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How a Storm Turned Burning Man 2023 Into a Mud Fest

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How a Storm Turned Burning Man 2023 Into a Mud Fest

Burning Man 2023, the 35th edition of the annual counterculture festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, was supposed to be a celebration of community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.

But a late summer storm turned it into a muddy nightmare for tens of thousands of attendees who were stranded at the site for days.

The Theme and the Protest

The theme of Burning Man 2023 was “Animalia”, which aimed to explore the “animal world and our place in it” . The event attracted nearly 80,000 artists, musicians, and activists who created a temporary metropolis called Black Rock City on the dry lake bed of Lake Lahontan.

The event featured hundreds of art installations, performances, workshops, and camps that reflected the theme and the values of Burning Man.

However, not everyone was happy with the festival. Before the event started, a group of protesters blocked the highway to the Black Rock Desert, demanding that the organizers ban private planes, single-use plastics, and limit their power usage.

They claimed that Burning Man was contributing to environmental degradation and social inequality. Four people were arrested by the authorities.

The Rain and the Closure

The festival was scheduled to run from August 27 to September 4, coinciding partly with Labor Day weekend . The highlight of the event was the burning of two large wooden structures: the Man, a human-shaped effigy that symbolized the spirit of Burning Man; and the Temple, a sacred space for honoring and remembering loved ones .

However, on September 1, a heavy rainfall hit Nevada, causing flash floods and mudslides in the region. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning through September .

The rain turned the playa into a sticky mess that made it impossible for vehicles to drive on. The organizers closed the gate and the airport of Black Rock City, advising attendees to shelter in place and conserve their food and water .

The burning ceremonies were postponed to Monday night as authorities worked to reopen exit routes by the end of the Labor Day weekend.

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The Exodus and the Spirit

Despite the closure, some attendees managed to walk out of the festival or hitch a ride with others. Among them were celebrity DJ Diplo and comedian Chris Rock, who posted a video on Instagram showing them riding in the back of a fan’s pickup truck. Diplo said they had walked six miles through the mud before getting a lift .

Others stayed put and waited for the roads to clear up. Some used the extra time to enjoy more art and music at the festival. Others helped each other by sharing supplies and information.

Scott London, a photographer from Southern California, said that despite being dirty and muddy, spirits were high at Burning Man. He said that the travel limitations offered “a view of Burning Man that a lot of us don’t get to see” .

On Monday morning, organizers announced that it was still too wet for a safe mass departure of RVs and other vehicles but hoped traffic could begin flowing later in the day with the help of sunny and mostly clear skies .

They also asked attendees not to walk out of the festival as others had done throughout the weekend, without specifying why . They also asked attendees to delay their exit to ease traffic on the main road .

The Tragedy and the Response

The festival was also marred by a tragedy. A man in his 40s died at Burning Man on Saturday night. The cause of death was not disclosed by the organizers or the sheriff of Pershing County, who said he was investigating the case .

The organizers expressed their condolences to his family and friends and offered support services to anyone affected by his death .

President Joe Biden told reporters in Delaware on Sunday that he was aware of the situation at Burning Man, including the death, and that the White House was in touch with local authorities

Burning Man is not a typical festival. It is an experiment in creating a temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance.

It is also an event that is subject to unpredictable challenges and disruptions. The storm that hit Burning Man 2023 tested the resilience and creativity of its participants, who showed that they could still make the best of it.


Source: AP