Radical Inclusion Party Foul

A guest post by Mayor of the Techno Ghetto Terbo Ted TerboLizard, the founder of doof at Burning Man. Ever wonder why there are thousands of massively popular raves in the world, and yet the Cacophony Society didn’t really grow beyond a few groups of a couple of hundred weirdos? In 2017 They are still promoting the idea that we should glorify the Cock’o’phonies while demonizing the ravers, which shows how out of touch the Burning Man Organization has become from the community that creates the $40 million cash cow/ party arts festival for them for free every year. It’s tax-free for them, but Burners still pay a 9% tax on their tickets. And bring the food, the bars, the music, the DJs, the art cars, and so on.

How many people at Burning Man like the music coming from the art cars and big camps? Half? More than half? Personally I would say 95%+, YMMV. If you didn’t like that sort of music, Burning Man would be an oddly uncomfortable place to spend a week’s vacation time.

Count the crowds, and look where they are. A lot of crowds, all over the Playa, almost always around music. It is clear that electronic music is what made Burning Man so popular, and if the Ten Principles mean anything at all, it means we should welcome people who come to enjoy that aspect of Burner culture at least as much as we welcome anyone else. Not try to shun and shame those who made Burning Man what it is, out of some weird ideal of “what a Burner should be” – presumably some sort of submissive, compliant, social justice virtue signalling volunteer freak. Burning Man was HUGE before the Ten Principles were thought up.

BURNERBITCH

Image: Leila Moussaoui, The Bold Italic

 


Burning Man: Radical Inclusion Party Foul

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Anyone who follows Burningman culture year-round probably stumbled across a recent article titled “Burning Man’s Culture Is In Danger – Tales from the Global Leadership Conference.” The wildly popular article at burn.life prominently featured a picture of ne’er do well young party bros in unfortunate festival attire, with the caption “Ultimately, the worst case scenario is that we end up with an event dominated by idiots like this (not sure where this was taken or who took it, but it’s not at BM….yet.)”
Before I get into any more details, I am going to both embarrass myself and brag a little bit… here is a picture of me, as a young man in my early twenties, out on the playa in 1992, right after I played THE first DJ set EVER at Burning Man.

Terbo Ted at Burning Man, 1992, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
That’s what I wore for my set. Note the visual similarities in how myself and the four young men are dressed; literally, I could stand next to these fellas being portrayed as ‘bad guys’ 25 years into the future and fit right in.
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But let’s look at the history of Burningman. When the collectives I associated with brought rave culture out there- electronic dance music- whatever you want to call it, many of the early burners treated us like pariahs. ‘Ravers’ were blamed for just about anything that went wrong in early 90s burns, and some of it was deserved, and some of it wasn’t. But there were three key BM organizers in the early years on the playa who were the glue that made Burningman stick. Larry Harvey, Michael Mikel (aka Danger Ranger) and John Law were all very supportive of our efforts to bring a new facet of culture into the Burningman experience. Those three understood the concept of radical inclusion well before that was even a stated principle of the event. The written ten principles came to the playa much later than the DJ sound systems. Today there are all kinds of arguments going back and forth regarding the virtues or failures of the music culture at Burningman, that’s another discussion for another time.
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Let’s look at the attire everyone is so scared of. When I was in my early 20s I was living on something like $500 a month or less in San Francisco. That is impossible now but it wasn’t really possible then either. I had no money for fancy clothes. The neon hat I had was a free giveaway from the liquor store, it had a cigarette brand sponsor. I used to smoke cigarettes back then. I used to go over to Larry’s house for coffee and talk about plans for the upcoming MAN year-round. At times I would take two packs of cigarettes (buy-one-get-one free quality you understand) and give one of the packs to Larry, who also was living on next to nothing as far as money goes. The shirt I had on in this picture was something you’d get out of a free pile somewhere outside of a thrift store, or for a dollar at a garage sale (they used to have those in the Mission, believe it or not). That was how we lived. If you had told me back then that people would be expected to wear elaborately hand made outfits that cost thousands of dollars to the burn I would not have believed you. If I had any costume at all for Burningman back then, it was because I got it for free somehow.
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Let’s apply that to the ‘party goons’ in this picture. I was able to easily find those garments they’re wearing online. The neon green RAGE hats are $10, you can buy them online here. The shirts with garish slogans are also in the $10-$20 range. The point I’m getting to is that young people don’t have lots of excess money, and you’re going to see these sorts of fun and low-cost things being worn. The young kids don’t have $800 for a handmade steampunk top hat with hand distressed goggles sewn in, and the entire outfit that goes with it, do you understand?
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And let’s decode the messaging in their attire:
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RAGE. Hey, it’s kinda close to BURN. Party on.
ALL I DO IS FUCK & PARTY. I think many people at least fantasize that’s what their burn is going to be about, if not in fact acting it out for real. I know that I do those things out there (when not busy MOOPing of course). I’m hoping you get to do those things out there as well, if you choose to.
SHOW ME YOUR TITS. This is absolutely perfect male attire on Thursday afternoon for Critical Tits Bike Ride. I am going to order one for myself this year. Easy to find online in multiple colors and fonts and at low cost!
PARTY WITH SLUTS & ME GUSTA WHORES Burningman does take place in Nevada. Not Berkeley. Prostitution is legal in Nevada.
LET’S GET FUCKING WEIRD. Heck, this could be an official theme for one of the coming Burns for all I care. I approve.
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After twenty-five years of watching Burningman grow from less than 1000 people to selling out tens of thousands of tickets in half an hour, I’ve seen it go through many growing pains and phases, some of which were gut wrenchingly awful, some of which were transformative in a beautiful way.
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When we were first going out there, I remember Larry explaining to me that when you put yourself into that void out there on the playa, whatever it is that is you- your inner self- is going to emerge because there’s nothing else there as a reference point. Everything you do out there is your inner self projecting itself into the world. The experience there is real. Something like that. The concept of Radical Self Expression undoubtably rose out of these beliefs.
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Today, I can’t help but cringe at all of the Burner fashion conformity that happens. You can find websites in China selling ‘Burner’ style goggles now. And you know the look I’m talking about, the ‘Mad Max Muppet Pirate Clown on Acid’ get-up or whatever it is you see tens of thousands of times out there. We didn’t have a dress code at early Burningmans (although that’s not true, there were cocktail parties and theme parties with dress codes out there as early as I can remember). It’s great that the culture has developed some sort of visual ontology- maybe- but that we’ve seen that culture start to move toward exclusion of chosen costumes is a step in the wrong direction, a step away from inclusion, away from expression, it’s a push toward conformity and rule following. Early Burningmans were populated and created by pranksters, they pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable, comfortable, or- in many instances- lawful. They weren’t conforming to anything. Unlike today’s Burner culture. Shame on you people.
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After the burn.life article was getting heavily forwarded around social media I had started making light hearted and favorable comments about the photo with the party bros on the Facebook group called ‘Official Unofficial Burning Man Page’ or whatever it is. I posted links where you could buy RAGE hats or some of the shirts in the comment threads, jokingly (and not for profit or anything like that, not as a commodity) as a commentary. And one of the admins banned me from the Facebook group. Shame on you people.
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And let’s pretend those four party bros are out there this year in their chosen attire everyone wants to make fun of. Neon RAGE party hats and all. Having them time of their lives. Maybe they’ll even have some Whip-Its™ to share at sunrise, and you could do some with them and teach them about MOOP in the process. Remember, virgins are very welcome at Burningman. And once virgins get exposed to the culture, they can’t be unexposed to it. Who knows what great new and heretofore unthunk inspirations from the playa might transform those young bros’ lives. Hopefully they wouldn’t instead get forced down a path of derisive hierarchical conformity from the experience of going out there. The default world does that well enough, thank you.
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About the storyteller:
Terbo Ted first visited the Black Rock Desert in 1992 when there was no gate, no perimeter, no road, no trash fence and you could drive your car as fast as you wanted in any direction. Terbo was the first DJ to play in Black Rock City, with no one there to hear his set on a dusty Friday afternoon. Later, in the early years he was the only one ever to be called “Mayor of the Techno Ghetto.” His playa self and default world self can be remarkably similar these days.

Don’t Sneak In! 2016

anonymous fire

We just received this tip-off from Anonymous Burner:

from private gate FB group where people sneaking in to burning man are being discussed:

Gate are really gunning for people trying to sneak in this year, they are using military grade FLIR and have orders to search all boxes even ones they have to unbolt, plus the LEOs will be on hand to charge any attempts with trespassing and an automatic trip to the Reno jail for a minimum 36 hour stay for EVERY occupant of the vehicle.

There is no way to verify this, so take it for what it is: a rumor. One that sounds pretty credible, given Burning Man’s recent evolution into a very sophisticated police state.

FLIR is Forward Looking Infra-Red. These systems are not just for night vision; they can look within your vehicle to identify bodies. FLIR technology can also be used to identify drugs from their thermal signature.

Last year it came out that more than 50 police departments are using radar to look inside peoples’ homes. The systems can detect the tiny movement of a person breathing, through walls.

Burning Man has for a long time used marine radar to identify people trying to sneak in over the trash fence.

How did Burning Man get access to military technology? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

We covered people sneaking past the Gate in 2014. The threat that every person in the vehicle gets 36 hours jail if they’re harboring someone without a ticket is something I haven’t heard before. Burning Man Gate have the power to lock people up without charges or evidence of a crime? Wow.

Image: Hivemind

Image: Black Magic Hivemind

 

Screenshot 2016-08-04 21.34.12

An All-Seeing Eye at Center Camp is constantly scanning Burning Man, and miles of land around it.

Building the Revolutionary Community (Again)

“Take a moment to drop in, and imagine the world that you want to co-create.”

That’s the Burning Man 2.0 message, sent to me today by Social Alchemist Bear Kittay. He’s just given a talk – combined with escalating soothing live backing rhythms of digiridu and Ableton to emphasize his Esalen workshop-honed points – to the techno-hipster elite of Berlin at the 2016 Tech Open Air Inter-disciplinary Technology Festival

No offense to Bear, but the backing music reminds me of the Wayans Brothers movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

 

Bear says:

Creating physical spaces to prototype the design of our new civilization…That’s what we’re doing at these conferences and these festivals. We experience these immersive ways of life and we re-imagine who we are, what’s most important to us, how we should be reallocating our resources – through experience, through art, through participatory culture

Hmmm…so we’re not just tripping out and trying to find Dancetronauts?

BMOrg told us they’d bought Fly Ranch on June 10 2016.

6 weeks later, on July 21, they revealed some of the donor names:

The individuals that contributed funding for the purchase have one thing in common: they have been deeply moved and changed by their involvement in Burning Man, and they are invested in the future of this culture. One of our early supporters and driving forces behind this project is Burning Man Project Board Member Chip Conley (AirBnB), who has shared his motivations for contributing to this project on Fest300. Another is Ping Fu (3D Systems), who, like so many of you, is a dreamer and a maker. Her reasons for giving inspire all of us, and we have been working with Ping, Chip and others to share the reasons they felt called to contribute to this project.

Other donors you may hear from in the coming weeks and months include: Joe Gebbia (AirBnB Chief Product Officer), Bill Linton (ProMega – therapeutic magic mushrooms), Rob and Kristin Goldman (Facebook VP Product), Guy Laliberté (Cirque du Soleil), Farhad Mohit (Flipagram) and Nushin Sabet, Alex Moradi (ICO Group – Real Estate), Graham Schneider (Real Estate)  and Jonathan Teo (Binary Capital: Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat). A handful of donors have asked to remain anonymous, and we absolutely respect that choice. Just like in Black Rock City, we also celebrate and honor anonymous giving.

Thanks to everyone who donated. 12 names. Did they all give half a mil each, leaving 1 slot unaccounted for? Or did they all kick in $100k, and some Anonymous group wrote a check for the remaining $5.3 million?

Screenshot 2016-07-29 22.39.17

For all we know, El Chapo, Google or the Rothschilds are funding it.

Who pays the utilities and operating expenses? What’s the business model…or is it all just donation-supported, like public access television and radio? We’re coming up on two months since the big announcement – with Burning Man looming, and now opening earlier than ever – and this is the first we’ve heard of what they actually plan to do with the joint. We’ll probably have to wait til 2017 now for further details.

Bear described the vision:

bear canada

Image: Facebook

The overall valley is roughly the size of Manhattan – 20 square miles. Our property is 3800 acres, it includes beautiful hot springs, hot lakes that hundreds can swim in, and geysers, and a very very large Playa, this open tabula rasa, this context for re-imagining our civilization.

So now we own this property year round in the non profit organization. It’s really a gift for the community by the community. It’s been funded completely philanthropically by a group of Patrons who believe that the process of us coming together as a community and experimenting with what could happen there isn’t just something that’ll happen at this site at Fly Ranch, but ultimately that having these semi-permanent locations that are owned by community groups so that year round iterations in the same template much as we develop these technology tools that we can get one step closer, bringing more and more people into the experience of co-creating and manifesting what will work as we re-imagine and re-invent our civilization. Welcome to Fly Ranch. This is a new era for Burning Man. This is a gift from the Burning Man community as a social experiment for humankind in the 21st century.

I have to say I’m not really enlightened much further about what exactly will be going on out there in one of the most remote parts of the United States. OK, some rich people bought the pitch and ponied up the $6.5 million. Now what? Will there be art cars? DJs?

As fun as Burning Man is, I am still waiting for them to explain how living in the desert with porta-potties but no showers or clean drinking water on tap, no money and no trashcans is the new model for humanity. There are already billions on the planet living in those conditions, and I think we would be better served directing our energies towards helping them rise out of it, instead of turning our civilization backwards so we can join them!

What are the gifts that the Burning Man Project will bestow upon humankind from their desert base? Neo-feudalism? Blowjob Workshops? Group masturbation to childrens cartoons? Black Lives Matter?

Some of the many events on offer in the 2016 Playa Events Guide

Some of the many events on offer in the 2016 Playa Events Guide

Screenshot 2016-07-29 21.56.37

2015 black lives matter

2015 black rock lives matter

thanks to Parker for this photo

Image: Parker; from a prior year. Is she doing the devil horns? What’s up with that extra hand?

childrens story time vibrator

I mean, I’m sure this is fun and all…but is this really the next evolutionary step for civilization? Humanity depends on this? The future of Burning Man is to have all this sort of thing going on year round?

Today I was also lucky enough today to attend – if only for a short time – WIlliam Binzen’s exhibition at the Smith Andersen gallery in San Anselmo.

Screenshot 2016-07-29 22.11.01

Marin County is old timers like me (43). The Mission and 666 Alabama is where the young hipsters like Bear and the BMOrg 2.0 coterie hang out network. Tonight’s crowd skewed more towards hip replacement than:

man bun fedora

 

…but having said that, we were among the last to arrive and first to leave. Anyway, I managed to catch an equivalent segment of the talks in length to Bear’s presentation. It felt like the guts of it, if anyone who was there has a better video or recording please share. [Aside: As always at these things, like with my shaky phone recording of Eric Schmidt at Further Future 2016, there are dozens of professional looking cameras filming it but nobody ever shares, even on commercial videos. So who are all these people? And why are they recording?]

chris radcliffI couldn’t see the stage but I believe this is William Binzen talking and then John Law. They mention Chris Radcliff “imposing fellow with an SKS”…a name that has been erased from the official Burning Man history. You will hear about Cris(tina) in a future Shadow History episode. Part 4 is being edited now, Part 5 is coming soon, here’s Parts One, Two, and Three and my debunking of the first challenge to my research.

It is interesting to hear the similar words and themes between the Burning Man 2016 future vision and what was going on at the Playa before Black Rock City LLC and The Burning Man Project ™ showed up. One of the many tributary streams that flowed into the city that was created for BMOrg to take over and steer toward the future. A future of ever increasing ticket prices, vehicle permits and monetizable transactions. It’s not just the future of Burning Man…it’s the future of civilization itself. That’s what these people are going to be designing at Flysalen. No votes. No transparency. No details. No plans. No vision. Anonymous donors giving untold millions. Unknown names making the list of items to check off. Details and vision not made up as we go, but “coming soon” once they’ve been cleared by the suits…

I wish I could have stayed longer tonight and mingled with what looked to be an amazing crowd. The real people who built Burning Man. I wish it was that crowd that was steering our culture towards the future, not a bunch of starry eyed Millenials with 3 Burns under their belt. Maybe I’m just getting old…

 

 

hero's journey

The Techno Ghetto – the History of Dance Music at Burning Man

Recent announcements from the Org make it seem like Burning Man is trying to deal with Electronic Dance Music like it’s a new problem. In fact, this is not the case. Burning Man has been taking place in the desert since 1990 and ravers started playing there in 1992, the third party. Since then, rave has grown from a few DJs to more than 5,000 different sets listed in Rockstar Librarian last year.

Not only was it fine to post the names of DJs on flyers from the very beginning, it was also personally endorsed by Larry Harvey.

burning man 1992 djs and lasers

Burning Man Flyer Advertising DJs, 1992

DJ Niles recalls:

I was DJ Niles and organized the first rave at Burning Man. I met with Larry Harvey in his kitchen to pitch him on the idea and he thought amplified music would be awesome at BM though warned me that any of the old timers wouldn’t like it and made us set up a mile from center camp with our speakers facing away from camp. We had about 20 people that came specifically for the party and about 50 people that came from BM camp. We had The Fly hotsprings to ourselves.

From Edgecentral (writing by Graham St John):

What was then known as “rave” music was first amplified at Burning Man in 1992 when a small “rave camp” appeared a mile from the main encampment, “glomming parasitically…onto the Porta-Johns.” The camp was organized by Craig Ellenwood of the early Oakland acid party crew Mr Floppy’s Flophouse. The headline act was Goa Gil, who played from Aphex Twin’s “Digeridoo” on digital audio tape to no more than 25 people. Also playing to hardly anybody were Brad Tumbleweed, Dave Synthesis (aka “Dsyn”), Craig and Terbo Ted. Terbo Ted has the mantle of being the first person to DJ at Burning Man. Ted informed me that in 1992 he “played on Friday afternoon to literally no one, with only ten miles of dust in front of me. It was awesome”. While he can’t recall it with precision, the first track played was some “spacey stuff” from a Jean Michel Jarre 12 inch from Craig Ellenwood’s record pile, “a record he was willing to sacrifice to the elements … it was literally a sound check” (ibid). Here is a link to a short excerpt from Terbo Ted’s live acid techno set in 1995, which was the first electronic music recorded at Burning Man to be released on CD (“Turbine time” on Shag).

The period was primitive to say the least. As Charles A. Gadeken reported in 1993: “I remember going out to the rave camp, it was five guys, a van, a couple of big speakers, a card board box covered in tin foil, colored lights and a strobe light. It was all cool.” But the reception was generally less than enthusiastic. Ted recalls that the punk (add your own prefix: anarcho, cyber, steam, shotgun, etc.) sensibility predominating at Burning Man held DJ culture complicit with “consumer society and a stain on an otherwise anarchistic, art-oriented event.” 

Even in the early days, this was an issue for the hippies – one they were ready to get all “stabby” for…

On one morning near sunrise in 1993, a hippy dude came up to me while I was playing music on the sound system and he holds up a knife towards me and yells “are you crazy?” And I say “no, you’re the one with a knife”. And then he says he’s going to cut me or the speakers. So I turn it down, ditched the decks and circled far and wide off into the desert. He tried to cut the speaker cones with his knife but they had metal grills on the fronts, he looked like a fool and gave up and wandered off. I put on a cassette of Squeeze’s Black Coffee in Bed as he was walking away. 

As early as 1994, there was an “official rave” listed in the Burning Man brochure.

Burning Man forced the techno reservationists to maintain their isolation a mile from Main Camp between 1992 and 1998, during which time the camp evolved into a kind of outlaw satellite of Black Rock City. Over the following two years, San Francisco’s DiY music and culture collective SPaZ (itself co-founded by Ted and D syn, along with Aaron, No.E Sunflowrfish and various others) orchestrated the sounds exclusively. It was extreme, eclectic and haphazard…Listed as the official “rave” in the Burning Man brochure for 1994, SPaZ would effect a great influence on sound system culture at the festival. 

It was the ravers who encouraged Burning Man to let anyone bring their sound, big or small. A number of music collectives then converged on the Techno Ghetto. This was the first expansion of Burning Man’s crowd beyond its San Francisco Cacophony Society roots that kept numbers steadily in the low hundreds for the first 7 years. After the rave camp was established, Burning Man’s population started doubling every year.

SPaZ, members of which later initiated the Autonomous Mutant Festival, were effectively encouraging Burning Man to be “more like the UK festival vibe where anybody could bring their sound, big or small”. So, in 1995, while SPaZ set up their small system at four points amplifying everything from minimal techno and drum-n-bass to psytrance under a four story three-cornered scaffolding with lights and “variously garish and random streamers, banners and tarps, from punk to dayglo-indian-balinese-cybertrance-batiks to outright monstrosities” visible from Main Camp, Wicked (the famed UK derived outfit who held full moon and other parties on beaches and in parks around the Bay area between 1991-1996) arrived with their turbo rig and scaffolding supporting their black and white banner. SPaZ hosted artists including Minor Minor (Gateway), Theta Blip, Chizaru and Subtropic. Featuring himself, among with DJs Markie and Bay area guest’s Spun, Felix the Dog, Rob Doten and Alvaro, Wicked co-founder (and now running Grayhound Records) Garth stated to me that they “played for 4 days and nights through hail, wind, rain and electrical storms”. North America’s first free party tekno sound system, Pirate Audio, also made an appearance that year. On the windblown frontiers of techno, in this nascent vibrant ghetto accommodating the eclectic, experimental and inclusive sounds of SPaZ, the house sounds of Wicked, and other sounds besides, Burning Man had begun to attract a variety of socio-sonic aesthetics, paving the way for the mega-vibe it would later become  

Poop was being MOOPed at dance camps even then: by BMOrg, who were dropping it on rave camps from the sky:

shit apple laheyIn this period, besides differences between the habitués and proponents of varying dance aesthetics (from the inclusive to the more proprietary) there was considerable conflict between those who regarded themselves true Burners and those they held as little more than raving interlopers. As Ted remembers, “ravers were always pariahs at Burning Man …. it’s like we were the poor people on the wrong side of the tracks and the wrong side of the man”. At one event, a bag of human excrement was dropped on the dance camp from a low flying aircraft. According to Garth, Burning Man had the porta-potties removed from the rave camp before the festival ended. “When people started crapping on the desert for lack of options, someone carried over a bag to main camp …. Burning Man was so enraged by this they flew over and apparently dropped it on one camp.

From the beginning, Rave Camp was a mile away from The Man, but back then it was still possible to drive your car around the Playa. That all changed when tragedy struck in 1996: a stoned driver ran over a tent, sending one person into a coma for months.

techno-ghetto

In 1996, the year of Helco, they tried to re-integrate the rave camp with the rest of the city – creating the Techno Ghetto as an outer suburb. The plan failed:

But, things didn’t go according to plan in the ghetto. According to Garth, “the honeymoon ended that year. The theme was “Hellco” and that was what they conjured up… by this point there were too many [sound systems], all bleeding into each other…. it felt more like a super club on the playa”. As Terbo Ted recalls, the “ghetto” was an “abysmal failure … DiY gone mad… Music snobbery and cliquishness and DiY anarchist tendencies prevented an orderly camp from forming and the resulting spread-too-thin sprawl proved to be dangerous in an era when cars were still driving at every vector on the playa at high speeds in dust storm white outs”. Both Garth and Ted are in part referring to a tragic incident in 1996 when three people were seriously injured sleeping in their tent near the Gateway sound system, one in a coma for months, after being collected by a stoned driver.  

It looks like ravers got the blame for the incident. An “unofficial anti-rave policy” was formed, to appease the complainers:

Together with an apparent perception that the “rave” was giving Burning Man a bad name within official circles, and the likelihood that techno was perceived as disturbing electronic chatter for many participants…this incident generated an unofficial “anti-rave policy”, which was effectively countered through the compromise entailed in Gosney’s innocuously named “Community Dance” in 1997.

We have an unsung Burner hero to thank for rave surviving at Burning Man in the face of this early anti-EDM sentiment from the old-timers. BMOrg, predictably, tried to ban doof – saying that only 100W systems were allowed. Luckily Mark Heller, Raver Marine, saved the day – and Burning Man was able to grow from 4,000 in 1995 to 70,000+ in 2015.

Ironically I was looking for info on Global Underground – looking to see how or if Narnia was still going on, and something of a TRUE RAVE which I attended 90-94, before moving to SF…. And of course hitting Burning Man 95-02… However I have news for you in the context of BM and raves… And not the stuff you can copy out of wiki..

Burning mans ‘community’ was, and IS rather anti-raver… They are just not openly hostile any longer – yes you heard me – hostile!

Let me explain the experience this stems from. I first heard of BM in San Diego in 94, with some irony at Narnia a much different ‘music based’ event. Much of my set, after finding that I was headed to SF decided to hit ‘The Man’, and we did. As I had an inordinate amount of time off that day and age, I volunteered and went early. (As I did following as well for a number of years.)

Anyway, a little correction of view and history is in order. And I’ll provide that for you here. In ’95 and years prior, were just tagging along, to the “Art Festival” that is BM, 95 being a clear demarcation of that. With two clear and distinct camps seperate and litteraly 2 miles away from each other. I’ll explain, upon arrival in 95 I got early and full access as a volunteer, as well as insight in the controversy of the time. The ‘Art crowd – Organizers’ were sick of the noise, and relagated “Rave Camp” to be at a distance, with a connecting road, and was seperately organized and paid for by an asphalt paving company to boot.

This distance proved FATAL, as a couple were run down in their tent along the ‘road’ I planted flags to demark. These were deaths #2&3 of 3 that year. (The other being vehicular suicide of sorts.) In response, driving, apart from art cars was banned the year following in 96. Also of interest in this context. [Clarification: 3 people were critically injured, 1 person died from vehicle accidents before the gates opened in 1996]

96, came no cars, and with it, NO RAVE CAMP! And a full blown discouragement of the rave community to attend by the BM authorities that be to this day. Find a ticket and map for that year, and you’ll find the typical desert death disclaimer on the back and with the hand outs, and also an interesting RULE, the first of many. “No sound systems over 100 watts allowed” yes you heard me! Where did 100 watts come from? – it was the biggest boom box you could find… Generators were also not encouraged, and a “centralized power system” would be provided for the limited center camps. (I have a unique perspective here as well…)

In 95 through 97, I volunteered with the guy running the generators in the BM base camp, which was very similar to what I did in the Marine Corps. (Yes, I was a Raver Marine – put your finger on that – try…) Anyway, on arrival in 96, the animosity was high, most of the art community was pleased with no rave camp & sound policies, thinking they could finally get some sleep…. I kid you not! HOWEVER – there were a lot of familiar faces from Rave Camp from the year previous and I got to know them much better this year as they were trying to fit into the new BM mold. And here’s why. I was the guy going camp to camp to find out your ‘power needs’ and drag the cables to many of them. “Hey how many amps you need?” And this is when the REVOLUTION began! And likely the only reason BM survived and grew! 95 was TOO BIG TOO LOUD TOO DANGEROUS! 96 was to be smaller quieter – but more people showed up…. To include a lot of ravers upset about what they helped build shunning them. 1/2 of the base camps requested 50A to 100A. And of those, almost all had HIDDEN DJ BOOTHS AND SPEAKERS IN GIANT PAPER MACHE ART! 10-20 THOUSAND watt systems. Right in the middle of the main camp.

In the few days prior to the first official night, the running joke was ‘don’t call the cops, my boom box is over 100w’. The first official night – THE SOUND CAME ON! AND IT WAS AWESOME!

You don’t have ME to thank for still referring to Burning Man as a “Rave” I was just a cog in a wider revolt that I did not even know was happening until I was trusted to help in the effort in an exchange of winks and nudges. An enabler…

But it was then, that the “Art Festival” known as Burning Man, embraced the chaos and the Rave community that helped make the event what it was at the time. (IMO it’s not what it used to be, and maybe that’s good too – different topic)

[Source: Burners.Me]

Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1998

Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1998

bm flyer 1999

Burning Man flyer advertising DJs, 1999

In 1998 Burning Man was described as “the ultimate meta-rave”. This year saw the integration of EDM and big art burns, with 2000 people at the Temple of Rudra (yes, they had Temples there before David Best’s first one). BMOrg shut it down on the first night, pulling the plug from the generator:

In 1998, a community sound system featuring New York’s Blackkat collective, The Army of Love, SPaZ and Arcane was unpacked on the playa. Holding their own desert dance gatherings over the previous five years in the Mojave, Moontribe also set up that year, with artists performing for three consecutive nights next to The Temple of Rudra, with the final party drawing 2000 people following Pepe Ozan’s opera. Symptomatic of the ongoing tensions, as Ozan apparently neglected to inform the Burning Man organization about his deal with Moontribe (they were providing the soundcheck for his opera), the event’s unique peace keepers, the Black Rock Rangers, unplugged the generator at dawn on the first night. With the all-too-familiar experience of having “Rangers” shut them down, Moontribe’s Treavor successfully pushed for an agreement for an all-night party after the opera on the Friday night, which also happened to be a full moon. According to Treavor, with himself, Petey and Matthew Magic performing: “we kicked in with some full on Psy Trance/Techno madness and tons of people came over and stayed in front of our system until around noon when it was about 110 degrees and time to end”

The anti-raver sentiment went beyond just BMOrg and the Rangers.

That known DJs were being targeted by Burning Man organisers was a circumstance endured by Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky), who was apparently pursued on the playa by “Pipi Longstocking” in the mid 1990s. But the tension between ravers and Burners seems to have been appropriately dramatized in a performance which saw a standoff between Goa Gil and a giant peddle-powered flamethrowing drill and Margerita maker called the Veg-O-Matic of the Apocalypse—or, more to the point, anti-rave crusader Jim Mason who was peddling the beast. Mason’s Veg-O-Matic is described by Robert Gelman in his article Trial by Fire: “It’s straight out of hell, suggesting engineering from the industrial revolution transported to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Part vehicle, part flame-thrower, part earth drilling device, I envision this machine being used to battle creatures in a 1950s monster movie, or to torture souls of the damned in the realm of satan”. With a pressurized gas-charger spurting flames as far as seventy feet from its barrel, and a gathering mob inciting it to greater acts of destruction, the Veg-O-Matic was known to burn installations in its path following the demise of the Man. On its post-Burn rampage, when the Veg-O-Matic rolled into the first Community Dance camp in 1997, Mason found Goa Gil directly in his path:

The crew of the machine is tilting the flamethrower’s barrel up at the console. Gil is staring down the 12-foot barrel of this jet powered char-broiler. I had to remind myself that this is theatre, or is it? I’m still not sure. “Burn it!” the mob chants, “Burn THEM!” Like an opposing pacifist army, the ravers are standing their ground, some shouting in defiance of the threat, some in disbelief that this could really be happening. Chicken John, like the demented circus ringmaster that he is, issues his now-familiar warning over the bullhorn [“Stand Aside”]. We seem to have travelled back centuries in time. I don’t remember ever feeling farther from home than this.

Ravers have been far more effective at bringing Burning Man culture back into the Default world than any other group. What have the hippies done to spread our culture, other than a few panel discussions?

The spirit of Burning Man is raised throughout the year in San Francisco at events such as the pre-Burn Flambé Lounge, the annual Decompression Street Fair, the How Weird Street Faire, the Sea of Dreams New Year’s Eve events and numerous sound art camp fundraising events held between May and August every year. The Decompression events have become hugely popular multi-area dance parties, and attracting many who’ve never been to Burning Man. The San Francisco “Heat the Street Faire” Decompression party is a reprise of the Burn held on 8 city blocks two months after the event.

[Source: Edgecentral]

So EDM has been at Burning Man pretty much as long as there’s been a Burning Man. This is nothing new. It hasn’t turned into Coachella or Glastonbury in 23 years, so why are people suddenly afraid that it’s going to now?

edm artistSurely a bigger problem is the miraculously consistent quota of 40% Virgins – every year it just gets harder and harder for Veteran Burners to get tickets, and more safari tourists come. BMOrg is trying to blame EDM for this, but we had EDM 20 years ago. What we didn’t have back then was a Ruling Group determined to promote themselves in the mainstream media: The Simpsons, Wall Street Journal, New York Times,  Inc, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Fast Company, Town and Country, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, PBS, the New Yorker, airline in-flight magazines – not to mention all the celebrities and politicians encouraged to name-drop Burning Man and give media interviews from the Playa. I think if anyone is to be blamed for ticket scarcity, it should be the promoters who did this massive PR push into Default society so they could sell more tickets at higher prices – not ravers, who have been gifting awesome experiences at Burning Man on their own dime over the past 3 decades.

If ravers were there 10 years ago, and not creating huge amounts of MOOP ; and they were there 20 years ago, and not creating huge amounts of MOOP – then it is false to blame ravers now for MOOP. What else has changed, over all those years that EDM has been at Burning Man? Perhaps the entitled attitude of the Millenial generation who think they’re making the world a better place just by being in it is more of a factor.

The philosophy that has been promoted by the official propaganda channels in the past week is that if someone sees Burning Man on The Simpsons on FOX and wants to visit once to have a drug experience like Marge, they are a good person and coming for the right reasons; but if someone sees that Lovefingers is going to be on the Mayan Warrior on the art car’s Facebook page and wants to go because they like that DJ, that is a bad person and we don’t want them at our festival. Which isn’t a festival.

You can’t have this AND Radical Inclusion.

See also: Ranting and Raving

Humboldt General Reveals Details of Medical Split

burning-man-ambulance_11219452

Say good night to the ambulance. That’s the last time you’re ever gonna see a ambulance like this again.

Humboldt General Hospital was recently dumped by BMOrg as the provider of medical care on the Playa. A shame, since they have a hospital and ambulances nearby, and from what Burners are saying they have done an excellent job for the past 4 years.

Now we know a little more about what drove this change, thanks to HGH director Pat Songer. It seems there were several factors:

– Humboldt wanted contingency plans for a Mass Casualty Incident (MCI), and to “shine a spotlight on safety issues”

– Humboldt gave 180 days notice to terminate and re-negotiate the contract, expecting to negotiate in good faith with a partner they’d provided exemplary service to

– BMOrg took that as a “fuck you” and responded with “fuck you too”, ditching HGH for CrowdRX

Other, admittedly more speculative, factors may be the departure of BMOrg’s Emergency Services Chief Jospeh Pred and the new team being assembled around Operations Chief Charlie Dolman; and the rumor media report of a West Nile virus outbreak in Gerlach last year.

Presumably CrowdRX already have these Mass Casualty Incident contingency plans in place, given that they do much bigger events like Coachella. Of course, the main issue is “take a lot of people to the nearest hospital”, and there are plenty of buses in Palm Springs. The danger here to Burners is that –  by their own admission – the only experience CrowdRX have ever had in dealing with remote locations was a Phish concert in New England 20 years ago. Pretty sure Phish tickets don’t make you take responsibility for serious injury or even death on the way in…

CrowdRX recently had a disastrous show on their hands in Chicago. They needed a lot of ambulances to transfer 16 people to hospital, out of a crowd of 10,000 ravers at a Skrillex concert. They provided services for Electric Zoo in New York, where 2 people died of “an overdose of MDMA and hypothermia”.

This situation reminds me a bit of the Google employee who is creating Burning Man – The Musical, despite never having actually been to Burning Man. Here we have “Burning Man – the Medical”, brought to you by the team who once hired a guy who went to a Phish concert, but that was twenty years ago. Hey, it’s Coachella in the desert, how hard could it be, right?

From the Journal of Emergency Medical Services:

Humboldt General Hospital began providing medical care at Burning Man in 2011. Each year, Songer said his agency tweaked their contractual relationship with their host to compensate for increased numbers of participants and the associated risks of hosting one of the country’s largest mass gatherings in one of the world’s most remote and austere locations.

This year didn’t seem different except Songer said some safety concerns identified by his staff in 2014 needed clarification, so in February, the agency exercised their 180-day right to cancel their contract.

That happened in a meeting with Burning Man officials and the entire group agreed to move forward, intent on renegotiating a new contract that, among other things, would allow for at least one more EMS agency to provide backup in case festival numbers surged again, like they did in 2012.

“We just wanted to continue that same level of preparedness,” said Songer. “After all, this is a large-scale event with the potential for an MCI in the middle of nowhere. I think some people forget the potential for disaster there.”

Still, the two parties tended to disagree on Humboldt General Hospital’s role: was the agency simply an event contractor or were they a public safety agency with all the associated risks and responsibilities?

Last week, when Burning Man officials announced they were negotiating a contract with CrowdRX, a large-scale event contractor, Songer said he got his answer.

“I think that was really the crux of our concerns,” he said. “When we came to this event, we saw it as an extension of our hospital. We were going to provide hospital-level care, even if it was in the middle of one of the world’s most remote locations.”

He continued, “We weren’t there as an event contractor, we were there as a medical provider in the Black Rock Desert—a fully operational, gold star-staffed medical facility.”

Songer added, “I think as the event evolved and our expectations for safety continued to escalate, philosophically and operationally, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the coin.”

The agency was certainly planning to complete its initial five-year commitment, said Songer, and hoped to see that relationship continue beyond.

Apparently, so did many others, including officials from local, state and federal governments, hospitals and even law enforcement.

“There is safety concern out there,” Songer explained. “When Nevada is investing so much to hold an event of this magnitude here, you want there to be some long-term good that comes from that collaboration.”

“Sure, you can issue that temporary license,” said Songer, “but what we’re hearing is worry about the long-term. When your hospital or your Nevada ambulance company provides those services, there is an investment there, an investment of time, experience, equipment, manpower and you come out more prepared—way more equipped for Nevada—than you went in.”

…With HGH out of the medical mix, and REMSA before that, Nevada’s medical network has definitely lost a one-of-a-kind training ground. That being said, Songer said he is proud of what HGH EMS Rescue brought to the festival’s table during his medical tenure including, according to Burning Man officials during early April, his agency’s ability to “shine a spotlight on safety.” Other successes came with the agency’s partner relations, which Songer said were critical to his agency’s success at the event and in the future through the many mutual aid agreements forged during the festival.

“Burning Man did not define who we are; we defined the systems that made Burning Man’s medical an incredible model across the world,” he said. Now, said Songer, HGH EMS Rescue will take that model and continue to adapt it to the other special events it oversees each year, including the increasingly popular music festival “Night in the Country” as well as the up-and-coming “Further Future” festival, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas

The full press release from HGH is at the bottom of this article.


robot heart distriktHGH will be providing medical services for Burning Man off-shoot Further Future, happening this weekend. Further Future is put on by the Robot Heart crew, who have thrown many large parties on the West and East coasts.

YourEDM says “Further Future Takes The Festival Experience To The Next Level”:

For many of us, the weeklong desert exodus of Burning Man is simply too much to stomach. From the inevitable lungfuls of dust to the complete isolation, some festival goers would rather have comfortable amenities and leisure than try and test their physical endurance and stamina. Robot Heart, host to some of the most elaborate events held during Burning Man, understands this mentality and has announced the conception of an entirely new experience to go down this May only 45 minutes from Las Vegas.

 
Robot Heart; photo by Peter Ruprecht

Robot Heart; photo by Peter Ruprecht

 

Further Future aims to be one of the first events to equally combine the aesthetic and vibe of a music festival with the guest list and esteem of a Silicon Valley tech conference. The desert party is only open to invited guests and those whose applications are approved. Among the supposed 3,000 attendees will be Soundcloud founders, Google X directors, and heads of other technology companies currently at the forefront of the movement. These guests will be hosting panels and tech talks amongst the artists performing, fostering an entirely unique and somewhat career-oriented approach to the festival scene. Professional networking is just as much a part of the experience as jamming out to the stacked roster of musicians. Unlike Burning Man, energy conservation is not of chief importance at Further Future, as they will be offering a staggering amount of high-end amenities to those willing to shell out dollars. In addition to the $275 tickets, luxurious pre-built group camping tents complete with A/C are being offered at $3,200 for the weekend. In the “Gypset” members-only area, there will be round-the-clock food and spa services provided.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 1.21.08 PM

And Forbes says Burning Man’s Cool Kids Break Off To Mix Music And Tech At New Festival:

For the past few years, Robot Heart has been known to host the most stylish gatherings during the week-long desert revelry that is Burning Man. Known online as a group of “doers, dreamers, artists and entrepreneurs,” the party-throwing collective could often be found on the desolate expanses of Black Rock City dancing until sunrise during the week before Labor Day, which sees many a Silicon Valley tech employee take off “to discover, exercise and rely on his or her own resources.

This year, however, Robot Heart is making sure that its followers won’t have to wait until the end of summer to lose themselves in a haze of dust, heat and extracurricular substances. At the beginning of May, the collective will host its first Further Future festival, a three-day get-together in the Nevada desert that’s a 45-minute drive east from Las Vegas.

While there are some similarities to Burning Man, which drew nearly 70,000 people last year, Further Future is deliberately more exclusive, an invite or application-only party that does not preach the same inclusive principles or self-reliance of its effigy-torching predecessor

There was a brief moment of last-minute panic when they couldn’t use the venue they wanted, after the BLM moved to shut them down. Fortunately, a local Indian tribe stepped in to save the day.

the invitation-only festival for as many as 5,000 people will be held May 1-3 on the Moapa River Indian Reservation along Interstate 15, about 40 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The site won’t look quite like the beautiful landscapes shown on Further Future’s slick website, but it will help avoid federal trespassing charges.

Early this month, both the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management denied the festival a commercial use permit for roads crossing public land to the privately owned Anniversary Mine, a 215-acre tract just outside the boundary of Lake Mead National Recreation Area 35 miles east of Las Vegas.

Then, just in case there was any lingering confusion, the BLM’s Las Vegas field manager, Gayle Marrs-Smith, sent a strongly worded letter to the mine’s owner and the festival’s attorney warning against using the site and treating the resulting fines and penalties as another “business cost” for Further Future. [Source: Las Vegas Review Journal]

Mixing music, tech, and networking sounds a lot like SXSW, which BMOrg’s merry band of travelling salesmen “represent” at.

Some Burnier-Than-Thous and Radical Haters would no doubt breathe a big sigh of relief if Robot Heart and other large EDM crews left the event, and took their rich and beautiful patrons with them. “The future is in the Regionals!”, they cry.  “You’re not a Burner if you have A/C!”

It would be naive to think that Burning Man could continue to reach its current 70,000/$34 million capacity purely with poor people (who somehow still manage to drop a couple of grand partying for a week), bike theft, home-made art, and unamplified music. The track record of Burning Man’s Regional Network as event producers is less than impressive. The last Robot Heart party I went to was On The Fucking Moon for Halloween in New York, the year Hurricane Sandy hit. They had no problems selling out what looked to me like a crowd of about 5000. Meanwhile regional events like Kiwi Burn pull less than a thousand people, even after more than 10 years. Maybe the future of Burner culture is more likely to lie in the hands of promoters, than bureaucrats and lawyers?

Despite Larry Harvey’s anti-EDM proclamations, I think the organizers of Burning Man Nevada are well aware that the surge in popularity of EDM and the simultaneous surge in popularity of their festival is no coincidence. Their Board member Chip Conley runs Fest300, which gives them intel on all the other festivals in the world. Size, attendance, popularity, ideas. With all the art cars, major sound camps, and smaller music setups throughout the city, there are more than 1000 music stages at Burning Man. Try finding that anywhere else – and who cares if some of them want to publish their line-ups? They are putting these DJs on for free, as a gift, why wouldn’t we all want to celebrate that?

Image: Snowbrains

Image: Snowbrains

The article I wrote last August What Dreams May Come is starting to look very prescient, now that Further Future has been announced. The poll there said 75% of Burners think there is room for more Burning Man-style events in the world without BMOrg, and only 4% thought they needed to be official Burning Man regionals.

So here we have a break-away EDM festival in the desert, profiled in business publication Forbes, featuring the most popular ever Burning Man art car – and, if you’re been to a Robot Heart party in Black Rock City lately, you will have noticed an armada of dozens of art cars that follow them around too. The “cool kids of Burning Man”, going off to do their own thing: exclusive, curated, professional. And HGH has partnered with them to bring a medical solution that is as good as Burning Man – the gold standard for events in the desert. All of a sudden, Larry & Co mysteriously ditch HGH in order for what looks like an inferior and woefully unprepared alternative. And then, also all of a sudden, the BLM at the last minute decides to fuck the festival organizers over on their permit and threaten them via lawyers.

Coincidence? Or conspiracy Nevada politics?


Humboldt seemed to deal with the local issues just fine. In 2011 they garnered industry praise for saving someone’s life with “miraculous” cardiac treatment.

In 2013 they were featured in an article “EMS In Charge At Burning Man” which began with the headline “If EMS Ran The Show”…possibly this was seen as some sort of challenge to the authority of Larry & Co.

Image: EMS World

Image: EMS World

This article is very informative. This was much more than just a week-long paid gig for HGH:

Burning Man itself may only last a week, but planning for the event is year round, says Louis Mendiola, BS, EMT-II, wellness coordinator for Humboldt General Hospital. He says one of the major challenges that go into that planning relates to recruiting, hiring and credentialing the nearly 400 Burning Man employees who will help oversee care.

“Establishing EMS for Burning Man is no easy task,” Mendiola explains. “The austere environment, remote location (no existing infrastructure) and the large population present a number of challenges. HGH relies heavily on the dedication of members of the Burning Man Leadership Team to ensure the operations rolls out seamlessly. HGH has organized a team of some of the nation’s best EMS leaders from a number of different backgrounds and areas of expertise. HGH strives to continually find ways to improve the operation by creating systems that improve patient care and system wide readiness. The willingness to incorporate EMS leaders from such diverse backgrounds has equated to an operation that is truly ‘high performance.’”

They have done more than just provide some medical staff on-site. They have created a fully functional emergency department, with ultrasound and x-ray machines. Their idea was to treat patients as much as they can on-site, where their medical expenses are paid for by Burning Man’s insurance, before sending them off to a Default world hospital where the patient’s own medical insurance presumably picks up the tab.

Instead of approaching Burning Man like any other mass event, we looked at the geographic distance to civilization and healthcare facilities, the environment, the attendee type, and decided to take a more global direction,” explains Bledsoe. “Instead of just placing ambulances and first aid stations everywhere we decided we would develop an integrated emergency healthcare system that ranged from first aiders to board-certified emergency physicians. We specifically wanted to use paramedics in an expanded role because they are already accustomed to the austere environment, independent thought, and the general mindset of the event medical and EMS leaders. As emergency physicians we saw the capability to safely expand their scope of practice to meet the needs of Burning Man.”

Because the providers on-site at Burning Man are quite literally the only care for miles, patient care needs to be robust and all-encompassing. The care provided ranges from minor to major and during the entire event there is at least one physician level provided and one medical director on call (usually via radio), says Mendiola.

“As with a typical ER, most patients are first seen by a triage nurse or tech, who decides which of the four pods the patient is best suited for,” Mendiola states. The actual structure is comprised of four inflatable disaster-type hospitals and a large wooden triage structure that serves as the entry way. More impervious mod spaces are used for x-ray, a suturing suite and command offices.

“We operate a fully functional emergency department, with facilities for minor care, emergency care and extended care,” adds Bledsoe. “We have x-ray, ultrasound and lab capabilities. While we rely heavily on emergency medicine residents and fellows, a Nevada-licensed medical director is within the hospital or nearby at all times (with a radio). We reduce fractures and dislocations, repair lacerations, manage drug overdoses (including mechanical ventilation), use deep and moderate sedation, and treat multiple common medical conditions. On the last Saturday of the event, the day they burn the man, we become one of the busiest, if not the busiest, emergency department in the United States. We will exceed the volume of patients we see daily at UMC in Las Vegas (a big, busy public hospital) by over 40% (more than 600 patients on the last Saturday). We have a large formulary/pharmacy of prescription and non-prescription drugs to treat the attendees at the event. And all medical care is provided without costs to the attendees, keeping with the prevailing spirit of the Burning Man event.

Notes Mendiola, eight ALS ambulances are staffed and deployed with at least one ALS level provider. One EMS operations chief oversees ambulance observation and one incident commander is available 24/7. An airway team/critical intervention team is also available to assist with advanced procedures.

The patients the EMS providers and medical staff see during Burning Man are quite diverse, encompassing all ages (though relatively few are children) and all walks of society.

“The population is generally healthy and chronic conditions are less common,” Mendiola says. “Unlike a regular healthcare system there are typically fewer patients with secondary gain issues, like drug seeking, doc shopping, or who are indigent.”

But the perception of risk is highly distorted on playa (the desert). “The culture equates to risky behavior, which subsequently means more injuries,” explains Mendiola.

“We see a lot of lacerations and fractures, eye problems, skin problems, female urinary tract infections, dehydration and similar conditions,” says Bledsoe. “Although many people think Burning Man is a drug fest that’s far from the truth. In 2011, only 2.5% of the patients we saw were drug or alcohol-related. The Burning Man systems actually take care of most substance abuse problems in a separate facility, referred to as the sanctuary. We help them with medical issues, if present, and have sent some of our psychiatry residents over to the sanctuary to help.

“We treat all comers,” Bledsoe continues. “Sometimes all they want is a medical opinion, a band-aid or an over-the-counter medication. All patients who present are assessed and triaged to the appropriate level of provider (e.g., EMT, community paramedic, nurse, physician). There are certain things we don’t get into unless absolutely necessary. We don’t do sexual assault exams and female pelvic exams. We did treat some pregnancy-related issues but had ultrasound available. High-risk issues and problems are immediately handled by the most senior personnel. For example, we had a patient go into labor at 36 weeks. I personally assumed her care, did a quick OB ultrasound, checked her cervix to ensure she could safely make the trip to Reno, contacted her OB/GYN and the labor and delivery department in Reno, and safely sent her to the hospital by ground ambulance.

“The difference between Burning Man and other big events,” adds Bledsoe, “is that we can’t simply say, ‘That’s all we can do here. We’re going to send you to the hospital.’ The closest hospitals are 150 miles away and sending an ambulance to the hospital can take 6–7 hours to go and return as the event enters the weekend. We try and do as much as we can on site. If a patent needs more detailed care, imaging (e.g., CT, MRI), or hospital admission we send them to Reno or Sacramento. Some can go by private vehicle. We pride ourselves on minimizing transports off the desert. People plan for this event all year, spend a great deal of money to attend, and want to stay through the final ‘burn.’ The people are quite nice and thankful. Pat (Songer) always receives nice letters from patients who compliment the medical care at Burning Man and even go on to say that they feel that medical care at Burning Man is a model for healthcare in general.”

Here is the full press release from HGH (emphasis ours):


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Nicole Maher, Director
Community Education and Development
Humboldt General Hospital
(775) 761-2624
Email: nicole@hghospital.org

HGH EMS RESCUE SAYS BURNING MAN ‘LESSONS’ WILL BE INVALUABLE MOVING FORWARD

WINNEMUCCA, Nev.—“We wouldn’t trade our experience with Burning Man for anything.”

That was HGH EMS Rescue Chief Pat Songer’s statement last week after his agency was notified that their four-year contract providing medical care at the annual counter-culture festival has been terminated.

Songer said it’s those “lessons learned” that will stay with the agency long after memories of the dust, dehydration—and even death—fade away.

The art festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert gathers 70,000 people each Labor Day weekend, making the make-shift city Nevada’s fourth largest for one week.
“It was a challenge providing medical to over 450 community members each day,” said Songer, “but it was an exhilarating challenge and one that we are immensely grateful for.”

Humboldt General Hospital began providing medical care at Burning Man in 2011. Each year, Songer said his agency tweaked their contractual relationship with their host to compensate for increased numbers of participants and the associated risks of hosting one of the country’s largest mass gatherings in one of the world’s most remote and austere locations.

This year didn’t seem different except Songer said some safety concerns identified by his staff in 2014 needed clarification, so in February, the agency exercised their 180-day right to cancel their contract.

That happened in a meeting with Burning Man officials and the entire group agreed to move forward, intent on renegotiating a new contract that, among other things, would allow for at least one more EMS agency to provide backup in case festival numbers surged again, like they did in 2012. “We just wanted to continue that same level of preparedness,” said Songer. “After all, this is a large-scale event with the potential for an MCI in the middle of nowhere. I think some people forget the potential for disaster there.”

Still, the two parties tended to disagree on Humboldt General Hospital’s role: was the agency simply an event contractor or were they a public safety agency with all the associated risks and responsibilities?

Last week, when Burning Man officials announced they were negotiating a contract with CrowdRX, a large-scale event contractor, Songer said he got his answer.
“I think that was really the crux of our concerns,” he said. “When we came to this event, we saw it as an extension of our hospital. We were going to provide hospital-level care, even if it was in the middle of one of the world’s most remote locations.”

He continued, “We weren’t there as an event contractor, we were there as a medical provider in the Black Rock Desert—a fully operational, gold star-staffed medical facility.” Songer added, “I think as the event evolved and our expectations for safety continued to escalate, philosophically and operationally, we found ourselves on opposite sides of the coin.”

The agency was certainly planning to complete its initial five-year commitment, said Songer, and hoped to see that relationship continue beyond. Apparently, so did many others, including officials from local, state and federal governments, hospitals and even law enforcement. “There is safety concern out there,” Songer explained. “When Nevada is investing so much to hold an event of this magnitude here, you want there to be some long-term good that comes from that collaboration.” In other words, explained Songer, “you don’t want an out-of-state event contractor to simply take the money and run.”

Songer said that concern focuses on the differences between a Nevada medical provider that becomes a long-term asset to the state as it grows its present and future medical network, versus an out-of-state contractor that operates on a temporary medical license for seven days and then leaves. “Sure, you can issue that temporary license,” said Songer, “but what we’re hearing is worry about the long-term. When your hospital or your Nevada ambulance company provides those services, there is an investment there, an investment of time, experience, equipment, manpower and you come out more prepared—way more equipped for Nevada—than you went in.” When you bring in a temporary contractor, that goes away. You’re not empowering a medical network across the state, you’re simply funding an out-of-state business.” “I think that’s the worry,” Songer added.

With HGH out of the medical mix, and REMSA before that, Nevada’s medical network has definitely lost a one-of-a-kind training ground. That being said, Songer said he is proud of what HGH EMS Rescue brought to the festival’s table during his medical tenure including, according to Burning Man officials during early April, his agency’s ability to “shine a spotlight on safety.”

Other successes came with the agency’s partner relations, which Songer said were critical to his agency’s success at the event and in the future through the many mutual aid agreements forged during the festival. Songer also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn the complexities of mass casualty incidents—not only the ins and outs of staging such a massive medical operation, but also in learning to “trust other agencies that you only know for one week each year.” He praised the “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to assemble and work with a world-class medical team. “These weren’t contractors who go from event to event, these were medical practitioners at the top of their respective fields; they were there to practice medicine.”

Perhaps the agency’s greatest accomplishment on the Black Rock, however, was creating and adapting a system to the needs of the patients—fully in line with Humboldt General Hospital’s mission of “being helpful and caring for those in need.”
“These people wanted to stay on the playa,” he said of each year’s Burners. “They had invested a lot in terms of their time and money to get there and our job was to keep them there.” Songer added, “It’s no different than what we do at our community hospital. We have invested millions and millions of dollars to allow people to get their care right here at home. “When we went to the Black Rock, that model did not change, so we had to create a system that would allow patients to get the majority of their care “at home” on the playa.

Songer said there are those who will see the severed contract as a black mark for the rural EMS agency. “We don’t,” he said. “Burning Man did not define who we are; we defined the systems that made Burning Man’s medical an incredible model across the world,” he said.

Now, said Songer, HGH EMS Rescue will take that model and continue to adapt it to the other special events it oversees each year, including the increasingly popular music festival “Night in the Country” as well as the up-and-coming “Further Future” festival, 45 minutes outside of Las Vegas.

Of course, the model remains the core of HGH EMS Rescue’s delivery of pre-hospital care across 10,000 square miles, parts of two states and three counties.
“We had an excellent run with Burning Man,” said Songer, “and now all those resources, that knowledge and those experiences come home to our community.”