What is Burning Man?

Jesse Cassidy |
Burning Man 2012
Burning Man 2012

It’s August, and that means it’s time for Burning Man. The annual event (although due to covid-19, this is the first event in three years) where tens of thousands of free-spirited adventurous people make the pilgrimage out to the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada for the week-long event. For some of you, this brings an instant smile to your face, for others, a rolling of the eyes and a simple ‘huh?’ for the vast majority.

What is Burning Man? Why is it so popular? Isn’t it just a bunch of hippies doing drugs? These are the most frequently asked questions that seem to be asked each year as thousands of people travel across the continent and the globe to the coveted week-long festival known as Burning Man.

Here we try to answer the most difficult question associated with Burning Man; What is it exactly?

Well, the answer to that question is simple; there is no simple answer, but we’ll try and explain it as best we can. Every year tens of thousands of people travel to the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada for a week-long festival that celebrates individuality, freedom, and total self-reliance. Creating one of the largest cities in Nevada for a week, Black Rock City ranges in population from 50,000 to 55,000 residents at its peak population times.

Burning Man attracts every walk of life to participate in a surreal, once-in-a-lifetime experience that is not easily forgotten. During the day, it is one of the most extensive art galleries imaginable, with whole camps dedicated to a particular piece of art to art cars driving around the playa. And then, at night, it turns into one of the largest parties on earth, 360 degrees of neon lights bass. Even still, this is vague, so I’ll let Burning Man themselves try and explain why it is indescribable:

Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind…but to truly understand this event, one must participate. – Burning Man

Burning Man. August 31st, 2013. Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal/AP Photo
August 31st, 2013. Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal/AP Photo

A week-long festival that celebrates creativity, freedom, self-reliance, self-confidence, art, and everything in between is what Burning Man is. Art is on display across the city, and bass-driven music, neon, and flames dominate the playa at night. On Saturday, the Man burns in an incredible ceremony, and on Sunday, the Temple, which is a shrine for all of those whom we have lost, is burned in an emotional silent burning. It is truly an incredible event. However, this description does not even come close to what one would expect.

Playa sunset, Photo: Jesse Cassidy
Playa sunset, Photo: Jesse Cassidy

So there you go, Burning Man is a bit indescribable; from its very roots, it has been complex. However, not having an accurate description makes Burning Man so unique. No matter how previous burners prepare you, the awe you experience your first time is unimaginable. Nothing can prepare you for the sights, the experiences, and the total weirdness that is Burning Man, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You can’t be further from the truth if you think it is just a bunch of hippies doing drugs out in the desert.

When it comes down to it, Burning Man is what you make it, it can be the craziest, most drug-fueled week of your life or the most mellow, laid-back chill experience; it is all up to you. So while we have effectively failed to explain what Burning Man is, as there is no explanation, we hope you have a much better understanding of what this incredible event entails in a nutshell.

There is no real way to explain it, and I highly recommend everyone go at least once in their life; you won’t be disappointed. And for those fellow burners prepping for the playa, the Man burns next weekend!

Camp Robot Heart
Camp Robot Heart

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16 thoughts on “What is Burning Man?

  1. I was told it’s that feeling you get in that special place after having unprotected sex with randos on the Playa. What’s wrong, are you feeling OK? Naw my pecker is Burning Man!

  2. Just re-watched the Burning Man 2015 tribute to Leonard Nimoy. I don’t understand the festival at all, but I wish I had been there then.

  3. Hell on earth, an alkaline desert salt flat with dust storms that can last for days, gale-force winds, temperatures of 100 degrees or more during the day, and lows that dip below freezing at night.

  4. Hell on earth, an alkaline desert salt flat with dust storms that can last for days, gale-force winds, temperatures of 100 degrees or more during the day, and lows that dip below freezing at night.

  5. Burning Man is NOT “absent of law enforcement.” In reality, there is more law enforcement at Burning Man per capita than most cities in the U.S.! Law Enforcement at Burning Man makes a tremendous amount of money each year from traffic violations, drug violations, and countless other citations that make the federal government anywhere from $500,0000 to $1,000,0000 – not to mention the amount Burning Man actually pays for environmental impact studies (required by the BLM) and the the BLM permit fee (a % of festival revenue).

  6. A god forsaken alkaline desert salt flat with dust storms sometimes for days., high winds, 100 deg
    or hotter midday, sometimes below freezing at night.

    Miles if your dad was at the first one he was on Baker Beach in San Francisco.

    I’ve been 3 times !

  7. Nice post Jesse! I’d say BM’s 10 tenets/principles are a must-read for anyone planning to go (it can be found on BM’s website). Also, sadly, “absent of law enforcement” is kind of a stretch these days…

  8. Always wanted to do this. Still haven’t. My dad goes every year. He was there for the first year. He always says “There were no rules that first year.”

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