WTF Just Happened at Burning Man Part 2: Why 2023 Was Black Rock City’s Finest Moment

Buck Down
8 min readSep 12, 2023
image by Benjamin Ortega

By midday on Saturday, the story of an otherwise minor weather event in an obscure corner of the northern Nevada desert had somehow become an above-the-fold, A1 story in nearly every major news outlet on Planet Earth. What amounted to just less than an inch of rainfall left some of the world’s most prestigious media agencies reaching into the bag of stock words usually reserved for force majeure mass casualty events like earthquakes and wildfires, with the terms “apocalyptic” and “thousands trapped” featured prominently.

In reality, the only thing that made this noteworthy was that it happened in the middle of what would have been a transitional day between the last trickle of ingress and the very earliest beginnings of egress from the 2023 Burning Man event. An event that still hadn’t even reached its scheduled apex — the burning of its iconic totem at the city’s center. More notably, this had been the third such weather event that warranted the temporary closing of the event’s front gate, along with an attendant shelter-in-place order that had occurred since the beginning of this year’s on-site production arc within the last month.

The temporary closure of the city due to rain, while rare, is in no way a novel event. In the 26 years I have personally attended and/or worked the event in some capacity — it’s happened at least a dozen or more times. None of them ever required CNN choppering in reporters to then debate with frazzled Gate staff where they could stand out of the way while the event tried to manage the mess created by the panic of people trying to flee the event — largely ginned up on the fear created by the exact same kind of reporting CNN had marshaled thousands of dollars and man hours to contribute to.

A sober person could argue the tipping point of all this hubbub was the overly dramatic display comedian Chris Rock and an EDM DJ named Diplo made on social media of their panicked multi-hour journey on foot (against all advice) through the mud to leave the event early while everyone else was doing the otherwise unspectacular feat of simply waiting for the rain to stop, and a subsequent day or so of sun to return the desert surface to its otherwise concrete-like state.

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Buck Down

Professional traveling musician, artist and writer. Amateur comedian and smart person.