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Hey Tahoe, Are You Burncurious?

We are lucky to have a world-famous event right in our backyard
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Just 150 miles northeast of Truckee lies the Black Rock Desert, home to Burning Man, a week-long event focused on principles of radical self-reliance and expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, participation, and immediacy. Last year’s Burn drew participants from six continents. That’s right; people fly halfway across the world to go to an event that is, more or less, right in our backyard.

Burning Man is a temporary city where everything that happens is a direct result of the cooperation and participation of its temporary citizens. Last year, nearly 66,000 people came together in the temporary metropolis that is Black Rock City. That makes it the sixth largest city in Nevada for one week; larger than our neighbor Carson City, whose 2014 population topped out at 55,274 people.

In the weeks leading up to the Burn, decorated art cars and bikes can be seen making their way down our streets, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport arrival terminal is flooded with Burners — the term used to describe Burning Man participants— and the shelves at thrift and costume stores slowly empty as intricate costumes are finalized.

Locally driven art projects, past and present

The Tahoe/Truckee region has been the birthplace for many, sometimes world-famous, Burning Man art pieces. For local artists hauling large installation pieces into the desert, it’s beneficial to be geographically close to the Black Rock Desert.

Stephen Shelby, member of United Camps of Black Rock, has a background in ski resort metal work. Using his background in handrails, Shelby helped create The Dusty Cobra, a Burning Man art car built in Truckee’s Olympic Heights neighborhood. The car, which shoots lasers from the Cobra’s mouth, will be at this year’s Burn, and has spent the past two years on the Playa.

The upper deck of the Dusty Cobra is a mobile dance floor used as public transportation. The camp also hosts barbecues at random locations throughout the week, giving food and libations to anyone who will join them.

“We wanted to build something that was unique and exciting that hadn’t been done before,” Shelby said. “A truly public art car where everyone could participate.”

This year’s car will have added LED lights and mirrored scales — a play on this year’s Burning Man theme, A Carnival of Mirrors — that replaced the metal scales used in past years.

Traveling back to Black Rock City on and off since 1991, the Midnite Popcorn Palace is one of the original gifting camps at the Burn. The palace gives out more than 600 pounds of organic, non-GMO popcorn from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. to more than 4,000 people.

“It is cruel to serve people popcorn and then send them out into the dusty Playa,” said Eric Baron, better know as Popcorn Boy, one of the creative minds behind the art cart.

Popcorn Boy explained that to accompany their popcorn, the Reno-based mobile cart is complete with a flossing station with floss donated by Reno dentists.

A Tahoe block party in the desert

For the second year in a row, Meredith Solin, entertainment project leader for Tahoe-driven camp Awesome!(ville), has planned a Tahoe camp crawl and block party, along with the leaders of three other locally based camps.

“Our goal is to celebrate as citizens of Tahoe, catch up with and meet amazing new friends, and invite everyone to share an afternoon of fun, Tahoe style,” Solin said.

She explained that this year’s theme is Tahoe blue, which they encourage everyone to explore, interpret as they wish, and dress to match.

Last year’s caveman-themed crawl had attendees from five different Tahoe camps, totaling over 200 people. This year, camp Awesome!(ville) has united with fellow Tahoe camps Camp Fuck Yea, Donner Party, Ministry of Douchebaggery, Camp Touch This, and Shotski Wanderlust for an afternoon of Tahoe-style fun in the desert. The event is Thurs., Sept. 3 from 1 to 5 p.m.

“Our goal is to unite as many Tahoe camps as possible,” Solin said, “and to spread the good word of Tahoe to all Burners who come to meet us.”

Apart from the crawl, camp Awesome!(ville) is host to many events, including aerial performances from Tahoe Flow Arts, live music, interactive sculpture installations, art classes, relaxing lounge sessions in its homemade dome, and a saloon bar.

It’s more than just proximity

Justin “JD” Curtis, a Truckee resident and regional Tahoe representative for Burning Man, explained how the spirit and sense of adventure embodied by the people living in the Basin is not all that different from the sense of adventure that brings Burners to Black Rock City. Sure we can drive from Truckee to the Black Rock Desert in just under four hours, but Burning Man’s connection to Tahoe is so much more than just proximity.

Living in a mountain town can be transient. “The connections you make with people on the Playa are not dissimilar to the connections people make in Truckee,” Curtis said. “It’s a fleeting lifestyle, but there’s something that keeps bringing us back.”

Curtis explained that it’s the spirit and sense of adventure that bring people back to Black Rock City year after year. The same sense of adventure, coupled with the harsh, yet polar opposite environmental conditions of the desert and the mountains, make Tahoe somewhere for Burners to spend their time when they aren’t on the Playa.

“Skiing in a whiteout blizzard is great practice for conquering the dusty sand clouds of the Playa,” Curtis said.

Are you Burncurious?

Burning Man has developed a regional network program to extend the Burn into a year-round experience and help local Burners connect with one another. The Tahoe regional networks of North Lake, South Lake, and Gardnerville encourage regional events as a way to get people involved who may be burncurious. Tahoe’s regional network has organized ski days at Mt. Rose and pub crawls in South Lake.

“It’s a way for people to pick up the principles of Burning Man without actually getting out on the Playa,” said Dana Olson of camp Awesome!(ville).

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May 10, 2018