In the first week of September, a sprawling dust-covered landscape where swirling haboobs, crackled clods, and cloud porn are staples of the now-dried prehistoric lakebed of the Black Rock Desert, Nevada’s annual Burning Man returned after a two-year-long hiatus. With the pandemic in the rearview (…sorta), it’s here that wanderers, lovers, and dreamers converged in a grand social experiment where art, unity, and wonder bring Birkenstock-wearing weirdos from around the world together. Through the chapped breezes and gusting dust bunnies, Black Rock City was the canvas for a collaborative art project so vast and complex that many who experience it have lovingly likened the iconic Summer festival to a full-fledged ecosystem of its own.
Whether through some human-made miracle or something more divine, Burning Man is so well known for its life-changing experiences that (they say) identifying a Burner is as easy as listening for that token phrase “one time at Burning Man…”
Given the fact the most recent iteration of the Burning Man was anticipated with more fervor than any other in recent history, it only stands to reason that the moments and memories made this year would be some of the most important to Burning Man-goers to date. Sure, what happens at Burning Man practically never stays at Burning Man, but in the storm of so much going down it can be easy to miss a single experience — especially if it’s over in a flash. Fortunately, UPROXX was there collecting the most exceptional stories guaranteed to fill you with FOMO.
To learn more about what we heard, read on and peruse a few of our favorites in the sections ahead!
The first year I went to Burning Man, it was 2011 — I was starting my sophomore year at Reed and I had met a boy that summer who found his entire life purpose at burning man 7 years prior. He wanted to share it with me — so I went and missed a few first days of the semester. It felt worth it — we were riding bikes when he asked me to be his girlfriend. I must have been 19 or 20 — he was my first ‘adult’ relationship.
Somehow, I had forgotten about that moment until this year biking at dusk in the desert again, 11 years later.
Burning Man that first time felt like coming home, and it still does. It’s always a new amalgamation of people — a living organism constantly in flux. People from all parts, all moments of our historical selves, appear. It’s always magic. It’s always the music, for me. It’s the new experiences, the conversations and collective dreaming, awake — this time: my all-girl build and breakdown team in tiny shorts and wide smiles, the lightening storm we thought was BM art only to find out it was nature’s installation, which we followed with our conceptual fireside chat.
Burning Man is alive, and it brings me into a heightened state of living in presence. It’s so nice to share it with people I love spending time with
— Genevieve Medow-Jenkins, founder of Secular Sabbath
Acid in the Dark
Every year at Burning Man I take a tab at about 4 pm and bike over to the temple [perimeter] to spin fire. I bring my own music and I just sink deep into that temple energy while I’m dancing. It’s dark and I love it.
— Sam Tobey, Professional Fire Performer
Nudity as Therapy
Burning Man has been in the periphery of my life since I was a kid. A couple of days ago my fiance and I stripped down nude and walked around. I wanted to show myself as who I am and feel more comfortable in my skin, but I also wanted to meet other people — so we went to the Interaction Cafe where we met a server named Bubbles, and through that, I was able to reframe an embarrassing experience that has been traumatizing for me my whole life where a substitute teacher from my childhood scolded me hard… Finally, through this, I was able to ask for forgiveness for Miss Feinstein and even though the weight of this was small it stings and it really speaks to the power of this place.
— Dave Roston, Psychedelic HipHop Puppeteer in The Fungineers
Hell and back – with superpowers!
Going to Burning Man is like going to hell, surviving, and then celebrating your newfound superpowers. The elements and environment are so incredibly difficult and uncomfortable that none of us could do it alone. But once you figure out the basics and you begin to look around you can’t help but be amazed at all the wonder. Unique humans, incredible mind-blowing art, flowing cocktails, and the culture of generosity and kindness that has clearly been cultivating for years-it’s crazy-and now I have proof that it’s possible!
The group foam shower with hundreds of new friends was probably my favorite experience. It was liberating to feel seen and safe while being so very naked. It was so refreshing to finally get a good foamy wash in the land of eternal dust. And then the music and high-energy dance + lotion party that followed was super clutch!
–Honey Larochelle aka the Berry Fairy, The Fungineers
Making My Friends Cry
I kept making all these jokes about my sunrise set that I was just gonna make everyone cry. Then in the middle of my set I was like “God, I’m making myself cry so much” and then I have looked around and then everyone was crying, so it was a really beautiful moment that I’ll never forget.
–Danielle White, DJ DivaDanielle
Making a Difference with my D*ck Out
We rallied and marched against the Instagrammers and influencers that have been commodifying Burning Man and what happened this year was nothing short of unprecedented. D*cks came from far and wide to participate. We shirt-cocked [defined: nude, except for a shirt] to stand for something and it was activism. With any luck, our dusty genitalia will haunt their nightmares forever.
–John Cameron, Swig’N’Swing Instigator, and Shirt-cocking Activist
Connecting with Others like Me
So this is my first Burning Man and I only got here Wednesday evening, but so far the most special thing that I’ve been a part of has been the big photograph we took for the Black House Street Project — it was all a bunch of Black and persons of color that got there to take a picture together. Just to see the sheer volume of people who look like me here at an event where a Black person or a person of color may not feel like this is an event that we are meant to be at.
It’s great to see that there are people who are like “naw, fuck that. We can be here and still be Black, and still be beautiful, and all that!”
–Chinwe Oniah, First Time Burner
Finding Family in the Dust
I got married on white Wednesday and it made me so happy to be around my playa family. This whole atmosphere makes me feel like I’m at home finally, so just being around good people and being around happiness that you don’t normally feel in the normal world. It’s like here I’m safe to walk up to anyone and say ‘hello’.
— Jade aka ‘The Wanderer’, Dancer in the Wild
The Show Must Go On
I was supposed to get to the Playa by Wednesday evening for a show with my conclave. I flew into Reno but the friend that was supposed to pick me up — who had all my stuff — was hours behind… so I bought a standby ticket for the Burner Express and walked into Burning Man with nothing but a dead iPhone and a makeup bag. But I knew I’d be walking into a camp of my best friends and that I had nothing to worry about. No tent, no water, no worries.
We did make that show happen! That’s why I call Burning Man home.
–Katelyn Carano, Professional Aerialist and Fire Performer
Helping My Friends Build a Sound Camp
Burning Man gives us an opportunity to express ourselves on this clean slate. It’s the mutual appreciation that everyone has in that space and that time gives us a chance to be ourselves. The efforts combined are what make this all happen… The people that I came out here to work with, we overcame a lot of personal challenges individually to drag a bunch of things out here for other people. That’s what made me realize it’s not just about “radical self-reliance” it’s also about your radical ability to get just some shit done.
Whatever it takes, we all have to work together to help each other. All in all, it’s always a good time too.
— Ryan Culp, Crew at Camp Question Mark
Learning to Love Again
Really getting to drop in with new friends and old friends when we arrived and over the week just connecting in ways that are harder in “Default” (outside Burning Man) felt wonderful. I felt held and expansive. I even felt a lot of love.
— Annabelle ‘Monarch’ Catalano, Camp Crew at The Lusty Chantarell Kombucha Bar
At Ashram Galactica’s last blowout party of the week, I was dancing on the bar, but not for the crowd, a client, or some paycheck like I usually do. I was up there stomping my big black boots on the bar for me. At that moment, I released my inner critic and let my body move and vibe to some of the most incredible disco house I’d ever heard.
There I was, at 3 am in the morning in the middle of the desert covered in dust, remembering that I could do what I love for myself and still enjoy the hell out of it.
–Violette on the Rocks, Award-winning Burlesque Performer, Fire Dancer, and Go-Go Dancer
Integrating Ourselves with the Power of Hallucinogens
One of the things I found thematic over the time there is just how much of a gap there is between the Burning Man persona and their “default” life persona, and how integration is such a huge piece if not the main piece of what can help bridge that gap — which is exactly what I went over in the workshops and ceremonies that I led while there.
For non-burners, I lead these same sorts of events and integrations “off the Playa.”
Fire in Bed
I met this chick at a fire circle and we were vibing. We would see each other throughout the week running lit wicks across the body of the other, painting each other in the circle. Then later she took me back to her wooden yurt and we decided we wanted to get naked and play with more fire. I was breathing flames up and down her legs. Then I blew flames down her back and up her chest. We spent the whole night together… And she never even told me her name.
–Jesse Luis Rodriguez, Professional Fire Performer at Camp Kinetic
When Artists Make Art with my Art
This has been a really fuckin’ hard year, but also my most fun. I think it was really cool to be able to build a piece that I brought in 2019 with our camp instead of putting it out on playa. But I think one of my best moments was wandering out to the Museum of “One Time at Burning Man…” and running into the Kaleidoscope panel, that was really special… It’s like meta-art when somebody makes art out of your art. It’s really cool, and it feels really special to know that Michael Hartmann and I built a piece of art that other artists appreciate enough to include in a space like that.
–Deniz Nicole, Artist and Co-Creator of The Kaleidoscope
My girlfriend, Beth, and a pair of virgin burners lured by the promise of water spritzing stopped by Deaf Grandma’s Kitchen and were taught sign language, served watermelon, and truly came to appreciate the participatory aspect of on-the-fly randomness that ensued. It left me grateful, almost to the point of tears… It even inspired me to take do a few things differently next year at an event I co-produce with some friends near Los Angeles, called Teleport Art Car Festival.
–Christopher Taube, Founder Teleport Art Car Festival
At my pole dancing workshop, I had a really good mix of men and women, and potentially some non-binary individuals. Some had only seen it in strip clubs and some had only ever done it as a stripper. One girl I actually met the day before when she roped me — like, physically with a rope — to force me to have a drink at her camp. It was really encouraging to see everyone try everything. Everybody was super encouraging with each other. I started off the class with a real sensual leg ab warm-up. I loved seeing the men get into it – especially the CIS men. It made me feel like I was achieving exactly what I wanted to, which was to make everybody feel safe and comfortable, in a consensual but also really open environment where you’re really stepping into your sensuality — and also just feeling really sexy in general. And everyone seemed like they had unlocked that and were tapping into that… And that’s really the whole point.
–Priscilla ‘Polezilla’ Somogie, Professional Pole Dance Instructor