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Burning Man 2023: festival turned into nightmare

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

What drives around 70,000 individuals from different parts of the world to come together on a kind of “pilgrimage” towards a remote desert area in the state of Nevada, United States, for a brief stay?

Burning Man is a festival that has existed since 1986 and which, according to its own organization, represents “a global ecosystem where artists, creatives and community leaders come together to co-create art”. Recognized as a counterculture icon, Burning Man gets its name due to the burning ceremony of a wooden sculpture representing a man, held at the end of the event.

Nightmare 2023

In the 2023 edition of Burning Man, heavy rain hit the event location at the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, United States. The rains turned the festival into a quagmire. Festival organizers were forced to close access and exit roads, leaving more than 70,000 people stranded

The rains began on the night of August 26th and continued until September 2nd. The volume of rain was around 200 millimeters, which is considered a rare event in the Black Rock Desert. The rains caused several problems at the festival. Camps were flooded, roads were impassable and electricity was interrupted in some places.

Festival organizers worked to ensure the safety of attendees. They provided food, water and shelter to those affected by the rains. One person died at the festival. A man aged around 40 was found dead in his campsite on the morning of Saturday (02), September. The cause of death has not yet been released. The festival ended on September 4th, one day ahead of schedule. Participants were allowed to leave the site after the roads were cleared.

Festival routine

There is no predefined program; instead, participants contribute to a diverse range of attractions, following the principle of self-sufficiency encouraged by Burning Man, which promotes discovery, development and confidence in one’s inner resources, as set out in the festival’s principles.

Inside the event, a fusion of circus performances and music fills the space, where there is no place for laws or financial transactions. The central concept is the exchange of goods and services between participants. It is necessary to bring water and food with you for your own subsistence. Within this “city” known as Black Rock City, there is even a unique “church” equipped with a confessional, which, eventually, is also set on fire.

The festival’s infrastructure, designed exclusively for this purpose, consists mainly of tarpaulins, containers and trailers. The main means of transportation are bicycles, and one of the fundamental mottos is the commitment to “leave no trace”, that is, to preserve the natural environment and avoid negative impacts on the event site.

How to participate?

To participate in this festival, preparation goes beyond simply purchasing tickets, passages and accommodation. Careful planning is required to acquire all essential resources to ensure that your mode of transportation is also your temporary home, and also engage in various activities.

Festival tickets are sold in 4 different categories, the most different of which is the one dedicated to the people who will build the festival. This category is the one with the most tickets available, 35,000 tickets, since the employees are, in a way, volunteers and buyers. The other types are the normal ticket formats, such as pre-sale, general sale, social ticket and extra sale.

Festival’s reputation

The heavy rains that affected the festival had a significant impact on its reputation. The festival is known for its atmosphere of freedom and self-expression, but the disaster has raised doubts about its safety and ability to cope with extreme weather conditions. Initially, the disaster generated criticism from some participants and observers, who argued that the festival was not prepared to face such a severe weather event, while also highlighting the disruption and insecurity that affected participants, including resulting in the death of one person.

Festival organizers responded to criticism by saying they were committed to ensuring the safety of attendees and were exploring ways to improve the event’s preparedness for extreme weather events. Despite organizers’ responses, the disaster could still have a negative impact on Burning Man’s reputation. This event is one of the most popular in the world and attracts participants from all corners of the planet. The event may cause some participants to reconsider their participation, especially those concerned about safety.

In the long term, the effects of the disaster on Burning Man’s reputation are still uncertain. However, the event is likely to be viewed with more caution by participants and observers.And you, would you have the desire and courage to participate in one of the biggest counterculture events after what happened in the last edition?


The article above was edited by Clara Rocha and translated by Bárbara Castro.

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Bruna Elias

Casper Libero '23

Estudante de Relações Públicas que as vezes se aventura na escrita. Curiosa e apaixonada por comida, dou minhas dicas e referências por ai... @bubuporai