The Rise of “Festivals”

My recent return to Burning Man last week, this article about Taco Bell attempting to reach out to “burners”, and a few conversations about the apparent increase in festival attendance really has me thinking. If there is an increase in participation at “festivals” why is that? As is the case with all my blog posts I basically have no facts, just my own experiences and hypotheses that I think out when I should be working. It should be noted that for simplicity sake I use the word “festival” very broadly and include Burning Man (definitely not a festival in most ways), Lucidity style events that involve multiple days off site and includes a spiritual aspect, and EDC-style events that are more musically focused.

I think the biggest factor is the seemingly unique environment that people in their 20’s and 30’s operate in today. It is no secret that marriage is often being postponed, kids are birthed later in life, and college graduates are enjoying social freedom that is usually reserved for retirees. Many of them, including me, cohabitate with a partner or friends which allows for a lot of disposable income. Festivals can be expensive but if you have two people with college degrees and professional jobs sharing an apartment with no kids it is financially possible to participate often in multiday parties.

These celebrations can often involve intimacy and sex (the Orgy Dome at Burning Man is pretty awesome) but the focus is rarely on hook-ups or “one night stands”. In fact, festivals are very often attended by people in long-term committed relationships. I went with my partner, my best friend has gone with his fiance, our camp at Burning Man has had at least one married couple each year, and two of my dearest friends often go to EDC and similar events together. I also went to two weddings at Burning Man this year, one of which was a couple who got engaged at Lucidity.

Another important factor in festival attendance is technology, particularly the internet. Even relatively small events can spread the word quickly via Facebook to like-minded people across the globe. This is true for big events as well like Burning Man, which has been around for over 25 years, saw themselves face ticket scarcity for the first time thanks to burners sharing their pictures and videos over social media in the last couple years. Musicians who don’t have major labels can also use the internet to attract a fan base and advertise their presence at musical festivals. There is also greater specialization that is possible when people can communicate freely, it is now possible to attract participants to very unique and focused events where in the past smaller cliques would need to participate in big festivals and hope their classes would be attractive enough to get attention.

Lastly, I feel like there is a feeling of lost direction among many people due to the fracturing of society around us. Politicians continue to prove that party doesn’t matter and that they are basically all the same. Traditional religions are fracturing and failing at providing even the bare minimum support for individuals as their beliefs are unwilling to change to accept new scientific evidence. Modern media works tirelessly to tell us all how doomed the world is, despite evidence to the contrary. The social institutions that provide support, love, and comfort in the past have been found lacking so people are looking elsewhere to connect and find family. Festivals, particularly Burning Man and similar events, help fill that gap. At least that is why I go, because I reject violence, consumerism, religious zealotry, and the idea that I need to work in an office for most my life before I can have fun and celebrate life. Festivals give me community, love, support, and acceptance, and I think it does that for many others as well.

Students For Sensible Drug Policy

Well, by time this post I will be well on my way to the Playa dust of Burning Man and letting my freak flag fly. While I won’t be able to do my regular ridiculous Facebook posts about drug policy, libertarianism, love, science, and all things Awesome, I hope that if you enjoy what I share you will take a moment and consider donating what you can to Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

SSDP is the premier organization pushing for a sensible approach to prohibition. By focusing on students they help mobilize the next generation of leaders, encourage the adaptation of policies that actually save lives, and educate a wide range of citizens on the harm produced by such a tyrannical approach to narcotics. They have personally impacted my life in a huge way and I have agreed to match every dollar that is raised between now and the end of Burning Man up to $1000. I wish I could give more but that is what I have right now, I hope you will consider giving a few dollars as well.

I am not a staff member, board member, or anything like that. I am simply an individual who believes in their mission and hopes to see change in my lifetime. We live in a time where medicine is unavailable to veterans suffering from PTSD, cancer patients, and lives are being ruined when students make one-time mistakes. It is time for things to change, it is time for policies to reflect science, and it is time to give students the opportunity to grow and prosper. Every dollar helps.


Going Home…

When this work day ends I will be packing up and heading Home again. Burning Man goes by many things to us Burners… The Playa, Black Rock City, the dust… but for me the most appropriate term is “Home”. It is a place of love, tolerance, support, and happiness.┬áIt is difficult to explain Burning Man to people who have never been. You can show people the art, talk about the personal experiences, show videos and pictures, but you don’t even begin to capture the spirit and culture that thrives in that community. It is something I believe everyone should experience once, it is a place that no words, pictures, or videos can do justice.

I didn’t understand what Burning Man really was when I first went, and I still don’t understand it completely, I don’t think anyone does (or can). It is a living organism that evolves each year. The 10 Principles get things started but as a near anarchist community it is up to the individuals to build, create, and participate. It is a beautiful and mind-blowing experience to see the city grow throughout the week from a relatively few people to 65,000ish burners loving, living, and experiencing the moment. It isn’t really “about” anything more than just being human, and with that humanity comes art, beauty, sex, drugs, laughter, tears, mind, body, and spirit. It is a place to heal and to grow all parts of who you are and who you want to be.

My physical home for one week, my mental home year round

My physical home for one week, my mental home year round

I’ve been asked before what my favorite part of Burning Man is, and I have a relatively simple answer. My favorite part is when you end up in a warm embrace with a “stranger” and as you hold that person tight you say “I love you” and they say it back, and they mean it. For a moment your spirits mix together and stretch into eternity together. You no longer notice the dust as their skin presses against you and both of you hold each other as the limitations of the body disappear and two people become one. That is why you will often find me in a cuddle puddle, spooning with strangers and loved ones, and hugging all those I meet. It is the love that draws me to the Playa, the uninhibited and unashamed passion and intimacy for other people. It is love for another, love for an unknown, love united by the simple fact you exist at the same moment together. It is love that we all strive for and desire but in the “default world” we cover it up, it is a love that roams free on the Playa.

This year I have the incredible pleasure of taking a “virgin” with me. My partner, Anna, is coming to Burning Man for the first time. To be honest, I’m nervous.. but I need to stop planning and allow the playa magic to do it’s thing. I know her, I love her, and I know she will have a fantastic time. There will be hardships, there will be rough days and nights (there always are when you are doing something of value), but in the end I know it will make her stronger, me stronger, and us stronger. Burning Man is always what you allow it to be, once you put your walls down it will be exactly what you need.

I don’t really take pictures while out on the Playa. In a lot of ways it is intentionally temporary. It springs from dust for a moment and returns to dust in the end, leaving only an imprint on my mind. There will probably be a photo or two of me, but I prefer to stay out from behind the lens. But, for those interested, below are some of my favorite videos and pictures:
My Playa Adventure 2010 Part 1
My Playa Adventure 2010 Part 2
Oh The Places You’ll Go
Wallaby Way Burning Man 2012
Stuck In Customs Photo Album