Special Events

In 2003, the Special Events team produced one megaversion of Flambé Lounge to prepare people for the playa and the most amazing Decompression Heat the Street FaIRE! yet. We decided to do fewer events this year, because so many people in the local community were organizing their own theme camp gatherings. We wondered whether the Flambé Lounge events were still the best way, or even necessary, to bring the San Francisco community together. We also wondered how we might re-invent them in the future. To answer these quesitons, we decided to do just one Flambé Lounge this year and see what happened.

We couldn’t find an appropriate venue for a Desert Art Preview. In the past, we have organized this event as a talk and Q&A session by featured theme artists.

We expanded Decompression a block farther along Indiana Street than in previous years, and we added another formal outdoor performance stage and stage support. This arrangement allowed us to accommodate more artists, theme camps, and performers. This report reviews the two events we organized, as well as our plans for 2004

On Saturday, June 28, approximately 2,000 people gathered at The Crucible in Oakland (www.thecrucible.org) to answer the question: “How does the sacred exist, and where might it be found?” In keeping with our Beyond Belief theme, participants created an evening of transcendent play, interactive rites and rituals, processions, performances, shrines, otherworldly art, icons, and strange visions that occupied that ambiguous territory between reverence and ridicule, question and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.

About this photo...Working with The Crucible was a wonderful experience! The multi-use art facility was the perfect place to encourage artist participation and to offer demonstrations of welding, glass blowing, and metal casting. Our event helped to support the facility and introduced people to the space and artists who use it. We also posted information about some ways that others could support The Crucible via the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter. Burning Man turned the Flambé Lounge into a wonderful opportunity to support a local arts organization, something the larger community would do well to replicate. If you have to pay rent to someone, why not pay it to arts facilities and support artists directly involved in your community?

The event could have accommodated more theme camps, but those that came from San Francisco and Los Angeles brought fantastic energy; and artist demonstrations by Crucible artists added an educational component to the evening. Participating theme camps included Ballroom Dancing Camp, Bollywood, Bunnywood, Dreamcatcher Camp, Free Photography Zone, and the Starlight Drive In Movie Theater. The event benefited from phenomenal artist and performer participation!

Fire art included Kiki’s Fire Cauldron, Sparky’s Thought, Tim Black’s Voice of Fire, Lotus Girl’s Agave, Orion Fredericks and Justin Grays’ spectacular Cyclone II, and a prototype of The Hand of God. The Crucible also did a metal pour and created a beautiful bronze image of the Man, which now occupies a place of honor in the Burning Man office above Danger Ranger’s office door.

About this photo...Non-fire art included The Eyes of Gawd, Ganeshafish and Kalibunny by Starbunny and Kharmabunny, a pyramid of Burning Man videos provided by Mark McGothigan, work by Nate Smith, The Carthedral, Sacred Geometry paintings by Ezra (who did the mural behind the Center Camp Café this year), six of the Carousel Numinous panels by Jenny Bird and John Mosbaugh, Easter Island Heads, Supersnail photos, a light installation by Louis Lights, The Rube, and other work by Annie Hallatt, Chris Schardt, and Kittymak.

The fire performance area made space for performers, with fire safety personnel on watch. Our indoor stage featured performers with and without fire. In addition, an outdoor performance area and a huge central area made room for the Fire Conclave, Extra Action Marching Band, Rosin Coven, Lamplighters, and others to perform and lead processions. Other performers included AnaPhylactic (vocals), Antar (folk belly dance), Kook Troupe (dance theater), Rroland (past life regression keyboards), D6 (thematic DJ), Bob Hofmann (pyrocussion), Dr. Howland Owll Robins (poetry reciteations and MC), blessings by Buckethead (the bastard son of Waterboy) and his Minions of Moist Mermaids, Fire Arts Collective, the Funnies (band from LA), Ultra Gypsy (belly dance troupe), Flam Chen (fire theater from Tucson), Sintillation & Fire Pixie, The Mutaytor (band and performance troupe from LA), The Mad Piper (bagpipes), Zero Boy (human cartoon and beat box from NYC), and $teven Ra$pa (rants, MC, and Burning Man updates).

About this photo...Many organizations and Burning Man departments had representatives at Flambé Lounge: The Black Rock Arts Foundation, DPW, Rangers, Greeters, the Black Rock Gazette, the Media Team, Lamplighters, Café Décor, and Burning Man Information Radio. All set up tables where they contacted potential volunteers, answered questions, and had a great time meeting everyone! All these tables occupied an area farthest from any stage or sound system, but people still had to yell a bit to be heard.

So many participants came in costume to create an electric atmosphere! What a night! And what a fantastic celebration of our community values and a tremendous range of artistic expression!

On October 12, over 6,000 people created the biggest and most spectacular Street FaIRE! ever in Indiana Street, between Mariposa and 21st Street, spilling into Cafe Cocomo and Esprit Park. The event featured more art, more performance of every kind, more theme camps, and the highest level of overall participation yet. In particular, the scale of the art and theme camp installations was the most ambitious we have known. Chris Schardt, for example, set up his full Yantra installation from the playa; and Infinite Kaos set up their 40-foot+ aerial pyramid rig on the street. Over 40 art installations were in place, most in the park; we also hosted 40+ theme camps; a dozen or so art vehicles (down a bit from last year), and hundreds of performers, poets, dancers, and fire performers of every kind on four stages.

About this photo...As always, the stars of Decompression were as much in the streets as on the stages, as much wandering as in any one place. Bringing that depth and breadth of creative expression to the streets of San Francisco was an absolutely humbling and inspiring experience! We would list the artists and theme camps, but there are far too many to try, and we would leave out some, since more appeared than even we can identify. Suffice it to say, it was indeed Blacktop City and we LOVE everyone who made it so.


  • Paying rent to an art venue instead of a regular night club definitely worked. We had a wonderful feeling putting our money and resources where they could directly support more art and community!
  • The Special Events team grew this year, and the work was better distributed among its members than in the past. A single person took charge of all check-in lists (performers, theme camps, artists, Rangers, volunteers, etc), which was a MAJOR improvement this year. Keeping track of all the lists and people involved is no small task with gatherings this size, and—like Santa and Mr. Bunny Chainsaw—we don’t want to forget anyone!
  • The turn-out and spirit of both events were off the charts! Just when we thought it couldn’t get better—it did!
  • The art and performance quality were easily the best ever—possibly because we only had one Flambé Lounge, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
  • We were able to safely feature fire art and performance at both events—and more of it!
  • Excellent fire safety plans and staff were in place at both events. The Crucible supplemented our folks with their fire safety people.
  • This year, more than ever, our Special Events team shared learning with other Burning Man regional representatives, so they could benefit from the lessons we have accumulated. Team members took a particularly active role in helping with the Los Angeles and New York Decompression gatherings. Now the learning and sharing is beginning to go both ways!
  • We created laminates for volunteer stage managers and staff at both events. These badges helped performers find the people who could help them and gave us a process for keeping backstage organized. Maybe next year we will try t-shirts instead.
  • This year we gave thank-you drink tickets to performers, theme camps, and artists who set up and performed on-time. In prior years, we provided only performers and some all-day volunteers with soft drinks and drink tickets for use inside Café Cocomo. We were happy to expand that perk this year and to provide hot food for a larger number of hard-core volunteers and performers. (This change is thanks to the addition of a volunteer caterer, who loves feeding people!) Note that we do this for people who otherwise just don’t have time to eat, and it is an additional way we thank performers.


  • We really missed the Desert Art Preview. That event provides such a great opportunity for artists to talk about their work and to find partners for collaboration on and off-playa.
  • Clean-up at Decompression went well, but it was a problem at the Flambé Lounge. We didn’t have enough garbage pails for people, and a volunteer clean-up crew never really materialized. The core team picked up the slack—after we had been on our feet all day and night!
  • The size of the Flambé Lounge was a bit too much for The Crucible, and they felt we taxed their infrastructure a bit. Power distribution, for example, was a challenge.
  • People struggled to speak together at the Flambé Lounge, because the venue didn’t offer much sound separation.
  • At Decompression, we had trouble dealing with the fire marshall, when he requested–at the last minute and despite numerous prior conversations with him–that ALL fire artists and performers have their own individual fire insurance. This provision almost prevented much of the fire art we had planned! In a final-hour negotiation, we were allowed to insure the performers under our event policy as employees of the event. But more and more cities are requiring that fire artists and performers have their own insurance. This development is something everyone in the fire art community needs to notice.
  • Under-age kids from the Oakland neighborhood where the Flambé Lounge was held twice tried to run the gate and threatened security. This encounter was a bit scary for people at the door, and in the future we do not plan to have the roll-up doors completely open there. We spent a lot of time considering the needed security, but we still were a bit short for the venue and neighborhood.
  • We recieved a few sound complaints related to Decompression this year. The police indicated that the complaints were minor and below average, but we are going out of our way to meet with the community board to determine how we can address any and all complaints.
  • We have a greater and greater impact on surrounding neighborhoods. Limited parking is the biggest issue that neighbors express with Decompression. To address this concern, we heavily encouraged people beforehand to take mass transit and car pool.
  • People came a little later to Decompression this year. Last year the street was quite active by 2:30 p.m., but this year the street began to heat up more toward 5 p.m.—which was a shame because late-comers missed A LOT! We are going to try to get the schedule out earlier next year to encourage people to arrive earlier in the day.


  • Two events last year seemed too few. The San Francisco community definitely wanted at least one more opportunity to gather and make art together.
  • We need to begin planning fire art even earlier than in the past to accommodate new city standards and to allow more dialogue with local fire authorities. Our relationship is excellent, but we still need to work toward greater communication and mutually agreed fire art standards.
  • We had the wonderful treat of a dedicated volunteer caterer and list manager. Next year we are thinking about issuing meal tickets to make sure that all-day volunteers and performers who really need to eat, and don’t have the time, can go to some central location when they have a free moment.
  • The impact on neighborhood infrastructure always requires sensitivity. It is better to far exceed expectations than to fall short of them by even a little.
  • We met our goal of bringing people together year-round to foster community and encourage advanced preparation for the playa and ongoing collaboration here in our city.
  • As we did last year, the members of the Special Events team feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment at having produced such memorable gatherings. We remain dedicated to our mission of bringing together artists of every shape and discipline to celebrate our common values and engage in the kind of self-expression that Burning Man is now famous for inspiring.

We’d like to apply our learning from 2003 to events in 2004. We are planning a Burning Man Fire Arts Festival–the culmination of many years’ planning! We will organize at least one Flambé Lounge in some new way that will also allow for more opportunities for conversation. Also, we plan to reinstate the Desert Art Preview. We want to commemorate No Spectators Day in San Francisco (July 31), and we are considering doing a Burning Man Film Festival to showcase the many new Burning Man videos that are pouring into the office. We may not reach all these goals, but we are excited by the prospect of trying new things and doing a bit more than we did in 2003.

In the meantime, we encourage you to keep the fire burning all year long. Please check back at the Flambé Lounge section of the web site and read the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter for upcoming events. E-mail flambelounge@burningman.com if you live in the San Francisco area and would like to volunteer as part of the special event teams.

Submitted by,
$teven Ra$pa
Special Events & Regional Outreach