Black Rock City

AKA Burning Man Festival AKA Cacophony Zone Trip #4

A brief history

Following a tradition started by Mary Grauberger in the early 80s, Larry Harvey and Jerry James threw an annual beach party on the summer solstice, starting in 1986, one of many such parties on Baker Beach, a nude beach in San Francisco. This bonfire, with wood assembled in the shape of an effigy mainly by Jerry, gradually became known as the Burning Man party.

In 1990, Kevin Evans and John Law planned Cacophony Zone trip #4 to Black Rock playa on labor day weekend, a Temporary Autonomous Zone w/dadaist, situationist sculpture and randomness, all to be burnt. A radical social experiment.

When Larry and Jerry got kicked off Baker Beach by cops & fire dept, Kevin & John invited them to bring the Man out to their Zone Trip. Another Cacophonist, Michael Mikel (Danger Ranger), saw that bringing all these people to Black Rock would be facilitated by some camp-counselor-types to make sure nobody wandered off and died in the desert, and called them the Black Rock Rangers. Thus Black Rock City was born, organized by John and Michael, based on Kevin’s idea, with Larry and Jerry’s symbol, with nudist traditions ingrained by Mary’s choice of location for a solstice party ten years earlier and reinforced by trips to the hot springs nearby.

They called it the Burning Man Festival and/or Black Rock City, and it doubled in size each year for seven years, expanding by word of mouth (no advertising or online ticket sales) with no fundamental changes in rules or culture.

As it grew, Jerry and Kevin stopped going. A partnership was created between Larry, Michael, and John to own the name, later replaced by an LLC owned by the same three.

In 1997, the final schism came after participant deaths, much publicity, and the BLM refusing a permit (in part because of land-speed record trials scheduled for Black Rock that year). John withdrew, becoming a silent partner while Larry, with girlfriend Marian Goodell and with Michael’s acquiescence, created the BMorg, a corporation with permits and contracts, a board of directors, full time employees, departments, PR people (who largely left Law, Evans and Cacophony out of the official history), and ever tighter rules and scheduling.

Connections between art and money became major focii. BMorg began funding art projects that conform to its themes, and in order to present BM art outside BRC it created the Black Rock Arts Foundation, which has been cited as delivering 27 cents per donated dollar to artists. After a rebuffed attempt to democratize Bmorg’s art funding process, several Cacophonists formed an alternate art funding structure called Borg2, termed a “mild revolt” in the press and lasting one season.

2007 has been another watershed year. For the first time, BMorg licenced companies to show (eco-friendly) products in an expo under the Man. Simultaneously, Larry Harvey tried to gain sole control of the name, resulting in a legal battle between the three owners other over it. John Law’s response to the other two suits was to sue to put the name and symbol into the public domain. Kevin Evans and Jerry James have both weighed in supporting John Law, as have many Cacophonists and early Burning Man volunteers. In response to these events and to the mainstreaming of its rules and culture, the Man – now a corporate symbol as well as a cultural icon- was burned ahead of schedule by another Cacophonist, who BMorg had arrested and charged with arson, a felony carrying jail time.


One Response to “Black Rock City”

  1. jvol Says:


    BMorg’s official history page – the origin of the symbol that became known as Burning Man.

    Cacophony Zone Trip #4 – the origin of the culture and art that became known as Burning Man.

    Kevin Evans – BRC conceptual origin story

    BRC photos – first five years – Kevin Evans

    Burning Man 1990

    Burning man tries to cope with cash (Financial Practices of LLC and Nonprofit)

    BORG2, Burning Man and the Challenges of Collaborative Leadership

    Smiley man – dawn of counter-culture-jamming at Burning Man

    Burning Man partners all suing each other (yelp thread)

    Burning Man Founders Mired in Dispute (article)
    Co-Founder of Radical Self-Expression Festival Burning Man Sues to Put Name in Public Domain

    Is Burning Man a Brand or a Movement?
    “Bringing the dealings of all parties involved, their intentions, motives and history into the light can only be good for the people who enjoy the event.”

    comments about the Premature Ignition on LaughingSquid…-to-blame/

    Conceptual Terrorist article in the Onion, w/ multiple references to Early Burn of the Man

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