National Fire Performance League: Beware

About a week ago, Sage got in touch with me to ask if I’d heard anything about some “national fire performance championship.” I had not.

I started looking around. It seems that they have a profile and group on MurdochSpace, likewise a profile and group on Tribe. They have no independent website that I can find. There are no personal names associated with any of these accounts that I can find, but the person behind them appears to be in either Austin or Marble Falls.

They posted the same canned message to numerous groups on Tribe. There are a few red flags in it. Any post that starts out “This is an automated reply” does not show a lot of care. They are trying to interest DJs to perform (presumably for free) on the promise that “professional scouts” will be there; trying to interest judges with all the skills apparently needed to run this event; they warn that “space is limited to 2500 people at the event” (2500 is the maximum size of an event before you get into a much stricter level of official oversight) and the breathless “RSVP ASAP.” Plus the price, which is kind of high: They’re charging $30/person/night for spectators, and $40/person/night for performers. Compare that to the campground’s fees of $12/person/night. Of course, you also get a year’s membership in the (nonexistent) National Fire Performance League for the price of admission.

This event is apparently going to be taking place in about a month (Sept 26–28), just down the road from me at a private campground in New Braunfels, and I hadn’t heard about it. I started asking other firedancers. There are a lot of firedancers in central Texas, and we’re a pretty tight-knit group. Although a lot of people had heard about the event, nobody knew who was behind it. That is a very big red flag. It would be impossible to mount a successful firedancing event in central Texas that would welcome 2500 people without one of my firedancing friends being somehow involved, or at least knowing someone who was. I don’t claim to be the hub of central-Texas firedancing, but I am reasonably well-connected. And organizing an event with 2500 people requires a lot of hands. Burning Flipside has been around for 10 years and has grown to be about 2500 people. There are at least 100 people showing up for planning meetings months in advance; there are probably at least 500 people who contribute their labor at the event and just before it. Admittedly, Flipside is heavy on the infrastructure, but even if this event had one-tenth the staffing, that would suggest ten people meeting months in advance and fifty people who planned on being involved at the event (and those people would need to be lined up by now)—and fifty workers is probably well below a practical minimum for an event of 2500. In any case, I am confident that I would know someone who would know one of those fifty. Flipside brings me to another point: that they are (apparently) organizing this without drawing on the depth of talent and experience the burner community has in exactly this kind of event. The campground, as I understand it, is 50 acres, and is probably too small for 2500 people.

A couple of people mentioned that they had tried to get additional information from the organizers, to no avail. Indeed, the organizers seem to have made it a point to be anonymous and uncommunicative. Especially in a tight-knit community, that invites distrust. A couple years ago, a guy named Tedward, a stalwart of the firedancing community, mooted the idea of a fire-performance competition. He raised the idea on Tribe and discussed it there at some length. It was a very controversial idea, but to his credit, he attempted to work out the form of the event though public consensus. His event never took place because a sponsor backed out. Even if we allowed for the sake of argument that the organizers could run this event safely and efficiently (which I do not), we would still be left with an event that reflects only interests of a small group of organizers, not the broader fire community.

Today, I spoke to the Comal County fire marshall. He had not heard about this event. He pointed out that as long as it’s outdoors, there’s not much he can do to regulate it beyond requiring that the grass be mowed. But it still concerns me. It would be very easy for an event with this many people and fire being the central attraction to go wrong. Fire performance always occupies a gray zone with the authorities. We can try to get on their good side, we can hope to escape attention, or we can wind up on their bad side. An event as big as this purports to be would not escape attention in Comal County, so it would only make sense to get on their good side as a precautionary measure. If it went very wrong, it could have serious repercussions for fire performers throughout the state or even the country. A number of people, myself included, are concerned that this is either a scam, or (more likely) being run by people who don’t know what they’re doing. In either case, that ups the odds of something going wrong. I don’t want to see anyone get burned, literally or figuratively.

I have left a message with the campground operators to see if I can get some information from them.

In the end, I think we may be saved by their incompetence. They haven’t done much to create interest in the event, and what little they’ve created has been mostly negative, as far as I can tell. So I’d be surprised if they get 250 people. Even with more competent organizing, it would be difficult to launch an event like this and get 2500 people to show up in its first year.

Update: I just spoke briefly with someone in the campground’s business office. She didn’t really know much about the event. The event organizers have not reserved the entire campground, or any section of it—they’ll just be sharing the space with regular campground visitors. So I’m not sure how the organizers will limit attendance to only those people who have paid for their event. The campground has about 200 campsites for overnighters, but sees up to 3000 people during the day.

Another Update: Please see my follow-up post.

7 thoughts on “National Fire Performance League: Beware”

  1. Thanks for the info! I too have received the request and looked at it, but it does sound fishy. I am in FLA anyway, but good to know you guys are looking out for each other. Mind if i link to this post?
    Have fun at Orfunner! See you on the Flipside!!
    Burn Bright!


  2. Well good. Glad to see your post. Its been heavily talked about but we needed a central place to pull together info; good or bad. Thanks for watching out for everyone. That’s why I love our community.


  3. Someone may want to try to go out on one of the first days of the event to try and really get an idea of what is going on, if anything. Since you say they have not reserved the campgrounds then it should be open to the public. You may find no “leauge officials” have come at all.

    Also keep in mind that Austin may have some spinners come in from other areas who may be “stranded” in Austin for a few days if there is no event.

  4. The campground is real and so are the numerous performers who have requested this League come together in Texas. We are going through with our event. The campground is set for the crowd and as far as safety goes, we will have our own fire truck on site for starters. If enjoying festivities on the beautiful Guadalupe river, camping and tubing and networking and seeing a world class fire performance competition is being stranded? Count us and the more than 1,000 people who have voluntarily joined up as friends with us and we can all be stranded together! It’ll be a blast!

  5. It confused me too. I’d not heard of it, the info available didn’t seem …available and I’m surprised to see that “they” posted in this thread.

  6. WOW!
    What a year. The 2008 NFPL Competion was a blast! We had a great turnout and we were all really impressed with the performances that came out of the woodwork! Who knew so much great talent was out there!
    Black Tie Beats, DJ Pamdemonium, and DJ AnjlKllr – openers for Crystal Method and DJ Tiesto really rocked the show!
    We rode the river, camped danced, and had one helluva fire show!
    Some of local officials brought their families out and had a great time!
    So good to see the locals enjoying and supporting our art!
    Ararat catered the event and provided great treats and a free huka lounge. Too, cool.
    After receiving numerous requests for a repeat of last year’s event, NFPL will be holding the 2009 NFPL Fire Performance Competition. Details will be posted here as they come.

    Thanx to Adam Rice for posting this blog. It has brought quite a lot attention to NFPL….in a round-about sort of way. LOL

    Nothing like a little controversy to stir the masses!

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