Burning Man Goes Easy on This Year's Crowd

Improved weather and smaller crowds make for easier living at this year's festival

After the tough conditions of Black Rock City in 2008, this year’s Burning Man art, music, and community festival saw some of the best weather in recent memory. There were very few dust storms and a trimmed down population descending on the desert.

If you had left the playa on Friday afternoon (as did some of my first-timer “virgin” camp mates from New York and Sydney, Australia who had holiday weekend weddings to get to), you would have had no idea why everyone pre-event was warning about hot days, cold nights, and powerful winds and dust storms.

After the gates opened at 12:01 a.m. on Monday morning, “Burners” experienced mild days, wonderfully warm nights and almost no signs of high winds or dust storms until Friday night.

Saturday winds whipped up dust storms and whiteouts out on the open playa, but the neighborhoods stayed relatively clear, with this being the worst day of weather yet, but still nothing compared to past years.

As the sun set Saturday night, rumors swirled around the city that the man -- a large wooden effigy that gives the event its name -- would not burn until almost midnight, when the winds were expected to die down.  This was half true, with the man finally set ablaze just after 11 p.m., a little over an hour behind schedule.

This year’s theme was evolution and the base of the man epitomized that with the best, most artistic structure yet to sit below the festival’s icon.

Many thought art would be lacking this year, due to the world-wide financial crisis and slumping economy, but that wasn’t the case.  If anything, the limitations prevented massive structures like 2008s Babylon from being brought out, which made way for smaller, more funky pieces to not be overshadowed.

One of the most debated, loved and feared pieces out there this year was called “The Wedge” and it was brought to Black Rock City by a group of performers from New York City

The group of artists are the people behind De La Guarda, an amazingly unconventional off Broadway play of aerialists zigzagging above the audience’s heads, and the group wanted to bring a structure to Burning Man that would allow them to rehearse their new show, as well as be able to hoist people up into the air and teach trapeze to any and all who were interested.

So, they came up with the idea to put a giant AstroTurf covered slide on top of the structure that would not only provide shade for daytime trapeze, but also give the citizens of Black Rock City, young and old, a fun activity that all could enjoy.

The approximately 50-foot tall slide was wide enough for nearly ten people to zip down together and brought laughter, fear, elation from all who enjoyed it, from the ground looking up, or while sliding down.

The highlight for my seventh trip out to the desert was getting to fly above the city for my first time on Saturday afternoon catching the last flight from the BRC Municipal Airport before it was shut down for the day to due high winds. 

Sky divers jump out of planes over the city all week long during daylight hours and lotteries are held each day for citizens to ride up in the plane to take in the unusual vantage point over the city.

I was lucky enough to be camping across the street from the ticket window for the Burning Sky camp. And on my trip to the port-a-potties in the afternoon on Saturday, my wife and I were stopped on the street and asked if we had plans for the next hour. 

The next thing we knew, we were out at the airport with eight other lucky citizens strapping on parachutes of our own, just in case, before taking the 20-minute flight over the city.

For the first time in years, the city’s population was reduced by thousands, with last year’s population reportedly topping 50,000, and this year’s coming in at under 45,000.

The festival has a very international vibe now, with people from Australia, Europe, South America, the Middle East and beyond all coming together for one week in the desert. 

Check back for my slideshow with pictures of some of the art, and some of the people from the 2009 Burning Man festival.

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