BMOrg blog sneers: “LIB is no Burning Man”

Over at the official Burning Man blog, the always erudite Caveat Magister has weighed in with their opinion of Lightning In A Bottle. It’s different from ours, perhaps that’s because he wasn’t actually there this year? Basically, there’s a lot of backhanded praise, while stating that Burning Man is:

a) superior,

b) not a festival, and

c) there’s no way to find out who’s playing.

Once again, BMOrg are oblivious to the efforts put in by the Burner community to make the party. For example, if you want to know who’s playing at Burning Man, check out Rockstar Librarian. She compiles a list from all the publicly avaiable information from theme camps, as well as stuff that gets sent directly to her.

Here’s the 2011 Burning Man music lineup. Burning Man could just provide that information to whoever asks, Caveat Magister is their media co-ordinator after all. But why be helpful? That’s not the spirit of Burning Man. Burners.Me aims to publish a gig guide for this year, so anyone with set time information for music or stage acts, please email us.

Caveat Magister tries to be snide about LIB, but merely illustrates his ignorance:

Lightning In A Bottle – an event so obviously inspired by Burning Man that one of their mottos is “Leave A Positive Trace,” which is practically Freudian in its simultaneous identification-with-and-rejection-of its mom and dad. 

“You can’t tell me to Leave No Trace!” Lightning In A Bottle shouts while wearing a t-shirt of its favorite band, which you just wouldn’t understand.  “I’m going to leave a POSITIVE trace!”  Then it slams the door and runs to a friend’s house.  It tries to open up about how hard it is to live in its parents’ shadow, but his friend always says “Dude, Burning Man is so cool!”  And that hurts.

But where Burning Man is definitively not a music festival, Burning Man imitator Lightning In A Bottle definitively is:  it has three official music stages, which have lists of prominent bands playing there every night of the festival.  It has food vendors.  It has a vending area.  Sure, there’s also a “temple of consciousness” and a little art and a whole section on their website devoted to “sustainability,” but … look … they have yoga at Lollapalooza too.

Here we go again with the old “Burning Man is not a party, Burning Man is not a festival” routine. Never mind that their Wikipedia page and the front page of their own web site describe it as that – although interestingly, they take pains to never use the word “party” in either.

There is nothing, anywhere, at Lightning in a Bottle, that says Burning Man. They don’t burn anything, it is an environmentally conscious, leave no trace event. While BMOrg can’t even name the lineup at their own party which is less than a month away, the attention to detail put in by the DoLab and Lucent Dossier crews  is staggering. Far more than you would see at much bigger events like Coachella, which they also participate in. For example, the wristband for this year had one word in bold type “LEGENDARY“. This word was not seen anywhere else in the party…just as the very last word in the 36-page festival booklet (environmentally printed to the highest standard, and a joy to read). Everywhere you looked at LIB were recycling bins – and every bin had an attendant, helping trippers get it right no matter how wasted they were. Little touches like that say that these people are really professional. The little touches at Burning Man like no toilet paper in the portapotties, show me that BMOrg is banking the money and doesn’t give a shit.

And as for the art – Burning Man has donated some money to 47 art installations for 2012. In no case is it enough money to fund any of the installations, the artists are expended to fund-raise themselves (without mentioning Burning Man) and are responsible for getting the art there and buying tickets for their crews. LIB provided 24 art installations in 2012 (and I’m guessing they paid the artists for those works to be there). They also provided more than a hundred gallery spaces for artists and costume designers – all of whom get to keep producing their art because they can make money at the event. And, they hand-picked more than 50 amazing artists, who created art works during the event that were then auctioned off. All those artists benefit from the high profile of displaying their works to 15,000 interested partiers, and there is a common theme to the art that suits the demographic. That is, LIB is sharing their audience with the artists who contribute to the party, and everyone wins.

In my opinion LIB are not trying to imitate Burning Man, they’re trying to make something much better. And succeeding on most levels. They’ve fixed many of the fundamental problems of Burning Man. Burning Man is an environmental nightmare, people need to come up with more sustainable alternatives. This is something to be praised and heralded, not mocked.

Back to the Magister’s gripes.

Nothing against festivals … I happen to be very fond of the Aspen Music Festival and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival … but they are not comparable.  Anything that happens at one of them can happen at Burning Man, but it will be floating in a very different sea.  Festivals encourage you to be spectators.  Burning Man refuses to acknowledge the category. 

What sets Burning Man apart isn’t the desert (though sure) or the Man burning (though yeah) or the lack of official stages (which are more than made up for by sound camps).  It is that Burning Man is an engine of possibility, and Burners are its agents, and if you go to Burning Man thinking you know what you’re going to do every day … you’ve never been there before.

This all stems from an experience the Magister had with old time Burner Chicken John, where their megaphone and crowd baiting act didn’t excite the SoCal kiddies. Rather than putting it down to perhaps these old dudes not quite having the pull amongst the Laguna Beach set that they wished they had 20 years ago, they blame the party. “They’re just not Burners”.

Chicken stared at me, and then just sat there, grumbling, while I went through my spiel, over and over again.  “He’s played for princes, kings, and the dictators of small nations everywhere!  He’s the world’s most cynical clown and he will represent your dreams in cynical balloon animal form right here, right now!  Who wants a cynical balloon animal!”

When people stopped, Chicken was a genius.  Somebody said “Love,” so he blew up two balloons and tied them into a heart.  Then he popped one of the balloons and gave her the surviving half.  Brilliant.  “That’s right, folks, he’s the worlds most cynical clown!  Tell him your dreams and he will produce them for you right here in cynical balloon form!”  Somebody wanted a car so he made a balloon steering wheel.  Somebody wanted to rule the world, so he blew up a balloon … and then let it go soaring through the air and over the causeway until it ran out of air and fell over a ridge. 

Brilliant – and it could have happened at Burning Man.  It was pure Burning Man.  But, here’s the difference:   Hundreds of people passed by at LIB, and yet it took us … swear to God … about 15 minutes before one of them actually stopped to participate.  In total we did this over an hour and we barely got 10 people to step right up.   

That wouldn’t have happened at Burning Man.

It doesn’t mean that LIB was lame. It just suggests that Magister and John’s act was pretty lame. If I saw this balloon animal crap at LIB, I wouldn’t stop either. What am I, 5? Balloon animals are for little kids and Michael Jackson wannabes.

If Burning Man is not a festival, then what is it? If it’s something special, it better be really frikking cool because the bar is starting to be set very high by the new generation. Every year, LIB keeps getting better; can Burning Man say that? A true sign you have jumped the shark, is when you have to continually make statements trying to prove you haven’t – while making increasingly out of touch decisions.

Caveat Magister makes one point we agree with – that Burners can go to events that are nothing like Burning Man, and still have a great time.

It’s interesting, in this light, that the Regional events – which are directly descended from Burning Man and run by Burners – are spending far more time and effort developing their own identities than trying to be Burning Man clones.

The most successful ones are, indeed, completely different from Burning Man – except that they keep some degree of that engine of possibility. 

So what is Burning Man actually offering to these events? They can’t use the name or logo. They don’t get any money from BMOrg, and they’re not allowed to make money from Burning Man. If you have an official regional event, you might be invited to headquarters, but they probably won’t listen to things you raise and you don’t get any say in how the Burning Man community is run, or whether an annual theme is stupid or inspiring. So what is it exactly that Burning Man is providing to all these alternative parties again? Seems to me the only link is the Burners. The Millenial Burners are going to want more than balloon animals to keep their ADHD-riddled minds in focus. Lightning in a Bottle sold out with 15,000 tickets, I was there, it was great. Burning Man sold out with 53,000 tickets last year, I was there, it was great. Each party has its differences, but only one party goes out of its way to enforce all kind of rules and tell you it’s superior.

Why can’t we all just get along? 

I’m reminded of a joke:

“Q: What’s the difference between Burning Man and God?

A: God doesn’t think he’s Burning Man”.

13 comments on “BMOrg blog sneers: “LIB is no Burning Man”

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  6. Caveat is not the media coordinator, and his responsibility is not proactive pre-event PR. He is a volunteer coordinator for the team that processes on-playa media. We would happily share the Rockstar Librarian’s list with the readers of hte JRS; that’s not part of Caveat’s role, however, so don’t harsh on him for not knowing about it.

    “So what is Burning Man actually offering to these events? They can’t use the name or logo. They don’t get any money from BMOrg, and they’re not allowed to make money from Burning Man. If you have an official regional event, you might be invited to headquarters, but they probably won’t listen to things you raise.”

    The above quote is totally inaccurate.

  7. FYI….BMIR, Burning Man Information Radio, part of the BMORG has been working with The Rockstar Librarian for years. We have always read out of the guide daily as to who was playing where and last year The Rockstar Librarian herself did a 5 hour radio show on opening night featuring the organizers of the largest sound camps of the playa who all came in to the studio to talk about their camps histories, line up for the event and play music. We shall be doing this again this year.

    • …which only makes your media co-ordinator’s pleas of ignorance about the line-up even more laughable. He could’ve just told anyone inquiring to listen to the official radio station, even if for some reason he didn’t want to point them to the external site of the Rockstar Librarian.

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