Will We Burn in 21? Should We?

As time has passed since the last Burn, I have felt more and more disconnected from the Playa and the spirit that makes Burning Man so important to my life. I know many of you feel the same, which means a lot of people are eager to see the return to BRC this year. I’m just not sure that can happen yet. And I’m absolutely certain that I’m not ready for a week in the desert with 70 or 80 thousand people while the virus remains active.

I’m now 76 years old, which makes me a prime target for Covid-19. In addition, I’ve recently been diagnosed with early-stage multiple myeloma (a blood cancer) that puts me even more at risk. So there’s almost no way I would feel comfortable attending a full-scale Burning Man even if it does go forward.

But, in truth, I don’t think it will happen this year – at least not in the form we know it. The risk of Burning Man turning into a super spreader event (perhaps the biggest of all time) is high, and such a result would do more than cause sickness and death among attendees and their families; it would irreparably damage the event’s reputation. Burning Man might never recover.

Beauty on the Playa from the 2019 Burn

However, there are some things that the org could do to mitigate the potential for super-spreader results. First, they could mimic many of the states’ rules on attendance at sports events – say, limit the Burn to 25 percent of last year’s number. They could also require any attendee to be verifiably fully vaccinated, and they could test everyone daily. Social distancing rules could be put into effect at seated events and where lines (such as the Center Camp Café) exist. That all sounds painful, costly, and the antithesis of our desert love-fest (how would you handle the Orgy Dome?), but it would be a way to keep the Burning Man culture alive because skipping only one year will cause far less damage than missing two in a row.

I hear rumors from time-to-time about BLM and whether it would even permit Burning Man amidst the pandemic. One positive note I heard was that the BLM budget is sorely missing the money we bring in, so they may be eager to have us back as soon as possible. A smaller Burning Man would provide less revenue to everyone – BLM, the Org, the state of Nevada, and the two counties that gain tax revenues. Reno merchants usually make a ton off of Burners, and I’m sure they’d like a little of that money back. So there are plenty of economic reasons to re-ignite the Burn. But the risk/reward equation still seems out of balance, so my bet is that we’ll have to wait for 2022 to return to the wonders of Black Rock City.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

On another topic, I watched Nomadland the other night on Hulu and felt remarkably close to the Playa. The main character (played by Frances McDormand) lives in Empire, NV at the beginning of the film. She lost her job when the gypsum plant closed and when her husband dies she gets on the road to join other nomads. Her journey begins on what sure looks like NV 447, the road we take from I-80 to Gerlach and on to BRC. Nomadland is a unique and magical film with a few reminders of our desert home.