For one week a year, a gathering of free-thinkers, punks, carpenters, artists, pyromaniacs and evironmentalists escape their respective rat races and trek 350 miles from S.F. to an empty Nevada lake bed, 90 miles NE of Reno. It’s known far and wide as Burning Man. Now entering its 20th year, so many will come to this year’s event August 29-September 5 that it becomes the fifth largest city in the Silver State. A week later, almost everyone goes home.
Burning Man almost defies description. It’s like trying to tell someone what chocolate tastes like or a color looks like. Every year, it attains cult status as artisans from near and far descend on the desert to hang out, burn stuff, and generally cavort.
A few highlights: 1986: To stave off boredom and meet women, Larry Harvey and his carpenter buddy Jerry James create a human figure out of wood and burn it on SF’s Baker Beach. Their 2-year-old sons tote a wooden “burning dog,” the man’s best friend.
1987-1990: Word of Burning Man spreads through funky flyers in laundromats, punk clubs, and among San Francisco’s clandestine prankster group, the Cacophony Society.
Summer 199o: 800 people attend an event at Baker Beach to watch the 40-foot Burning Man, but cops won’t let Harvey burn it.
Labor Day Weekend 1990: Harvey and 100 miscellaneous souls drive 350 miles to burn stuff and blow up propane tanks.
1991-1995: Burning Man actually becomes a town called Black Rock City with a population of 4,000. Theme towns sprout to offer “residents” cocktails, croquet, fruitcake and eggnog.
1996: Wired Magazine called Burning Man “the new American holiday” and it draws 8,000 souls.
1999: Burning Man gets listed in AAA’s RV guide.
2000: Burning Man attendance blossoms to 25,400.
2002: Burning Man doubles in size to 80 feet while Black Rock City airport accommodates 70 small planes.
2003: Burning Man attracts over 30,000 people.
2005: Burning Man is scheduled for August 29-September 5. All tickets are $250. The Art Theme will be “Psyche: the Conscious, the Subconscious and the Unconscious.”