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Musician made it through rain-soaked Burning Man event and vows to return

When the unexpected and sudden storm at Black Rock poured down on us, the fine sand underneath our feet destabilized. I moved carefully, measuring every step I took.

  • 8 months ago
  • October 25, 2023
6 min read
Amidst the muddy camp at the Burning Man event, a glorious rainbow appeared in the sky. Amidst the muddy camp at the Burning Man event, a glorious rainbow appeared in the sky. | Photo courtesy of Santiago Bartolomé
Interview Subject
Santiago Bartolomé of Córdoba, Argentina is a producer, curator, composer and trumpet player. He serves as the Artistic Director of the Bienal de Música de Córdoba. Santiago studied trumpet with Eric Aubier at the E.N.M. of Montreuil (Paris). As a soloist he performed with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Córdoba and the Orquesta Sinfónica del Cusco (Peru), and has been a permanent member of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Córdoba since 2001. He has toured the USA, Brazil, Turkey, Paraguay, Bolivia, Spain, Chile, Poland, Germany, Colombia, Uruguay, Mexico, France, Italy, Peru and the Dominican Republic. He has performed at international festivals such as Burning Man (USA), MUTEK (ES/AR), Zona MACO (MX), ISEA (ES), among others. He is an eclectic artist who presents performances that go beyond music.
Background Information
Burning Man is a multicultural event developed by the Burning Man Project. It is a “global ecosystem of artists, creators and community organizers who co-create art, events and local initiatives around the world”, according to the festival’s website. Its mission is “to guide, nurture and protect the most permanent community created by its culture (…) to generate a society that connects each individual to their creative powers, to participation in community, civic life and nature.

NEVADA, United States ꟷ Both times I attended the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert, I maintained a singular philosophy: let go of expectations and be surprised by what you find. This year, I found a stormy landscape wrought with uncertainty; but I also found cooperation. When the rain began to fall on the desert in September, it came in torrents. Very quickly, the Black Rock transformed into a swamp. Concerts were cancelled and people began to panic. As a Latino, I like to think I’m accustomed to facing the unexpected. On this day, I kept my cool.

A sense of panic weighed in the air as Burning Man became soaked in rain

When the unexpected and sudden storm at Black Rock poured down on us, the fine sand underneath our feet destabilized. I moved carefully, measuring every step I took. Even a quick trip to the bathroom meant walking slowly as huge amounts of mud caked onto my feet.

A general sense of panic weighed heavy in the air, and with poor internet connectivity, all sorts of different versions of what could happen began to circulate. Some people said, “We’ll be here for days,” while others indicated the gates were open. Uncertain how long we would endure these conditions, we began to ration food. We needed to maintain our energy and any shift in mood could make coexistence much more difficult.

“We went into the wilderness for a festival,” I thought, “and the wilderness decided what would or would not happen.” That concept remains with me even now. Watching people’s reactions, I saw the anxiety spreading amongst the crowds. One moment someone said, “Everything is fine, we’re going to be okay,” and the next we heard the exact opposite. People’s faces began to show the strain.

I overcame my worries and stuck it out at Burning Man

That first night, my tent became soaked and the mattress was cold. I couldn’t fathom how anything could get better. Within our camping area, we decided to take action and forged a family of sorts.

Everyone faced the same issues so we gathered together the next night in the main tent, spreading mattresses out on the floor. We slept communally, like a big pajama party. To me, it felt like the manifestation of the human spirit in the face of adversity. It was an honest and organic connection.

Still, uncertainty grew. My heart clenched when I heard someone had died. We started to worry about the water and electricity. Now it wasn’t just a matter of getting a little muddy, cold, or hungry. If I didn’t stay attentive to my surroundings, I could face dangerous risks. I became much more focused and careful, choosing to concentrate rather than despair.

As the hours passed, I convinced myself that the worst thing that could happen is I miss my plane home and that would not change my life.

A glorious sunrise brought me into balance

One morning at 5:00 a.m., I walked out to the single place that had an internet signal. Freezing, sleepy, and muddy, I walked for an hour. Just then, the most incredible sunrise I ever saw in my entire life sprawled out before me.

On one side, I saw a full moon, and on the other, the sun began to climb. On both horizons, both stars seemed to join me. In my mind, this was the epitome of Burning Man. Everything in life is ephemeral; we experience moments of joy and moments of suffering, and then they multiply. That sunrise brought me great joy.

Saturday – the day with the most rain – felt complicated and scary but in the midst of it all, I heard word my concert would continue. I loaded up all my equipment, put bags on my feet to keep them dry, and walked. As I played my music, I saw people trying to stand. They looked as though they were skating on an ice rink.

Yet, they looked joyous as they connected with my form of art. I knew in that moment, I did not play for recognition or compliments; I played to give back and to share in what we were all experiencing.

A lot of misinformation circulated social media

I will never forget the moment at camp when another Argentinian passed by as I gazed at the horizon. He told me he was leaving the desert and invited me to go. I did not think twice. I said goodbye to everyone and we left.

Getting out felt catastrophic; it took 11 hours to traverse the five-mile drive to the road. All around us, the scene looked apocalyptic. Hundreds of vehicles lay stuck in the mud, motionless. They belonged to those people who panicked and tried leaving during the storm.

The moment I had a wifi signal on my phone, hundreds of messages flooded in from friends and acquaintances asking what happened and checking in on me. I realized the outside world also heard many versions of what happened at Burning Man. Rumors like the festival being cancelled just weren’t true. Many parts of it went on. It never ceases to amaze me how misinformation gets magnified on social media and on the news.

When I went to Burning Man, I said I would take what the festival gave me. I thought I had seen it all but now, after this experience, I will absolutely come back. The brotherhood forged and the adversity overcome showed me – this is a place I want to be.

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