Stories. We love stories. Especially those tales about Burning Man, and more specifically, the Playa Choir.

Here’s One For You

Patrick Sawyer
2023 Animalia Virgin

When you think of Burning Man as a first timer, what first comes to mind? For me it was, “What the Hell?!?!!” It is so easy to be excited but also so simple to get overwhelmed with all of the endless possibilities that the Burn can bring. How many gallons of water do I bring? How the hell will I keep dust out of my bed? What should my gift be? What am I going to do during the day? What about the night? I swear I could have rolled out a mile long scroll full of questions and statements before I showed up at the burn.

Oh Playa Choir, dearest Playa Choir, I cannot express how happy I am that I ended up with y’all. My best friend, soulmate, twin flame, basically my shadow, Bai and I had committed to making the burn happen for the both of us but we had no idea where to start. This is when I found the beacon of light (Playa Choir) looking for new members on the Burner Facebook group. I reached out and gave a bit of a lil introduction and that sparked it all. I IMMEDIATELY felt welcomed and loved just through the Renegade Gospel meetings. It all started to get pieced together, it’s happening! It’s finally happening! 

As the burn was approaching, I began collecting all the supplies Bai and I were going to need to survive a week plus in the dust (we had no idea about mud man coming). I got my water containers, I planned out my food, got a canvas tent, packed all my clothes in ziplock baggies to avoid the dust (still got EVERYWHERE), got my car packed to the brim, I thought I was ready for it all. I made the journey out to the playa and was ready, until I locked my keys in my car whilst waiting to enter in the overflow area! My new friends who were parked next to me, Mark and John from Toronto immediately offered help and grabbed a wire coat hanger, after almost an hour of trying to break in and unlock my car we about gave up, until Sparky was my savior, he radioed the Rangers and asked if anyone had a lock kit that could come help, of course folks were asleep because it was about 1AM at this point, my keys, my phone and all my belongings were in my car. Eventually, after about an hour of sitting in the middle of the playa completely alone, someone came with a lock kit! What a way to start the burn. I immediately felt the sense of community and support without even being in the city yet.

I was able to finally roll into the city around 2AM Sunday morning. The whole camp was asleep. Bailey was nowhere to be found. I was too excited and immediately got on my bike to ride out to the man and check things out. After exploring for a wee bit, I got back to camp and got some sleep. After waking up and walking around like a lost puppy (Madi’s words not mine) trying to find Bai, I heard her on the walkie that she was heading back to camp. We reunited after a whole summer apart and wow it felt spectacular, we were both whole again. 

After spending some time setting up out tent and unpacking, we were ready! We took a deep dive the first few days, lots of exploring, getting VERY lost and VERY distracted but in the absolute best way. A few days went by and I settled into my “schedule”, staying sane and exploring the city until about 3-4 ish and then packing up and venturing out for the rest of the crazy evening. The expansiveness of the playa put me in awe every single time I reached Esplanade and continued out to deep playa. The blend of music, sounds, and chatter all mixed together in a big playa smoothie was what I was sipping on all night. The lights, installations, art cars, and people all kept me thoroughly entertained. One could simply say their night was “good” when catching up with friends the next morning but I always try to stray away from using that word because it’s so overused. Every night I had was magical, insane, exciting, goofy, unexpected, ethereal, quiet, loud, I could go on and on.

As the week went on and our rehearsals continued, we began to sound better and better day by day. I cannot express how incredible it felt to get together and sing with people after being so far removed from that for years. The power of singing and bringing people together is so impactful to me and I cannot express how grateful I am that I ended up with Playa Choir. The songs that Madi chose were impeccable and we were sounding pretty solid already by Wednesday! When the Thursday performance with the Philharmonic rolled around, I could not be more excited (and more tired!), I woke up to Bai on the walkie talkie saying “PAT WHERE ARE YOU WE ARE HERE?!!?” I realized the performance was in 20 minutes and was so frazzled. I jumped out of bed, got on my bike and don’t think I have ever or will ever bike that fast on playa again. I arrived just in time before the philharmonic started doing their thang, snuck onto the risers and was ready. A dust storm hit just as things got more intense and while we were all belting out Finlandia, I was just in awe. So many folks came to see our performance and that is when I had my “holy shit” moment, like I’m here, doing this. So cool!!

As news of the rain came about, you could feel a bit of worry and panic across the city, it became a very localized event. Felt like a neighborhood block party was happening for 3 days straight. Lots of hanging out at camp, dancing at Ikigai, playing in the mud puddles :D, lots of drinking (water of course), and lots of conversations. Morale was still so high at Playa Choir and no one seemed to have any massive worries with the rain and leaving, we were all safe and with our friends, what’s not to love about that? 

As more time went on through the weekend, rain came and went and things started to dry up a bit. We were able to perform on Sunday and have the most wonderful and meaningful service, it felt so special even though we had some folks missing/couldn’t make it all the way to The Playa Choir Dome from their location in the city. I felt all the love and support from the choir, from the audience, from everyone involved. It just felt SO special. 

The night of the burn had to be my favorite. Some folks had already left the city so the general population on the night of the burn seemed a bit less, almost the whole Playa Choir camp got together and did a bike parade out to watch the man burn and then it was the most magical evening, being my last. Friends and I went all over the playa, stopping by our favorite installations, stumbling upon the best art cars to dance around, taking a nude walk around the man burn after it opened up, sitting in silence taking in the entire week, a visit to the temple, and then a long walk home to my car (my bike was stolen, long story for the next choracle!). After a perfect evening turned into a perfect morning, it was time for me to head out. 10 days on playa, I arrived with almost zero expectations and was completely floored the whole time I was there. The interest I had for years was finally investigated and my first burn made such an impact on me. I cannot wait to return to the Playa and give every one of you a big dusty hug! Until then, I’ll be playing in the mountains of Colorado all summer 😉

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