I was first approached to come to Burning Man and play viola in the Black Rock Philharmonic around January of 2018. New year, new beginnings. I knew OF Burning Man, but I didn’t really know about Burning Man, you know? So, being the compulsive person I am, I said yes first, then did the internet research later. I discovered the 10 Principles of Burning Man, and some definitely caught my attention. Radical self-expression: Yass. Decommodification: yasss. Leaving no trace: Yassss. Radical self-reliance: Yasssss! Now I understood why some of my friends kept telling me I would love Burning Man. I was fortunate to have a playa big sister of sorts in Ceren (aka Cece), the ethereally beautiful and beautifully talented cellist who invited me to join the BRP in the first place. She imparted her wisdom on me, shared her stories, but most importantly, encouraged me with so much love and positive vibes. Little did I realize that this was just the beginning.
Sure, the planning was overwhelming at times, and I often wondered if I was prepared enough. For weeks leading up, I would go over my inventory list daily and ask myself, “Do I have enough here to not die?” One just never knows what to expect from the Infamous Playa. And then before I knew it, it was time to begin the journey to Black Rock City. From day one it was an adventure, and I love adventures. I was giddy the whole trip – from getting on a plane with other Burners and surveying their bags and what they packed, to staying in a vintage casino in Reno that probably hasn’t been renovated since the 50s, to meeting an OG Burner in her 80s at the casino’s ice machine who could still climb 13 flights of stairs and not be out of breath and who gave me some encouraging words of wisdom as the sunset the night before I’d be waking up in BRC, to the beautiful drive to BRC that reminded me so much of the shrub-steppe of my hometown, to the waiting in line at the gate with dozens of other Burners, the dust swirling and the excitement mounting. Nothing – not my REI membership, not my hours/nights/days going down internet rabbit holes, not my nine years living on the east coast – could have prepared me for the unique wonder of Burning Man. The art, the people, the mutant vehicles – it was all breathtaking. And I was going to perform here – how did I get so lucky? I was there because a couple of very special people opened their hearts to me, namely, Ceren and Roger (who hadn’t even met me yet!). Now that is radical. I was instantly humbled.
Playing in the BRP ended up being such a joy. The players are all beautiful, unique, and talented individuals. I can’t remember the last time I was surrounded by so much love and kindness. The audiences were some of the most appreciative people I have ever played for. I perform for a living! I have rocked crowds and I have played for people who couldn’t care less. But it is rare that I play for thousands (yes, thousands) who truly appreciate the gift that music is and visibly express that gratitude. Was this a dream? I was overcome with emotions, and it is no secret that I cried after our final performance.
The other Burners were so accepting and non-judgmental (another thing I wasn’t prepared for!). I tend to not talk about myself and I found myself opening up fearlessly to complete strangers, talking about deeply personal matters and expressing my questions about living a meaningful life. At the time, I was dealing with many things, including losing someone earlier that year (which I told almost no one about at the time). Ironically, this person’s birthday was September 1 – the same day the Man burned, and the birthday of a radiant woman who I met through my camp and who ended up becoming one of my best friends on the playa (and we had an amazing time celebrating her birthday, by the way). I don’t interpret that as a coincidence. This is the magic of Burning Man.
I met a lot of people on playa who had lost someone or something. Some of them told me they came to Burning Man that year primarily to grieve. The welcoming embrace I felt from Cece and from the BRP, I would also feel from other Burners that I meet all over the playa. From the LED forest to the vegan ice cream line at Pink Heart, to post-BRP concert minglings over slushies. Burning Man gave me an opportunity to acknowledge my feelings in a safe space. I had brought way more to BM than I needed, and I’m not talking about vegan jerky and chapstick. Death/tragedy/trauma can be many things – a deep sadness, a source of anger, but it can also be potential for growth. It is an opportunity to let go of that which no longer serves you. To let die the parts of yourself that are not who you want to be. Shed them away like a snake sheds her skin. Burn them at Temple. Whatever speaks to you. And like a forest sprouting up from ash or a lotus springing up from the mud, rise up a better person than you were.
And there, at Black Rock City, around 70,000 strangers, I allowed myself to let go and I allowed myself to become a better (and lighter) person. And I had a hell of a good time. And to think, all of this healing started with music and dust.
_Kim Venetz, (Alkimist), Violist