The Center Camp Café: A Kaleidoscope of Wild and Whacky… Burning Man 2013

A show of some kind of the other is pretty much guaranteed when you visit the Center Camp Cafe. Here couples practice partner yoga. Are the two guys center-right twins?

There is always something to see or learn at Burning Man’s Center Camp Cafe. Here couples practice partner yoga. Are the two guys center-right twins?

Peggy and I walked into the Center Camp Café to the sound of applause, which wasn’t surprising since someone is always performing. This time, however, the clapping came from the back of the large tent where people line up to get coffee, tea and lemonade. It’s one of the few places you can buy something at Burning Man. The counter stretches from one wall to the other.

During a busy day, Burners are stacked up at the counter 20 deep in several lines. There is constant banter back and forth between the large staff of volunteers and their customers. Sometimes you have to sing a song or tell a story before you get your drink.

It was night now, however, and most Burners were elsewhere. The staff had decided it was time for an impromptu dance. They had climbed up on the counter and were bouncing, bobbing, weaving, stomping and twirling to the music. It was a typical Center Camp happening.

Like the Man and the Temple, Center Camp Café is a go-to place for most Burners. To begin with, it is stuffed with both art and entertainment, inside and out. A large stage surrounded by comfy couches provides a venue for scheduled entertainers and speakers as well as a place for people who want to sleep. A smaller, less formal stage with wooden benches is open for anybody. Just sign up. Storytellers, poets and magicians are welcome as are people who want to rant and rave. The latter remind me of my days as a student at Berkeley.

One might expect a guitar player to be found on the major stage at the Center Camp Cafe...

One might expect a guitar player to be found on the major stage at the Center Camp Cafe…

Accordion player at Burning Man Center Camp 2013

…but don’t be surprised to also find an accordion player.

Knife and fork art at Burning Man 2013

This knife and fork caught my attention as an appropriate art piece for a cafe.

Cork fork at Center Camp cafe, Burning Man 2013

Here’s a close up of the fork.

Most entertainment is less organized. Parades, for example, are common at Burning Man. Many of them end up marching through the Café. I’ve seen rabbits, and carrots, and belly dancers, and people in little black dresses (both men and women), and kazoo bands, to name a few. The rabbits and carrots, BTW, are at war with each other.

I almost always go on a clock-like walk around the Café to see what else is happening. It’s an easy way to pick up one of BRC’s newspapers or fill out the Burning Man Census at one of the tables provided. Giving things away is big business. You can have your fortune read or receive a massage. Pastie Dan is a regular, providing his usual nipple-cover service for women. It’s impolite to stare but impossible not to notice. I reported last year on the woman who walked around carrying a block of ice. She would hand you the block and then put her freezing hands on your neck. It was instant air conditioning.

Painter works on canvas at Burning Man 2013.

Here a painter works his magic on a large canvas at the Center Camp Cafe.

Body painting at Burning Man 2013

While another artist uses a woman’s leg for his canvas. The artist’s goggles have a definite steam punk look. Body painting takes many forms at Burning Man with whole camps devoted to the art.

The Center Camp Café is also a place to see and be seen. Burners dress in their best get-ups for a stroll around the perimeter. There are angels and demons and preachers and shamans. I sometime think there are more kilts than you will find in Scotland. Native American headdresses seemed “in” for some reason this year and steam punk is becoming more and more popular. A whole story could be devoted to what’s trending at Burning Man.

And finally, there is center stage, which really isn’t a stage but is rather a large, round center space where people do their own thing for an audience that isn’t. The photo at the beginning of this blog shows people practicing partner yoga in the center area. The following video shows a man working with flags. There is also other action such as the guy on the right wearing the pink outfit scratching the head of the woman who swoops in on him.

Mural painting on back of Center Camp cafe at Burning Man 2013

The back of the Center Camp Cafe is covered with murals. I asked one woman who was painting a mural if I could take her photo. “Sure,” she replied, “as long as you come back when the mural is finished.”

Murals at Burning Man's Center Camp 2013

Here’s the completed mural along with one on either side.

One of numerous bike racks outside of the Center Camp Cafe provides an idea of how many people visit the Cafe.

One of numerous bike racks outside of the Center Camp Cafe provides an idea of how many people visit the Cafe.

Center Camp Cafe at Burning Man 2013

A photo of the Burning Camp Cafe from the Playa. The flags on top are one of the major location points that Burners use to figure out where in the heck they are.

Burning Man Center Camp cafe flags at night.

At night, the flags are an even more important beacon for lost Burners. Here they are slightly blurry from being blown about by the wind.

NEXT BLOG: We journey to the outer edge of Burning Man and discover strange, alien beings, which is hardly a surprise.

8 thoughts on “The Center Camp Café: A Kaleidoscope of Wild and Whacky… Burning Man 2013

  1. Well, there we have it. Center Camp Cafe as Sproul Plaza East. 😉

    I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m so drawn to the knife and fork. I think it’s the simplicity. I can imagine a day at Burning Man, or even two. Three, maybe. But I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed even by looking at your photos. Perhaps for those who are there, it doesn’t seem so – well, overwhelming – because you’re only in one place at once.

    The fellow working on the large canvas did bring back a sudden memory of painting a house interior in about 1966 or 1967. The base coat was all black, and we added the dayglo designs as we pleased – under the glow of black lights, of course. At the time, I was going with a fellow who played twelve-string and carried his guitar around in a wooden case shaped like a coffin. I had granny glasses.

    But we sang songs like this. Maybe we need to pull out some of the old songs again.

    • Sat on the floor of Sproul Hall in the 1964 take over of the admin building during the Free Speech Movement and sang such songs with Joan Baez. (grin) Today Peggy still breaks out her guitar and sings the old protest songs. Also, BTW, I am reading a very interesting book called Subversives on the history of the FBI at Berkley during the protests movements. What we believed was happening was happening.

      Like the dayglo. I am sure you were much much more of a hippie than I was. 🙂

      I enjoyed the fork as well. I don’t see Burning Man as overwhelming but I go with a specific focus. I realize there are hundreds of things I won’t see or do, and that’s okay. –Curt

    • Exhausted? Actually, James, it takes a few days to get back into the routine of every day life. I suspect there are folks who never quite make it back to where they were, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think the artistic types are inspired; creative juices are pumped up instead of dried out. –Curt

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