter.

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  • Juno says:

    Kazoos never sounded so good. Thank you for your words and pictures, Mr. Curley.

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  • Cynthia Wright says:

    We’re watching them go by up here in Modoc County. Thanks for a really entertaining article! It will help us to understand what these people are in for.

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  • Ramses says:

    Why are Ravens still a common sight?

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  • Jim says:

    $80 million collectively spent on self-gratification. Untold amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, literally billions worldwide are starving and dying. All your millions could save thousands of lives. Provide education for the uneducated. Surgeries for the needy. A festival of selfish hypocrisy. Way to go people! To heck with the needy. To the moon with carbon-fueled global warming! Enjoy yourselves because …. it’s all about … YOU!

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