I had the amazing opportunity to attend Burning Man last summer. This had been a #goals festival of mine for a while; I had actually been offered a low-income ticket the year before that I had to turn down for personal reasons, so I was thrilled to be in a position to accept it when the email came through just about a year ago today. For those of you unfamiliar with Burning Man, and the culture that it promotes, here is a brief run-down.
The Burning Man event functions by encouraging participants to embrace ten foundational principles. These principles serve to shape the culture and enhance the experience of your time in a very hot, very dry, very remote place: Black Rock City. One of the most important principles is that of Radical Self Reliance. This means that each participant is encouraged to do all that they can to ensure they will survive their time in the desert. This means a “pack it in, pack it out” mentality. This means you need to bring enough water to get you through the week-long event. This means you need to bring food, shelter, first aid, etc. to get you through your time at Burning Man. This is the principle that sets Burning Man apart from other festivals. There is no General Store for you to pop in and grab refrigerated hot dogs. There are not strategically placed water stations throughout the venue. At Burning Man, everything is a finite resource. And you are responsible for yourself. There is another principle that serves as somewhat of a loophole to the Radical Self Reliance principle for some people – Gifting.
A common misconception people have about Burning Man is that it functions as a bartering system. Rather, Burning Man is a Gifting Economy. It depends on the talents and generosity and creativity of the participants to keep it moving. While the goal is for each participant/camp to bring something along to contribute freely to the community, there are certainly some people who show up with nothing and anticipate that “The Playa Will Provide”. And the Playa does provide, but no one likes to feel like a mooch. I met so many interesting people offering such a variety of interesting gifts – everything from handmade jewelry to honey from a personal bee farm in France to iced coffee to personalized poetry.
When I was there, I met a group of people at a camp called Playa Springs. Their gift to Burning Man was that they ran a bar there. Each night, different camp-mates were in charge of manning the bar and of creating drink specials. I became good friends with a few of their campers and was, on the final night of my time on the Playa, invited to join them for dinner. I accepted on the condition that I was allowed to also help prepare the meal. I believe that experience has made me some lifelong friends.
Ultimately, Burning Man, like many other festivals, becomes what you make of it. I have experienced enough summer festivals to formalize my “must have” list of things to elevate your festival experience, and here I am to share it with you.
Must Haves to Elevate Your Festival Experience:
I know, you thought I was going to jump right in with the beer, but try to imagine your worst hangover ever. The one where all you wanted to do was sleep through it, but it was just too painful to overcome. The one where all you could do was suffer and tear yourself apart for not hydrating sufficiently the night before. The one where you discover that you’re actually totally out of ibuprofen and today is gonna be rough. The one where you can’t even lay down because the room won’t stop spinning. Now imagine you’re not waking up feeling like hot death in the comfort and shade of your own bedroom; rather, you are in a muggy tent, surrounded by drunk and disorderly people, flinching from the radioactive heat flowing out of your fresh sunburn, and there is no where you can go to escape the bright light, the relentless heat, and the unyielding boom boom of your neighbor’s sound system except for the fragrant biohazard of a honey bucket that resides several yards from your heat-death swamp tent. Take water with you. Drink it. All of it. You will be happy you did. #yourewelcome
Beer is great. I’m a big fan. But you need to put some thought into which beer you’re going to bring. Most venues wont let you pack beer in for the show, but pre-funking at camp can sure save you a lot of money come festival season. Things to keep in mind: the likelihood of you having the luxury of cold beer for the entirety of a multi-day festival is low (unless you have a fancy camper). You’re going to want to pack a brew that remains palatable at warmer temperatures. I learned this lesson the hard way on my trip to Burning Man. I make a personal commitment to buy craft/independent beers over “Big Beer” whenever I can; so taking any macros was not on my agenda at all. Instead, I packed along a case of Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA; I enjoy this beer regularly and it might be one of my favorites… until it’s been sitting in the desert for a few days and has actually risen to a temperature that would (slowly) cook top ramen. Drinking that beer was the flavor and mouthfeel equivalent of biting into a sap-covered pine tree in the middle of a dusty summer. I would have been much better off packing along a gentle kolsch or lager.
It seems so obvious, but you will not believe how often people leave their tickets when heading out for a show. When heading out for my second Paradiso festival, I put my then-boyfriend in charge of collecting tickets and ID’s and other important documentation while I made sure we had food, tents, chairs, etc. We got the car packed up full of coolers and people and assorted chaos and hit the road. It’s only about an hour drive to the Gorge for us, but we anticipated waiting in some nasty lines before we would actually get in to the campgrounds, so we shot for an early start. About 30 minutes into the drive everyone in the car was amped and talking about which artist they were most excited to see when my beau’s face went ashen. He looked at me with eyes the size of dinner plates and said the words no one wants to hear: “Our tickets are at home.” Fortunately it wasn’t a long trip, and recovery was simple enough, but I was happy to listen to everyone in our car give him a hard time for the rest of the weekend.
How obvious is this one, right? WRONG! I can’t even tell you how many starving festival-goers I have bestowed granola bars to. I understand that I may be an over-preparer, but I know what I’m like when I’m hungry. And it’s not kind. Remember to pack things that will survive extreme temperatures and that are easy to prepare and eat. I typically pack along lots of granola bars, nuts, fruit, and chips. You want food that will keep you energized through the weekend.
This is specifically important for those outdoor summer festivals. I’m the sort of person who gets burnt on a cloudy day, even with sunscreen on. My fair skin goes lobster red sitting on an outdoor patio for an hour-long lunch, so the value of long-lasting, high-SPF sunscreen has been literally scorched into my flesh over the last twenty-something years. And it doesn’t count just to bring the sunscreen, you also have to use it. Often.
Generally, I am very against dragging technology into the world of camping. It interferes with your ability to appreciate the nature around you and really only ties you back to the world you are trying to be away from. I make an exception for music festivals. There are a few camp ground tech must have’s when it comes to festivals: First, some music-making device is necessary. There is nothing sadder than spending your entire day dancing to fantastic music, only for the event to end, and you come back to a silent and dull campsite. Maybe I’m the weirdo here, but I always need to decompress and process my experience before I can settle down for the day. Depending on the festival, that could mean a playlist consisting of Daft Punk, Illenium, and Avicci or something else entirely (maybe some Fitz and the Tantrums, Black Keys, and Imagine Dragons?). Whatever your personal flare, make sure you pack the appropriate devices, chargers, and speakers to keep the party going back at camp. Also of electronic importance is a way to communicate with your friends during the show. If you’re trying to meet up with your six friends in a venue packed out with a couple thousand people, you’ll need more than good luck most days.
Wherever your summertime festivities land you, I do hope that you show up prepared, stoked, and ready to dance your booty off. I hope to see you at some Gorge shows this summer – I’ll be the one drinking Send It and Life Behind Bars in camp; what beers are you bringing??