Burning Man Spawns New Age Festivals

The New York Times has a story by Julia Allison on The Progeny of Burning Man. There are other ways to get a transformational experience than going to Black Rock City, and not every EDM festival is like Coachella.

Re-blogged from the New York Times:

It was 3 a.m. in Bradley, Calif., in the middle of a dusty dry lake bed, and Carl Weiseth, 33, was shoeless, shirtless and regaling a gathering crowd about last night’s escapade. “I didn’t make it back from the dance floor until the sun was starting to rise,” he told his audience, adding that he “passed out to the gentle vibrations of thumping electronic music for three to four hours.”

A 1960s Volkswagen van was painted with the words “Give Peace a Chance,” surrounded by fresh-faced bohemians sporting flower crowns, acid-washed jean shorts, seapunk teal-dyed hair and psychedelic leggings. “It’s the feather-and-leather crew,” one festivalgoer said.

To the casual observer, this post-New Age convergence of monumental art, all-night dancing and “Kumbaya” spirituality could be mistaken for Burning Man, the weeklong arts festival in the Nevada desert. But unlike Burning Man, which marked its 28th year last month, this festival called Lightning in a Bottle offers paid lecturers, headlining music acts like Moby, and V.I.P. packages with deluxe tents and fresh linens for $2,500.

“L.I.B. is one of the pinnacle festivals of West Coast conscious culture,” said Mr. Weiseth, using shorthand for Lightning in a Bottle, among a new type of gathering called “transformational festivals.” They could be described as the slightly smaller, psychedelic-art-and-electronic-dance-music-centered, commercialized progeny of Burning Man.

“It is the ultimate convergence of visionary art, electronic music, yoga, spirituality, nutrition, fashion and dance-culture, where people gather who appreciate both nature and spiritual consciousness, and who want to co-create an unpretentious dance party in celebration of sacred art and community,”…Held over four days in May and billed as a “heart and mind expanding oasis,” Lightning in a Bottle, in its ninth year, drew 15,000 participants, one of the largest and more influential of these festivals.

Such festivals have spread beyond their West Coast stronghold and now take place year-round throughout the United States, as well as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America. They are an amalgamation of several cultural forces: the rise of electronic dance music, the maturing of the rave culture, the popularity of TED-like talks, the mainstreaming of yoga, and the YOLO spirit of festivalgoers who spread the word on social media.

Unlike more mainstream music gatherings like Coachella and Lollapalooza(with their focus on pop music, celebrities, alcohol and fashion brands), transformational festivals embrace feel-good values like ecological sustainability, organic food, community building and wisdom sharing. With names like Beloved and Wanderlust, Envision and Lucidity, these festivals seem like bastions of the nouveau hippie, grandchildren-of-the-Woodstock generation. And, to a certain extent, they are.

…“This is a safe space — a space free of judgment, criticism, punishment,” said the effervescent Dream Rockwell, a festival founder, who was standing backstage while a man played a didgeridoo, an ancient Australian instrument. “Creativity is accepted in all forms. ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service’ obviously does not apply here.”

…Maura Malini Hoffman, 49, a former Procter & Gamble executive who now gives spiritual talks at festivals, put it this way: “Transformation is about realizing there’s more to life than making money, having a good job, fame and fortune. People go to these and they’re never the same. 

…This year, organizers offered a luxury EZ Camping option. The $2,500 packages, which included a prefab tent, plush bed, cooler, private restrooms, power outlets and a “skinny mirror,” were sold out.

One of the luxury tents went to Misty Meeler, 29, an interior design assistant from Houston, who came with her 37-year-old sister. Ms. Meeler wore a gold headdress, rainbow bikini, a leather utility belt and purple leg warmers. Speaking through a heart-shaped dust mask, she explained that Coachella was too “Hollywood see-and-be-seen” for her taste. This festival, she said, “has a hippie scene that makes the whole experience better, whether you’re looking to eat healthy, live clean, meditate, yoga or want to party the whole four days with no sleep.”

…The crowd included James Oroc, a writer from New Orleans, who was waxing philosophical. Best known for his psychedelic tome, “Tryptamine Palace,” he is an outspoken and sometimes cantankerous critic of festival culture…His verdict? The crowd was “very hip, very beautiful,” he said, though he was concerned that the festival had become too “fashion” and “very L.A.”

“You get a lot of Burners who haven’t actually been to Burning Man,” he said. “They just have the clothes.”

Read the full story here.

photo: Flickr

Random Rab at Envision Festival, Costa Rica 2014. photo: Flickr

Transformation and Community at Burning Man

thanks to Simon Yugler from Travel Alchemy for this guest post. Other Burners, if you have something to say, please follow suit. Share your perspective with the rest of our community.

In my opinion, you guys hold down the most relevant and thought-provoking media and information circulating about Burning Man. Thanks for all the work that you do, and for your devotion to the Burning Man community. It is truly appreciated. Recently, I’ve noticed that the majority of Burning Man-centric content I’ve read has highlighted either the many problems associated with the festival’s growth, its significance to Silicon Valley “tech elite” culture, or the torrential rain that closed the gate. That, or the untimely death that has already occurred this year, and related incidents in the past. All of this information is relevant and appreciated. And, as a contrast, I’d like to offer you an article I recently wrote regarding my take on the Burn, and how the event was essential in helping me discover my larger community through personal transformation.

Transformation and Community at Burning Man


Beneath the flashy displays of art and technology, the massive sound systems, and the scantily clad attendees, Burning Man is a visceral rite of passage that beckons participants to embrace the mythic journey that is their life. 

In traveling to Burning Man, one leaves behind the realm of social norms and linear time (forget what you know about sleep,) and enters into a world of transformation where, for just over a week, anything is possible.

For many, Burning Man is the greatest party on earth. While this may be true, this physically, emotionally and psychologically grueling event is also the closest thing American culture has to acollective ritual of death, transformation, and rebirth.

I attended Burning Man in 2011, after spending much of my final college semester writing about the festival and its significance as a modern day ritual for my studies in anthropology and religion. In deep synchronicity with the timing and focus of my own life, the theme of the Burn that year was Rites of Passage.

Freshly graduated, I applied for a scholarship ticket, was invited through some miracle to camp with a group called Fractal Nation, and prepared to fully immerse myself into the transformational journeythat is Burning Man.

I danced harder then I ever had, partied on a Golden Dragon with internationally renowned musicians, helped manage one of the biggest stages on the playa, and didn’t sleep for nearly four days. I also had the pleasant experience of being left in the desert, only to find a better, more exciting way home.

Burning Man influenced my life in countless ways, many of which I am still discovering. Experiencing a devoted gift economy (the playa is a cash-free zone,) dancing to some world class DJ’s, and witnessing the cutting edge of American art culture was just the tip of this hot and dusty ice burg.

Yet perhaps the biggest gift given to me by that that massive expanse of sweltering, alkaline desert, the one that continues to effect my life every day, was the discovery of my community.

Today, three years after my first burn, my everyday life is a reminder of the Burning Man ethos and community. I currently live in an intentional community household with people I met, in one way or another, through Burning Man. Most of my friends and collaborators throughout the West Coast festival community stem from my involvement with the initial Fractal Nation camp, and many artists who I had previously only know through their music I now consider dear friends.

Fractal Nation Community, Burning Man 2011

Burning Man catalyzed many relationships in my life that were key to helping me discover an inspiring, deep, and meaningful community of like minded souls.

When you meet people on the playa, you share a deep bond with them, one that cannot be simulated or recreated through any other means. Just the sheer intensity of the environment alone, creates a space where the superficial formalities and concerns of daily life simply melt away, and allow for a rapid rate of human connection.

It doesn’t matter who someone is in the “default world.” If you meet at Burning Man, you share a genuine and profound kinship. What happens next is up to you.

Recently, the festival has gotten a lot of media attention, mostly focusing on the negative aspects of its growth, its popularity in certain “Tech Elite” circles, and how much it has changed over its nearly three-decades of existence. Like it or not, either through fashion, popular media, or sheer word of mouth, Burning Man is now a mainstream fixture in the American cultural imagination.

No, “it’s not like it used to be,” as many veteran Burners continue to mourn. But then again, nothing is. Nothing as dynamic, creative, and iconoclastic as Burning Man could ever stay the same.

I have not returned to that mystical expanse of flame and sound since I first set foot on its soft, powdery soil three years ago.

Whether or not I ever go back (I plan to,) the spirit of Burning Man transformed my life, deeply empowered me, and was essential in helping me discover my community, my family, and my tribe. 

What has Burning Man given you?