As temperatures in NYC plummeted to “oh my god is this really happening” levels, I braved the nine-degree chill last Wednesday to warm myself up with a Burn.
Once a year, the week before Labor Day, thousands make a mass exodus from their urban confines and head toward the blazing, barren northern Nevada desert to transform it into a psychedelic playground for the desperately creative. Since 1986, these lovers of art, music, and anything counter-sub-culture have banded together to shed layers, don feathers, make art, make friends, make love, do yoga, do drugs, do whatever…all leading up to the burning of a large wooden effigy…the Burning Man.
But for those in the New York area who can’t wait until August, or are unsure if camping in the desert with nary a shower or flushable toilet in sight while a bunch of artists trade salt for good wishes is appealing, there are weekly Burner Happy Hours held right here in our beloved Big Apple every single Wednesday. Seriously. The happy hours have been held every Wednesday, rain or shine, since 2002.
Each week the Burner Happy Hour is held at a Burner-friendly bar (Burners are past-, future-, and pending-attendees of Burning Man, or people just generally down with the culture). This week’s event was at Pinks in the East Village, a hole-in-the-wall bar on E 10th owned by a fellow Burner.
In general, sub-culture groups make me nervous. Not in a “damn hippies” kind of way, but in a “hmm I’m not sure I’m really cool enough to be sharing the same air as you,” kind of fashion. This particular evening was no exception. I make no art, save for the occasional splotched finger paintings from childhood that my mother recently tried to give back to me….(thanks, Mom). Fortunately, Burner culture was built on the principal of Radical Inclusion: “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” I’m serious. That’s their slogan. If that’s not an invitation for the hopelessly awkward, I don’t know what is.
I nervously sidled up to the bar, glancing around hoping to make eye contact with someone. I clutched a Makers in my awkwardly sweaty palm and introduced myself to two women waiting at the bar. Nicole P., one of the chief organizers of the happy hours, was the first to say hello. Enveloped in a bear-like fluffy coat, she happily introduced me to some of her fellow Burners: artists who specialize in large-scale installations, singers, and those who attend Burning Man as observers. It was a perfect microcosm to showcase the all-inclusive mantra.
The next hour I peppered them with a drunken game of 20 questions. “Do you have to make art to go to Burning Man?” No. One of the women at the Happy Hour was a long-time Burner, but just as an enjoyer of the art her comrades created. “Do you need a ridiculous amount of preparation to go to Burning Man?” You don’t have to. You can plop yourself down and be a Burning Man mooch, but the majority of people join a camp and develop elaborate, all-inclusive methods of survival (You bring the toilet paper, I’ll bring the soap, kind of thing). In fact, it’s not terribly easy to get to Burning Man from New York, I learned, so attending the Happy Hours are a great way to pick up tips on how best to make the trek out to Black Rock Desert each summer. “Are Burning Man Happy Hours themed?” Not always, but often a theme is provided to express the Burner spirit. Pirate Nights are popular, as are art project co-hosts, theme camp meet-and-greets, etc. The group celebrates creativity, sharing and information-swapping, which was the impetus behind these weekly get togethers.
As for Radical Inclusion, it’s a wonderful idea in concept, and unique to other sub-cultures (yeah, I’m looking at you, hipsters). That said, I still felt like I was a fly on the wall of the super cool kids’ party, but I’m pretty sure a week in the desert dancing underneath a smoldering wooden giant, mind expanded and body unwashed, would quickly change all that. I wouldn’t have any new art to contribute, but I do know where I can get my hands on some pretty sweet finger paintings…