I love that Pittsburgh is slowly becoming the new home of counter-culture in America. Creative, thinking people who can’t get by in New York City and can’t afford the west coast have been trickling into Western Pennsylvania, destined to turn neighborhoods like Larryville and Troy Hill into the new Bohemia. Here, they can own homes or rent loft apartments and still have cash at the end of the month to buy art supplies, perform shows and invite their friends to join them in this most livable city.
As evidence of our growing counter-culture movement, witness the appearance of the Pittsburgh Cacophony Society a few years ago (and their increasingly-popular Santarchy stunt, now in its third year). Consider that both the Society for Creative Anachronism’s annual Pennsic War and the Anthrocon Furry Convention have both found homes here. And now, the small but growing burner community has announced plans to launch a “regional burn event” called “Frostburn in 2008.
For those who haven’t noticed the increasing mention of Burning Man in the media over the past few years, now might be the time to rub your eyes, sit up and pay attention. What started as a solstice party on a San Fransisco beach and grew into a week-long art event and temporary desert community of 47,000 people is now expanding into a world-wide social phenomenon. Groups in major cities across the globe have taken it upon themselves to spread the burner vibe and ethic to their local communities, through one-day parties and weekend-long campground takeovers. Throw in a gift economy, radical self-expression and immediacy of experience, and you have yourself a regional burn.
Like the big event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, local “burns” shun corporate sponsorship and consumer culture. Instead, they create an environment that encourages participants to expand their horizons and explore the person they might become when separated from commercial influence. In place of merchant booths and souvenir stands, you’ll find “theme camps” ranging in focus from clubbing and cavorting to holistics and spirituality. Adults look (and sometimes act) like children as they climb giant art installations, dance freely and play with balls of fire. Golf carts, automobiles and even school buses are converted into “mutant vehicles” covered with fur, scales, neon lights or even reclaimed lumber. A random passer-by could offer you a drink of homemade wine, a riddle, or a journey to another world. Or perhaps not: you never know what might happen when a subset of the world’s most creative minds and free spirits come together to discover and celebrate what really makes them tick.
As you might guess, it’s not for everybody. Pittsburghers who are happy to exist within the boundaries of peer pressure would be no more comfortable at a burn than a bartender would at a twelve-step meeting (Sam Malone excepted). But if you pine for something different—if you’re tired of complaining that nothing new ever happens around here—maybe it’s time for you to climb under the covers with Pittsburgh’s counter-culture.
Maybe it’s time to join Frostburn, the closest thing to Burning Man you’ll find this far from the desert.