ELKO — Most of the audience may have been hitting retirement, but they listened attentively to a presentation Wednesday about Burning Man, the radical artists colony that pops up in the Nevada desert each summer.
A few even said they might sign up for a trip this year.
“The first year I went with just a backpack and a tent,” said Burning Man Public Relations Manager Megan Miller before her presentation to the Rotary Club of Elko. “It’s addictive.”
Miller talked with Rotarians over lunch to explain the basics of the festival — self-reliance, innovation, creativity — and to dispel some of the misconceptions.
Paul Gardner has been trying to lure Miller to Elko for years, he said.
“It can be a life-changing experience and I thought it might be interesting for people to hear about it,” Gardner said.
The festival is a week-long gathering each year in the Black Rock desert just northeast of Reno. Happening on the same plot of land since 1990, Burning Man becomes a temporary city of more than 50,000 people with art installations, themed camps and no trash cans (participants are required to haul out their own trash).
Nothing is bought or sold at the festival — aside from ice and a few drinks to keep people healthy in the hot desert in August — and the community urges gifting without expectation of return.
Attendees are called Burners.
“They can be anyone from business leaders to farmers to technology folks,” Miller said.
A crowd of Burners makes their way through Elko each year on their way to the festival and the group believes they spent about $30 million in northern Nevada in 2012, Miller said.
“They buy everything from gas to food to water to costumes,” she said.
While some people harbor the misconception that the festival is simply about getting drunk, partying and getting high, Miller said, people are starting to catch on to its allure as a community event.
“I think the part that connects with people is that it’s about survival in the desert,” Miller said. “There is a sense of connection with others and with your surroundings.”
The festival culminates each year with the burning and explosion of a giant sculpture of a man.
“We do like fire at Burning Man,” Miller laughed.
Gardner attended Burning Man in 2005, 2006 and 2012. He remembers borrowing his dad’s motorhome for one festival and asking for two weeks to clean it when he was done (the festival is dusty).
“But when I was headed back he called and said, ‘get it back here because we have to head out on a trip tomorrow,’” Gardner said. “I had to get it back and try to clean it as fast as I could so he could turn it around. But it was still worth it.”
Tickets to the festival are $380, with $190 for people who can prove low income status.