After a two-year hiatus from the Playa for health reasons, we returned to Burning Man in 2017 with the intention of renewing our vows at a wedding ceremony celebrating our 50th aniversary, just as we did on our first year together on the Playa for our 40th. Many people plan real or symbolic Burning Man weddings, so I thought I’d share some details of planning process and how it compares to a “default world” event.
One of the earliest items on a wedding planner’s list is booking the location, a task best handled early while the top spots are still available. But everything about Burning Man is ad hoc and the planning window is as short as the seven days of the event. We actually got an early start on setting up the wedding because we arrived at the playa six days before Burning Man began in order to organize our new camp.
One of the special delights this year was to have the wedding officiated by our oldest son, known off-playa as Jake but on-playa as Carousel. We chose to return to the Ashram Galactica Hotel International, a Burning Man stalwart that includes a bar and disco plus a small number of beautifully equipped tent-guestrooms. The Ashram was the site of our 40th anniversary vow renewal, so it held special meaning for us.
Arriving early assured us a booking at the Ashram, but not at the time and date we preferred. Of course, we wanted to get married on a busy day for the Ashram, and at a busy time of night. So it took a bit of convincing to get the time and day we wanted; but, well before the Festival had begun, we were set for 10 p.m. on Thursday, August 31.
For most brides, the wedding gown is not only one of the most important elements of the wedding, but one of the most expensive as well. But you don’t go to Vera Wang to purchase a multi-thousand-dollar wedding gown so you can marry the love of your life out in the desert dust. Lashes (Judie) shopped at multiple thrift stores and ended up buying a hand-me-down from a shop sponsored by the local hospice organization. Price? $25. Of course, a Burning Man wedding dress requires extensive alterations, but those were performed at home at little to no expense.
In the default world, invitations have to be printed, and they’re usually costly. Our invitation was a laminated address label on a lanyard, which read: “10 Years on the Playa; 50 Years Together. Join us for The Wedding of the Half Century.” Once the details were finalized, we hand-wrote them on the back of the invitations, then gave them to friends and strangers alike on the Playa. Everyone would be welcomed at our big moment.
Booking the entertainment was easy since the Ashram is a disco with an array of available music, but we also created our own playlist on my iPhone for the ceremony itself. There was music by The Supremes, Buddy Holly, James Taylor — in other words, the music of our original wedding’s era. We also added a more recent song – Burn, by Ellie Goulding – because it’s become entwined with Burning Man.
One other major item that we almost forgot was the wedding cake. We had to call friends who were on their way and have them pick up a cake in Reno. Next, we asked a few people to participate — a matron of honor and a best man in particular. But there were no bridesmaid dresses or rental tuxes involved – just playa finery. No wedding rehearsal or rehearsal dinner either.
As the night approached, our only concern was finding a ride that could get us to the event on time and in style. We originally asked the people at Art Car Camp, our next-door neighbors, to find an art car that could take us to the wedding. But we ended up falling in love with an art car we saw roaming the Playa. When we asked if they could take us to the wedding, they gave us an enthusiastic “yes”. It was then that we discovered that this particular car was one of the winners of this year’s art car contest – something we didn’t even known existed.
On the night of the event, our award-winning art car with its animated colors that seemed to rain down on the Playa, ferried us to the Ashram Galactica, where the staff greeted us and shuffled us into a private area until the time was right. A short time later, they accompanied us into the Ashram’s disco, helped us up onto the bar, quieted the crowd and introduced us.
We read our “vows” that included such items as helping each other remember to take our pills, reminding me to take off my glasses before I went to sleep, and always saying “I love you” before going to bed. My final vow to Lashes was to love her for the rest of our lives, continue going with her to Burning Man, and keep having great sex for the rest of our lives (that one got a big cheer). Then we turned the ceremony over to our son to “marry” us. He was a bit startled by that final vow, but recovered nicely saying: “Well, I guess that 43 years ago, I was the result of some of that great sex.”
We were delighted that so many of our Playa friends had come to the wedding, including many of this year’s camp-mates and some of our Lamplighter buddies as well. The crowd reacted with enthusiasm and asked us a few questions, including the de rigeur “what’s your secret for a long and successful marriage.” Lashes talked about never going to bed angry, listening to each other actively, and a few others. Then they asked me.
“Whatever she said,” I responded. Another big laugh.
With the wedding completed, we waded into the crowd, greeted friends, then walked outside where more people came up to congratulate us. By the time we got back to our RV, we were exhausted, but very happy. Our 50th anniversary actually occurred in January, but we had long before decided to celebrate the entire year. We still had a cruise with our other son and his wife coming up, so our year of celebration did not end with Burning Man. But we felt renewed in our marriage, excited about our future, and still financially intact.
Next year, it will be Carousel’s turn as he marries his high school sweetheart during the Burn. We look forward to just as many great feelings.