“What is Burning Flipside?” you ask. Well, it’s the younger sister of Burning Man, the infamous week-long festival celebrating radical self-expression, love, art, and yes, other less than admirable qualities including — but not limited to — excessive drug and alcohol use, nudity, and sex. However if any of my burner (the term for regular Burning Man attendees) friends ever heard me utter those last few words then I would have hell to pay for painting these events in a negative light.
In truth Burning Man and Burning Flipside are ridiculous amounts of fun. In keeping with my complete, even dangerous levels of candor here at the HoliDaze, let me just put it this way: the only times I’ve ever been on over a dozen different illegal drugs at once was at Burning Flipside. After all there is one big rule there that supersedes all others:
“Participation, Not Observation”
If you cannot handle the thought of loud music, flashing lights, nudity and over-consumption 24hrs a day for an entire week, well then these festivals are certainly not for you. However do not fear, there is always a group of volunteer rangers and medical personnel on hand. When someone starts OD’ing (it happens) the nearby people will all cry out and run to one of the trails crisscrossing the venue. In less than 60 seconds help will arrive and that person is taken to the medical tent. See, better — and faster — service than calling 911.
Don’t get me wrong though, it isn’t all sex and drugs. Art and originality take precedence here. The drugs and free love just come with that. As such there is also a second key rule at these festivals:
No photos allowed unless everyone being photographed gives consent
Wait a minute…no photos? Isn’t this a FriFotos post? How does this work? You’ll see… (Most people just publish a single photo and a couple sentences for their FriFotos posts but not me. As anyone who has ever exchanged emails with me will tell you, I cannot write a short one. I am a natural storyteller and it shows.)
The final key thing at the core of these events is money is not allowed there. Neither is bartering. Everyone is simply instructed to bring enough food, water, alcohol, and drugs to sustain themselves over the week-long event. You then offer that to anyone and everyone. Participants cook extra food and offer it to strangers walking by and open their camp bars up to one and all. Each person will carry around with them a non-disposable cup and use this everywhere they go for the entire week. (Disposable cups, plates, and silverware are not allowed.) Bags of various illegal drugs are also passed around like they were candy. It really is a big free-for-all. However I met some of my best friends back in the States at Burning Flipside and Burning Man.
Sustainability is another fundamental element of these events. Littering is not allowed, not even cigarette butts. Of course Johnny B Tripping might make an occasional slip-up without realizing it but usually anyone that sees anything out of place will pick it up and dispose of it. That is known as MOOP — Matter Out Of Place. Everything that can be recycled will be. In fact they even have a designated recycling center on hand each year.
Burning Man and Burning Flipside are both similar in that they stress unique artwork of all forms and over-the-top self-expression. It’s a chance for people to break free of the rules and monotony of life in the States and go overboard. Again, that is why taking photos here is very taboo. People still do it, don’t get me wrong, but those are usually the first-timers who don’t yet have a clear understanding of the environment. Trust me, the corporate executive running around with only a t-shirt on (those guys are known as shirt-cockers) frying on acid certainly doesn’t want his photo posted online. Neither do the few celebrities that may or may not make an appearance. But beyond the art and creativity of the whole event the big highlight of the event (and where the name originates from) is an amazingly spectacular effigy burn at the end of the week.
Participants to the two events can come solo, however most attendees organize into groups ranging from 10-50+ people nearly a year in advance and design elaborately themed camps. These camps then spend that year constructing amazing sets like nothing someone who has never been can imagine. Most all include bars and DJs but that is where the similarities stop. However if I tried to describe these then this post would jump from 2,000 words to 20,000 so let me just say this: once you are done reading this article, do a Google image search for Burning Man. It will blow your mind. But not yet — finish the post first 😉
Keep in mind that there are a few key differences between the two festivals. For starters Burning Man is always held in the same location every year, a remote part of Nevada where participants literally build a temporary city every year. It is capped at 50,000 people and the effigy is always of a man. Burning Flipside however is the Austin, Texas take on Burning Man and the largest burner regional in the world at 2,499 people — any more than that requires an special permit and some sort of police presence, which for obvious reasons no one wants. And yes, the trend has spread all over the world. Burner regionals can be found in every State in places and cities you would never expect, as well as in other countries. There are even people that have been known to fly halfway around the world just to come to these festivals. While living in Tokyo in 2008 I connected with a group of burners there, many of whom attend every year.
Flipside changes locations every couple of years to keep out paparazzi and also features a radically different complex and creative effigy every year.
One year it was a rocket, another year a monkey…you never know what to expect. Along with the varying effigies comes unique themes as well. 2013’s was The Bandersnatch Boobytrap and 2012’s The Freaky Deeky Time Machine. But my favorite (yes, I’ve attended many years — even used to travel back to the States specifically for Flipside) was in 2010: The Post Apocalyptic Prom.
Theme ideas are submitted beforehand and chosen long in advance, to give people time to prepare. The burner community is made up volunteers who spend hundreds even thousands of hours ahead of time getting everything ready. In fact it is pretty much like a family. Upon arrival at Flipside participants are greeted by hugs from topless women and cries of “Welcome home!” as they are presented with a map to help navigate the premises, which covers several acres. Each camp has an allocated spot in a specific region and must strictly adhere to their boundaries when assembling their sets.
Back in 2010 at Flipside I met some cool cats from California with an amazing school bus that had been converted into a hippie-mobile. Long story short rather than go home after the event I hopped on the bus and took part in a 6-month 32-state hippie road trip.
More information and photos Burning Flipside and my 6-month cross-country hippie road-trip