Theme Camps and the Tribes of Burning Man… The Burning Man Series

The 2015 Art Theme at Burning Man was “Carnival of Mirrors.” The Kostume Kult Tribe out of New York responded by building this camp on the Esplanade, Black Rock City’s main street. Here’s how the tribe describes itself: “The  Kostume Kult  arts collective is a volunteer-led, non-profit community organization supporting interactive arts, costuming, street theater and absurdist fun while bringing wonderful people together.”


Tribes and theme camps are an essential part of part of Burning Man. Tribes are basically a group of people who decide to hang out and camp together. They can come together through friendship, a common interest, or geographical location. Some number in the hundreds and have a sophisticated structure with year around planning. Others consist of a few people who more or less show up and camp together with minimal arrangements. My tribe, the Horse-Bone Tribe, resembles the latter. The increasing difficulty of obtaining tickets and the spiraling cost of attending has played havoc with smaller tribes, including ours. I may be the tribe this year. It’s a good thing I have multiple personalities. Bone will keep me company.

The larger the tribe, the more elaborate the camp. And some can be quite impressive, as today’s photos show. They help create Burning Man’s unique atmosphere. Many larger tribes also support mutant vehicles and all participate in Burning Man’s gifting society by offering some type of free service including entertainment, classes, alcohol, food, costumes, bike repair, etc. The list goes on.

Each year, Burning Man has an art theme. This year’s is Radical Ritual. According to Burning Man: “In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions.” That’s a lot of room for creativity, and mischief. My camera will be busy. Both artists and tribes use the theme for inspiration, although it is not required. The photo of the Kostume Kult Tribes camp at the top of this post is an example.

Following are a few examples taken from different years of major camps built in Black Rock City by tribes to reflect the year’s theme or the tribe’s particular vision.

Searching for massage, raw food, ambient trance, native wisdom or numerous other paths to spiritual enlightenment, the Sacred Spaces Village offers it all— plus a really gorgeous structure.

Looking up from inside the Sacred Spaces Village.

The folks from Silicon Valley have been creating a village at Burning Man for many years. Don’t be surprised to find the billionaire founders of such companies as Google hanging out here. The camp is large enough that it needs its own map. Smaller groups within the overall village sponsor the different areas and provide different opportunities for Burners. For example, if you want to sample various types of sauerkraut, you could check in at Pickle Me Elmo.

A number of the larger camps at Burning Man are music venues. One of these is Ooligan Alley with its 747 cockpit serving as the DJ booth. The sound equipment for this camp alone is worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Celtic Chaos is another major music venue. I was amused to read that its motto is “Bringing a little more mayhem to the universe.”

The French Quarter at Burning Man brought to Black Rock City by Burners from New Orleans has always been one of my favorite camps. Great coffee and pastries can be found here, along with New Orleans Jazz.

Burners from Kentucky sponsored the KFC camp which featured fried baloney on white bread and a shot of bourbon. I stopped by for breakfast and the Colonel waved at me.

The Alternative Energy Village is the place to go if you want to learn more about alternative energy or even live off the grid. No generators are allowed in the camp.

This ‘Firehouse’ was created by the Do More Now tribe out of Seattle. Its objective is “empowering participants to challenge themselves by coming together to create innovative and playful spaces that enable and encourage the creation of art, performance and community activities. In other words – we create possibility!” It is a goal that could be applied to many of the camps at Burning Man.

I’ll conclude with this rather dreamy creation, which I have always found appealing because of its focus on white and its use of balloons. Also, check out the white mutant vehicle on the right. Unfortunately, I don’t know which tribe sponsored this camp.


I’ll be taking a blog break to wander the Central Coast of California for the next couple of weeks. See you back here afterwards!

52 thoughts on “Theme Camps and the Tribes of Burning Man… The Burning Man Series

      • I got as far as the town of Big Sur, Suan. 🙂 The road was closed beyond that due to slides. I’ll do a post on it. I have been up and down the Big Sur Coast several times, however, including bicycling it once. That was an experience! –Curt

  1. First wishing you a wonderful time wandering California> i shall look forward to future reports.
    I am wondering how far ahead people have access to the Burning Man site. It seems that some of these neighborhoods would take quite some time to build. I also see it might be a challenge to try to go on one’s own to the event. Too bad as your posts have me completely intrigued.

  2. Since you start me out on top at the red dot saying ‘You Are Here’, I think I’ll mosey into the Buzz Inn and check out the Hydration Bar. As far as the tribes go – I like the firehouse at the Do More Now clan.

  3. This is all so bizarrely intriguing! I would have never imagined all this. I’ve never been to Burning Man, but every time you write about it, I feel like I should. And then I feel intimidated. I’d have no idea how to fit in.

    • Fitting in isn’t difficult, Juliann. All kinds of folks show up there. Our group over the years has included educators, lawyers, judges, interior decorators, bike shop owners, etc— even an elementary school principal: Peggy. 🙂

  4. Offers good insight into the collective impulses of the event … do all the electrics run off those solar panels? And what goes on at Otis Spankmore? 😉 Have a good time away, Curt!

    • Me too, Bill. I keep thinking, “Well, maybe this will be my last year.” I’ve been going for so many years, there are only 4 or 5% who have been around longer. And yet I am drawn back time and again. –Curt

  5. Curt: I am so looking forward to your 2017series of photos from the Burning Man. There is so much to be done with this years theme, my mind goes immediately to the rich, powerful, and often hidden story of the feminine.

    I do think the French Quarter at Burning Man is just such a fascination …among a thousand or more daily fascinations. Jazz in such an imginative environment as Burning Man must be fantastic.

    ‘Fried Bologna on white bread and a shot of burbon’ reminds me of a three day music concert I once attended’, but that’s another story.

    Great post. All my best to you, JoHanna

    • “Fried Bologna on white bread and a shot of burbon’ reminds me of a three day music concert I once attended.” Now that caught my attention. 🙂 Do tell, JoHanna.
      I am fascinated to see how the theme plays out. I am sure that the feminine will be well represented. Thanks. –Curt

    • It’s always fun AC. As for the “White everything Camp,” I am afraid it has long since disappeared. The tribe is probably still there but with a different look. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Incredible. To be honest, I’ve always perceived Burning Man as a place people went to so they could drink mushroom tea and tweak on acid or other. My ignorance! Awesome to learn that it’s quite the community — impressive stuff. Great stuff! Maybe I’ll join your tribe 😁

    • 🙂 Plenty of folks go to Burning Man to party. But that is only a part of the bigger picture, Kevin. It’s a different world, full of creativity and art. That’s what I go for. –Curt

  7. Very very creative. I’ve followed your Burning Man series over the years, I haven’t seen any photos about the Tribes. Maybe I missed some others. Thanks for sharing.

    • You are quite welcome, Timi. The tribes are central to what Burning Man is. I probably blogged about them at one time or the other. There are lots and lots of posts. 🙂 –Curt

  8. Another great Burning Man post. Thanks for including that map — I would need one if I went just to find all the great creations that you are so good at sharing with us. Glad you got a wave from the Colonel. And you mentioned Google execs sharing the sand with you — did you see any?

    • The map helps. It’d easy to get lost. Other maps show where the major art is located, as well as where major camps are located. As for seeing Google folks, I wouldn’t recognize them if I did (grin) and they would probably be in costumes. I did see an article the other day that they hired a new CEO not long ago because his credentials met all of the necessary candidates and had been to Burning Man. The other equally qualified candidates didn’t have the latter on their resume! –Curt

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