BM 2019 Gate Opens in ...

      How Magic Happens

        by Woodstock, who loves telling stories

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How does Camp SPF rise from the dust each year? Here are some observations I have from the past eight years helping create our home on the Playa.

Burning man is different.  It's a transient city whose ethos and traditions have developed over the last 30+ years.  The truly unique aspect of Burning Man as an event is that it provides only the basic infrastructure (and some art) and the participants provide everything else.  The back of your ticket says you might die for real and the unofficial motto is "Safety Third".  The environment of Burning Man is harsh and demands respect; most people band together in camps and villiages for their comfort, support, and survival.  Each theme camp provides something to entertain or support the citizens of Black Rock City as their contribution to this culture. 

Our home in Black Rock City is Camp SPF.  How does Camp SPF happen each year?  The answer is simple:  We make it happen.

There are no 'sherpas' in Camp SPF.  Everything that is Camp SPF is created with our own hands.  Everybody pays the same dues and all work is done by volunteers.  That's part of the Communal Effort and Radical Self-Reliance you hear about. 


Build Week:Prehistoric Lake Lahontan

THURSDAY:  The Build Crew, led by Thunderhawk and Kiri, arrive on Playa on Wednesday or Thursday before the gate opens .  The Build Crew tows our two trailers full of camp equipment from Empire, NV, where they're stored for the other 50 weeks of the year.  When the Build Crew arrives at our designated address in the city, there is absolutely nothing there except a few survey flags stuck into a dry lake bed.  The majority of the portos are closed.  Center Camp is not finished.  None of the art on the playa is finished and the Man may be missing his arms or his head.  The Temple is a huge pile of materials surrounded by lights and cranes.  The heart of Black Rock City has not started beating. 

The Playa is a desert dry lake at an altitude of 3980 ft and demands our respect.  The first order of business is to set up shelter.  The weather can change quickly on the Playa and shelter is essential for protection from the occasional rain and frequent dust storms.  Next comes some basic shade.  It's really hot out there and you need a place to get out of the sun and drink some water.  With the essentials of survival established, the crew begins to build our home for the next few weeks.  Our neighbors are also just arriving and the neighborhood is beginning to stir.  The stars are incredible at night as we catch up on what's been happening to our homies.

FRIDAY:  On Friday, the real work begins.  Camp SPF has 4,200 sq feet of shade for your tents as well as a shower enclosure and a kitchen area.  Each 10'x10' shade 'cube' consists of 5-8 pieces of 1" pipe, various connectors, a tarp roof secured by about 20 bungies, and ratchet straps to hold it all down. 

build 9

Do the math and you'll understand the work required to set up 50+ cubes!  While the shade is going up, others in the crew set up the shower enclosure and unload kitchen equipment and other gear from the trailers. 

build 11

SATURDAY:  Suddenly it's Saturday already and other than trips to the portos, the Build Crew hasn't left our camp since arrival.  Some music can be heard as sound camps tune up, but the heartbeat of the city is still weak.  Work continues and the work day stretches to 12+ hours to get the camp ready for the gate opening tomorrow.  The basic shade structure is up, the kitchen is mostly unpacked, and the basics are in place.  Shelter is assured but the camp isn't a home yet.  We need your help to finish.

SUNDAY:  The gate opened last night at midnight but nobody is expected to arrive before evening or late night because of the long traffic lines on Gate Road.  The work continues with Thunderhawk calling water breaks and Kiri taking charge of the final work that makes it a home.  People start to straggle in and more arrive as the sun sets.  They're greeted with noisy hugs.  They're bedraggled but happy to be home after their 10+ hour journey to the Playa.  Their first priority is to set up their own shelter under the shade structure.  After the basics of survival are met, everyone joins the Build Crew with the goal of finishing the camp by Monday evening.

MONDAY:  Camp decorations, the chill dome, the Sunscreen Station, camp lighting, etc. all need to be finished up.  Every camper should plan on working their first day on the Playa.  Join in.  Unload stuff.   Carry stuff.  Figure out the plan and do it.  Be a fluffer.  If you see Kiri holding something, just take it and go make it! 

The Build Crew is tired and a bit fried by now but they borrow energy from new arrivals and their fresh enthusiasm.  With everyone's help, the camp will be mostlly finished by Monday evening although work will continue through Tuesday for finishing touches.  The magic that is Camp SPF has emerged from the dust as the returning family members arrive and greet each other. The new members are looking around, a bit awe-struck as they get help to settle in.  

build 1

The energy level in the city is building.  The full-voiced throb of sound camps has begun and will not stop.  Your body and soul begin to sync with the beat of the music at a cellular level.  The heartbeat of the city is strong because we're all there now and we are the heart of the city.  60,000 people have gathered in the desert to meet, entertain, and hug you.

CampSPF aerialTUESDAY: Our neighborhood begins to feel like home.  Day or night, returning from Center Camp or an adventure on the Playa, our neighborhood is familiar and the city is becoming your playground.  The Man, the Temple, and the big art on the Playa art will all be finished by now unless the weather has reminded us who really runs this place.  This is the point you turn your full attention to exploring all the culture and experiences the city has to offer. 

BURN WEEK:  The camp is finished but the work is not done.  Camp SPF still needs your help and participation.  Stuff that needs to get done doesn't get done by itself.  Everyone should count on performing at least one day of work as a Camp Elf.  Elves run the Sunscreen Station for the day and protect the kitchen from MOOP (deadly force is authorized).  Your leadership and participation is needed to manage camp operations such as ice runs, MOOP management, shower monitoring, and general support getting things done.  Keeping the kitchen clear of MOOP is an all-hands effort.  Don't be a spectator.  Participate in the camp.  Volunteer for art and social projects. Make Camp SPF fun for everyone. That's an important part of our own Camp SPF culture and the ethos of Black Rock City.

night playa

There is -- without doubt and without exception -- something for everyone in Black Rock City.  The energy levels and sound will build throughout the week and explode on Saturday night with the burning of the Man.  Sunday will be a time of reflection and recollection as you process your experiences and think about the default world to which you will soon return.  For many, that world will not fit you the same as it did a short week ago.  Whether you know it yet or not, something has changed.

EXODUS:  By Sunday, the city begins to wind down.  People are packing and leaving the Playa.  The energy levels are softly winding down. The kitchen closes down at noon and the decorations are coming down.  Non-essential camp gear is already getting packed.  In our minds, practical things like flight schedules and rental returns are beginning to assert themselves once again.  The Temple Burn in the evening is a catharsis and a cleansing of our Burner souls.  To hear the silence of 40,000 people as they watch their emotions and personal pain spiraling away in the tornados of smoke we call Ancestors is to cleanse yourself of the weariness and ennui of dealing with life.  Yes, you really can have a do-over.  The Ancestors have spoken.

temple burn

The Breakdown Crew is mostly made up of the Build Crew plus the best of the volunteers who want to give back.  The break down is the build in reverse.  The work done by everyone to help pack up on Sunday and Monday is deeply appreciated.  The final MOOP sweep, often on hands and knees, is emotionally exhausting.  By the time they've finished and depart the Playa, The Breakdown Crew is exhausted, spiritually fried, and emotionally spent.  And they're also reluctant to leave Home.  The final discussion is almost always about showers and "next year".


Burning Man 2016 Breakdown Crew

Breakdown crew