August 26, 2014

The gates are open! Tens of thousands of stranded 'burners' flood into Burning Man site after festival is reopened following rare storm

Deserted: Tens of thousands of people should have arrived to create a make-shift city in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. But after Monday morning's rains, the site was empty until today.

By Alex Greg and Ted Thornhill
UK Mail Online

Tens of thousands of so-called 'burners' were flooding through the gates of Burning Man this morning after the event was reopened following a rain storm that left Nevada's Black Rock Desert looking more like a swamp on the festival's opening day.

Vehicles were allowed into the event's entrance on Highway 34 northeast of Gerlach from 6 a.m. Tuesday, organizers tweeted just after 1 a.m.

Festival goers, or 'burners,' responded to the good news with excited tweets such as 'time to get back on the road,' and 'all roads lead to #burningman.'

Yesterday, incredible pictures taken from the air showed the astonishing number of people stranded in the desert after rare heavy rains prevented them entering the site of the annual festival.

By Monday, it should have resembled something from a post-apocalyptic Mad Max movie, a teeming mini city growing out of the sand.

But standing water turned the playa 90 miles north of Reno into a quagmire and police barred ticket holders entry to the free-spirited week-long arts event.

Hundreds of vehicles massed outside the gates waiting for the weather to clear up, with some posting messages on Twitter about their predicament using the hashtag #strandedman.

Festival-goer Jordan Kalev arrived at the event by plane and took pictures of the site as he flew over showing the sheer volume of traffic massed at the entrance and the soggy state of the ground.

Around 70,000 people were left anxiously waiting for the event to start, with many driving back to Reno rather than queue in the desert.

Several hundred people who arrived on Sunday were told to remain in place in their camps but those who came to the gates for the 10 a.m. opening on Monday were turned away and told to keep an eye on social media.

'Black Rock City has shut down following rainstorms that left standing water on the playa, leaving it undrivable,' said Jim Graham, a festival spokesman, in a statement issued on Monday.

Highway patrol officers turned back festival goers who have paid upwards of $1,000 on the black market for tickets to the event, which last year saw a record 68,000 people spend a week in the desert for the annual art, music and everything else festival.

Rudy Evenson, who works at the US Bureau of Land Management, who operates the Black Rock Desert site Burning Man uses said that the festival would not get underway on Monday 'because there was too much rain. When it dries out they'll let people in again.'

The downpour began at 6 a.m. on Monday and continued for several hours, only dumping a tenth of an inch of rain, enough to make the muddy flats unfit for vehicles to drive on.

'We're going to make the best of the situation,' Charlie Lucas, of Portland, Oregon, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

By midday Monday, hundreds of people had gathered outside a tribal smoke shop just off US Interstate 80 in Wadsworth east of Reno where they were buying camping permits at the lake that sits on the Pyramid Lake-Paiute Reservation.

Clerks at the smoke shop said they had no idea how many permits had been sold, only that they were 'overwhelmed' and did not have time to talk.

'We're going to make good of a bad situation,' Shaft Uddin of London told the Gazette-Journal. 'I hear Pyramid Lake is beautiful, and apparently there is going to be a big party.'

By Monday afternoon, yellow Volkswagen buses, countless recreation vehicles and at least one school bus painted to look like a cheetah with whiskers on the hood began packing campsites along the lake.

Close to a dozen of those first arrivals took off their clothes and entered the lake, the newspaper reported.

Nudity is allowed at Burning Man as part of the celebration of art and self-expression.

But within an hour, a park ranger at Pyramid Lake had asked the campers to put their clothes back on. 'How can you not know that it is not OK to be naked in public?' the ranger asked.

Hundreds of travelers searching for oneness with nature and celebration of self-expression inf act spent their first night in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart or Reno resort casino.

But most were taking it in stride and were largely optimistic - as so-called 'Burners' are apt to be - that the gates to the counterculture event would reopen Tuesday.

'You take it as it comes,' said Mark Vanlerberghe, who left San Jose, California, in an RV that he ended up parking Monday at the Wal-Mart for the night when he heard the access road to the remote festival site was closed.

'You're going to the desert and you know there's weather to deal with,' he said. 'I guess that's part of being a Burning Man. Don't get stressed about it.'

Dozens of RVs and vans bound for Burning Man were parked at the Wal-Mart at the Three Nations Plaza, and nearly a hundred more across the street by sundown at the Grand Sierra Resort along U.S. Interstate 80 just east of downtown Reno.

The blinking casino lights and video billboards gave off a pink twinkle not unlike the various light shows at the weeklong desert gathering that culminates with the burning of a large wooden effigy the night before Labor Day.

But the yellow stripes on the blacktop pavement with 'Wrong Way' signs weren't exactly what the seekers of paradise on the playa had in mind on their way to soak up the various theme camps, art exhibits, all-night music and guerrilla theater, along with a decent dose of nudity and a bunch of other stuff that's just plain weird.

'We're just trying to stay positive,' said a woman from Oakland, California, who identified herself only as 'Driftwood' while hanging out in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a group of first-timers from Texas.
'Positivity can raise everything up.'

Barbara Quintanilla of Houston said the rain delay was the least of their worries in an RV with friends who didn't initially know whether the camper used diesel or regular gas, made a wrong turn out of Texas and ran over a sign post. Their destination is 'Planet Earth,' she said, 'The Eighties' Camp.'

'My friends believe that making it a longer trip will make you better,' Quintanilla said. 'We have a list of 27 things we need to get at Wal-Mart.'

Traveling companion Bill Sanchez of Houston said the voyage so far 'has been brutal.'

'We made a 2,000-mile trip and none of us had ever driven an RV before. It would only go 35 mph up hills,' he said with a smile at the plaza on land owned by a Nevada tribe.

'But through hard work and dedication, we will achieve our dreams.'

Jahliele Paquin and Jeff Difabrizio were in their third mode of transportation on the way to their first 'Burn' from their home in Canada's Northwest Territories.

They flew from Yellowknife to Regina, Saskatchewan and bought a van they drove to Reno, where it broke down Monday and they rented a car for the rest of the trip.

'We're kind of thinking like we'll get there when we get there,' Paquin said.

Jeff Cross of Orange County, California was in a different group with Texans Adam Baker and Chelsea Coburn making their second trip to the Black Rock and were determined the weather wouldn't deter them.

'It's the best festival in the world,' he said while unloading provisions at their RV outside the Wal-Mart Monday night. 'And there's no cellphones, no internet, no money or corporate sponsors.'

'You have to have a lot of supplies,' Coburn said. 'It's a lot of work, but it makes it more gratifying.

Indeed in recent years, devotees of Burning Man have become irritated with the expansion in popularity of the free-spirited event.

The festival dates back to 1986 and is based on ideals of community and inclusion - but visiting the ad-hoc city that rises from the desert each year has become a status symbol for the tech elite.

The one-upmanship of San Francisco tech nouveau riche, with their luxury accommodations and chef-prepared meals, is at odds with the spirit of the festival, say some longtime 'burners.'

The festival began as a counter-cultural gathering of free spirits on a beach in San Francisco and has evolved into a 10-day phenomenon spread across seven square miles of Nevada's Black Rock Desert.

Participants 'dedicate themselves to the spirit of community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, leaving no trace,' the Burning Man website explains.

Nothing but ice and coffee is for sale so attendees must bring enough food and water to sustain themselves.

Tens of thousands of likeminded burners frolic around the temporary city instilled with the principles of Burning Man, which include gifting, decommodification (no advertising or transactions), radical self-reliance and radical inclusion.

Art installations, music, free classes, costumes, sharing of love, opinions, food and discussion is the order of the day at Burning Man.

So it's unsurprising that the new wave of annual attendees from San Francisco with very different ideas about the experience has some devotees up in arms.

A man who attends the festival annually with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs told The New York Times that the camp they establish costs $25,000 per person - but not for the models who are flown in on private jets from New York.

'We have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning. Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert,' he said.

Regular attendees haul camping gear or drive rented RVs to the desert and pay $300 to camp for 10 days, using portable toilets and freshening up with wet wipes.

And flying in the face of the festival's tenets of 'radical self-reliance,' and 'communal effort,' some camps come complete with 'sherpas,' or hired help.

According to The New York Times, there are up to 30 sherpas waiting on 12 attendees who fly in on private planes and are then driven to their camp in luxury RVs and fed meals prepared by teams of top chefs.

Sherpas handle the rest - costumes, which are a big part of Burning Man life, drugs, and any other whim.

'The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,' Tyler Hansen, who worked as a sherpa, told The New York Times.

'Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It's now become a mirror of society.'

Elon Musk, a founder of PayPal, recently said that Burning Man 'is Silicon Valley' and that creator of the HBO show 'Silicon Valley' Mike Judge couldn't possibly understand the tech world because he hadn't been.

It's not only tech types - DuJour reports that socialites, heirs and heiresses and Hollywood starlets have also been attending in style, including Lady Victoria Hervey, shipping heir Stavros Niarchos, Alexandra von Furstenberg and Francesca Versace and a New York Wall Street tycoon who spent $1 million on a custom RV.

Money-making endeavors at the festival are also on the rise, with concierge companies offering packages including flights, transfers, food, camps with electricity, food, water and wifi, private toilets and even a 'customized art car' for wealthy burners.

This year's festival sold out within an hour.

After it moved from San Francisco's Baker Beach, the inaugural Burning Man in Nevada drew some 80 people in 1990.

The first 1,000-plus crowd was in 1993, and attendance doubled each of the next three years before reaching 23,000 in 1999. The crowd was capped at 50,000 under a five-year permit that expired in 2010.