Viking-themed B.C. performers made mud dragons at Burning Man quagmire

Hjeron O'sidhe has been leading a group of Viking-themed performance artists to the Burning Man festival in Nevada for 13 years running, and he wasn't about to let the rain and mud this year dampen their good time.

British Columbia resident O'sidhe and almost 100 other performers — Canadians, Australians, Americans, Norwegians and others — make up the group known as MythMaker.

They travelled in a convoy to the Nevada desert, including O'sidhe's bus that doubles as a stage, adorned as a dragon-headed Viking ship.

There has been rain in the past, but O'sidhe said they weren't necessarily prepared for the weather this year that turned the festival grounds, known as Black Rock City, into a muddy mess.

"We weren't concerned because the forecast said don't worry about it, and then we got here and it rained a little bit and then the forecast changed," he said. "When it rains out here, everything shuts down."

O'sidhe and his performers were among tens of thousands of festival attendees stuck after heavy rain Friday turned the area into a sea of mud.

Traffic began to flow out of the site Monday.

O'sidhe said their camp grounds turned into a plain of muddy puddles, pockmarked "like the freaking moon."

He sent everyone out in their bare feet for a "mud stomp dance party."

"Like we're making wine, we're just going to flatten the whole thing so when it dries, we'll have our performance space," he said.

As they stomped around in the mud, they noticed its consistency was "like a snowman," and the group started sculpting with it, decorating the grounds around their camp with "mud dragons."

"This just turned into this big, fun play-in-the-mud party instead of just hiding in your damp, wet tent while it was raining," he said. "It was just like, 'let's crank the tunes and play in the mud.'"

O'sidhe said he approaches the event as an adventure rather than a vacation, knowing each year he and thousands of others are descending upon the desert to live communally as if they were "training for the apocalypse."

The annual gathering, which launched on a San Francisco beach in 1986, attracts nearly 80,000 artists, musicians and activists for a weeklong mix of wilderness camping and avant-garde performances.

Vancouver resident Kobi Moldavski was attending his second Burning Man where he and a camp of about 20 others ran a craft beer bar — also Viking-themed, coincidentally.

Moldavski said this year, like last year, was "intense, just in a different way."

"But Burning Man is supposed to be intense, so this is part of the experience, but fun as well," he said.

Last year was hot and dusty, he said, whereas this year was cooler, and serving people cold beer in the desert made for a lot of happy visitors and interesting conversations.

"I came in with a lot of curiosity and a lot of open mindedness and zero expectation," Moldavski said.

The rain may have been inconvenient and uncomfortable, but Moldavski said he didn't let it bother him.

A highlight for him was jokingly taking out a vacuum cleaner and pretending to vacuum the desert floor in front of his camp's bar.

Most people who passed by just started laughing, telling him he "missed a spot," but he said the absurd act was a conversation starter that attracted people to the bar.

"In general, people there are very social and outgoing, and even if they're not, this (is a) place of radical inclusion, so whoever comes there is accepted," he said.

For MythMaker's, O'sidhe said there are the "true Burners," and others known as "sparkle ponies," celebrities and Instagram models who show up in fancy boots and air-conditioned RVs.

"They're kind of tourists," he said.

Each year, he said, he interviews everyone joining the journey, warning them their first Burning Man "is going to suck."

"They look at me all funny, like I'm supposed to have this pitch of this utopia," he said.

"You're not going to a party, you're going on an adventure, like, you're going to throw the ring in Mount Doom and Frodo didn't have a good time," he said, referring to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

He's had tires blow out, people melt down, gossip and drama, which the group does its best to minimize.

The conditions in the camp are a test of resilience but that's the magic of Burning Man, he said.

"We're going out to the uninhabitable desert where nothing lives and humans shouldn't be and we're building things beyond our means and ability. It's stupid. It's dumb. It's really fun and it's gonna suck and if you can't handle it sucking, you should not go to Burning Man."

— With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.

Darryl Greer, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version used incorrect capitalization of O'sidhe's surname.