There are always a bazillion parties on Halloween, and of course the crush on Sixth Street, but I’m going to be at the Enchanted Forest. Every year for the past N years, there’s been a Halloween fire show at Cafe Mundi. This year it’s at a different location, but will still be a good show. And for the first time, I’ll be in it, doing more than holding a towel.

When: Halloween night, starts at 8:00, doors at 7:00
Where: Enchanted Forest (Oltorf near Lamar)
Outdoors, primitive site. Bring your own everything.

Revised firedancing equipment recipes

I got into the whole sideline of making firedancing equipment because of my How to make firedancing apparatus webpage. People found the page, and offered to pay me to make the stuff for them. Reversing the normal order of things, I started making the equipment quasi-commercially about six months before I actually started using it.

Anyhow, that page is pretty musty and ugly. I had it in my mind that this might be a good (though untraditional) application of Movable Type, and so I started hacking something together, photographing my production process, etc. Yesterday, I got something usable posted. So far I’ve only documented the recipe for wicks, but more will come. Once I flesh out those pages a little more, I’ll be taking down the old page.

Burning Flipside 2003

I’m back and halfway recovered from Burning Flipside, one of the “regional burns” associated with Burning Man. As I understand it, Flipside is the oldest (since 1998) and largest (900 tickets sold–quickly–in 2003) of the regional burns.

I had been delinquent about getting tickets when they went on sale, and missed out. Fortunately, a secondary market sprung up, as many people bought tickets for friends who later cancelled (this resulted in a frantic last-minute round-robin exchange of e-mail messages as ticket holders tried to hook up with ticket seekers). It was pretty late in the game that we got our tickets, and so we hadn’t done a lot of advance preparation. We did get supplies to make a shade structure out of PVC and old sheets, along with all the usual camping crap one would need, food (lots of food), beer, wine, fuel, etc. We both scrounged up weird odds and ends around our households to use as barter goods. Apart from a daily ice delivery, commerce is not allowed at Flipside. Technically, barter isn’t either–everything is on the gift economy–but as a practical matter, it would be a bad idea to show up without anything to trade.

We headed out Friday around noon, and got to the site quickly. Admission is a tedious process.

We first signed a multipage waiver absolving the site owner of any liability. Flipside takes place on a private campground called Recreation Plantation. RecPlan is a 40-acre site with limited modcons (a few flush toilets, a few showers), a few RV hookups, a pool, and a creek. Most of the property is rocky and covered with scrubby trees (which someone aptly referred to as “upstairs”); there’s a fairly short and sharp decline from this that leads onto a smooth, open, grassy field of about 10 acres. The field adjoins the creek, which has some trees along it. In past years, all the action at Flipside was on the field. That’s still where the biggest theme camps are, but as the event has grown, more camps are found upstairs.

After that, we drove a little ways in and arrived at the main check-in, where we were subjected to a somewhat condescending interview process. I suppose this is necessary to keep out troublemakers and people who don’t get it (or at least get some idea of how many of those people are arriving).

Finally we made it to the “greeter’s station,” where we were given a temporary permit to drive onto the field and unpack the car. The car was very full–I had packed an enormous beanbag chair that we wound up not using, and the materials for the shade structure, which also turned out to be unnecessary (there was no room for it). We were camping at the Circle of Fire with my fire-freak friends. We deployed our stuff fairly quickly, said Hi to quite a lot of friends, and went back roughly to where we came in, quite some distance away, to park. We walked back down and said Hi to more people, and took it all in.

After that, impressions of time become very fuzzy. Not many people wore watches. Some activities were supposed to happen at specific times, so knowing when to be where was somewhat problematic. But it’s probably just as well–otherwise I’d know exactly how much sleep I wasn’t getting.

The COF camp was on the field, which was extremely hot and bright (except when it was raining), and although we had an enormous dome that should have been a fine shade structure, it was in fact intolerably hot and close in there, so we spent most of the time under two much smaller canopies in back. Or at other camps: Jenny, for instance, was camped at the Toadstool Kingdom of Slack, which was positioned right on the slope between the upstairs and the field. This spot was about 15° cooler than any other place in the camp, so we spent plenty of time hanging out there.

Our camp was near another theme camp, the name of which I never learned, but which I came to call the “obnoxious techno music at 7:00 AM camp” for reasons that should be self-explanatory. This camp had a giant parachute-covered dome that played music all the time, but played it especially loud at hours that everybody else wanted to be asleep. At one point, Flipside’s most obnoxious participant, Xeno, of Flipside’s most obnoxious camp, Chupacabra Policia, came over with a bullhorn to chastise them “no one is listening to your music.”


The toadstool was an ambitious project that the builders had great trouble erecting. They had tried using a fairly elaborate gantry with block & tackle, which didn’t work at all. They eventually put a fulcrum above it and pulled it up with a Jeep. This was just one of many really amazing projects that got hauled out there. The Gateway fire-sculpture thing is like a giant double-barreled sheetmetal chimenea on rockers. The art-car that shoots flames out of four jets. The flame-shooting totem pole (you may sense a theme here). And the Man itself, which bore little resemblance to the original (or any man), but was basically a wooden derrick with arms sticking out.

Theme camps

Likewise, many of the camps were pretty amazing undertakings. One camp had a trampoline and moonwalk (which we enjoyed immensely). John Cougar Melon-camp, apart from creating an excellent visual pun, hosted a Bill Hicks revival hour at which spicy Bloody Marys flowed freely. Spin Camp had a QTVR rig that I never got around to posing for. The Groovepharm camp had the usual Groovepharm visual/auditory feast. Camp Baksheesh had some kind of puppet karaoke that I somehow never saw. And so on. Every night we would wander from camp to camp, taking in the experiences like we were going through a Whitman’s Sampler.

The bigger and crazier theme camps were all on the field. Next year, I think I’m camping upstairs, where it’ll be cooler and quieter.


Of course, the main attraction is the people. I had a lot of friends there scattered among seven or so camps. I met a fair number of new people. I’m sure that the environment helps, but pretty much everyone I met was a pleasure to be around.

At one point, a friend on X came by to give me the earnest “I love you, man” speech that is characteristic of that drug. I realized that Donald Rumsfeld desperately needs to take X. Apart from booze, I took no drugs the whole weekend, and in a way, drugs are redundant: the experience is already an exercise in sensory overload. There were a few people who were so far gone on drugs (or simply so far removed from reality even without them) that they couldn’t take care of themselves, but this was less of a problem than I expected (fortunately, there are Flipside Rangers to take care of them). And even going on indirect evidence, there was a bare minimum of assholes. People seemed to be there in a spirit of conviviality and community.

Costumes were probably more common than street clothes (I was an exception–even among freaks, I’m a freak)–of course, the line between the two can be a blurry one, especially in this crowd. Nudity was common, and I observed that nipple piercings are way more common than I ever imagined. Tattoos were conspicuous only by their absence.

The Big Burn

The high point of the whole event is the big burn, when the Man is burned. A lot of preparation goes into this, despite which there is still a lot of last-minute headless-chicken imitation. The burn ceremony (perhaps “rite” would be a better word) began with a procession of firedancers and stiltwalkers, who walked from the Circle of Fire to the main circle. They were organized by color (this year’s Flipside theme was “dreams of chromatic distraction” [don’t ask]), with about six firedancers, one torchbearer, and one stiltwalker in each of six color groups. Once around the Man, they all did their thing, and the last man burning, Bob, then lit the Man. Everybody was crowded around the perimeter (delineated by a huge circle of nifty LED pods that fired off different colors in different sequences), screaming and excited. After the Man burned for about 20 minutes, it collapsed in on itself and everybody rushed to get as close to the fire as they could, jumping and dancing around.

I observed this from a distance. I was one of the safety people for the big burn, and one of the few experienced firedancers to be working safety. I was one of the people in headless-chicken mode beforehand, trying to round up enough towels, buckets, extinguishers, and other safety people. As the burn drew near, Tiglet and I drilled unexperienced safety people on what to do (fortunately, there was only one minor incident during the burn). After the performers had cleared the field and the Man started burning, Stephen realized that our fuel depot was directly downwind of the Man, which was casting a lot of embers in its direction. He rounded up safeties to help make sure none of the embers landed there to start a fire, so I moved buckets and towels back there and tried to help. As I looked on the people around the fire, I was struck by the energy and intensely primal and pagan spirit pervading them.

I made up for not being part of the procession by having seven or eight really good burns later that night. Kudos to Juan of Camp Baksheesh for being an excellent DJ for COF.

A pretty serious rainstorm whipped through in the wee hours Monday, but most of our stuff came through OK (lucky thing we already had the rainfly on the tent). We got up at a reasonable hour that morning, cleaned up around the camp, packed up the car, and were on our way by 11:00 AM. On the country road leading out of RecPlan, we passed by a Hummer, paradigmatic symbol of American crapulence, and re-entered everyday reality.

I’m missing a million things. You had to be there. I took a few pictures (login as adamguest/adamguest — if there’s a picture of you that you want removed, please let me know), but these were all taken during the day, and much like bars, Flipside isn’t seen in its best light in the light. Scott took some too (same login). Bob got a bunch more. Kristin is maintaining a master list of Flipside 2003 photo albums.

There are any number of ways to define burn events: as temporary autonomous zones, as art festivals, as experiments in radical self-expression/self-reliance, etc. To me, they are about suspending the constraints of everyday life, creating a situation where people can either be more fully themselves or experiment with being other people, having extraordinary experiences, and living fully and in the moment.

Full moon night

Last night was a full moon. Quite amazing to see as it hung low over the horizon. The air was positively pungent with the smell of chinaberry blossoms (thanks to Jenny for identifying it). Apparently the chinaberry is considered a pest tree, not native to these parts, but it smells fantastic–somewhere between jasmine and bluebonnet. Everywhere I went last night, I could smell it. Amazing.

It being a full-moon night, there was a drum circle in the tunnels. This is one of those hidden aspects of Austin that make the place what it is. Some of my fellow fire freaks decided to meet down there for a firenight. Despite some trouble finding the place by those living outside Austin, a good time was had by all. As I sat there watching a friend spinning frenetically to the miasmic throb of the drums, the chinaberry perfume drowning out even the stink of burning fuel, it occurred to me that we were experiencing a Baraka moment.

Gwen and I headed out around midnight–right when the second shift was arriving.

fire connections

A little while back, I posted some test results of different kinds of fuels in firedancing. I included a link to the vendor of biodiesel (fuel made from soy). Apparently, that created some business for him, because he offered to send me a gallon of a new biodiesel formulation, and mentioned “Thanks for all of the referrals – I feel like I am getting to know the ‘fire’ groups pretty well.” Funny how these things work out.

I also found a trailer for an underground movie directed by a friend from back in high school. It has firedancers. I wonder if I know any of them.


Another Tuesday, another firenight. We had an especially good night last night. Four first-time burners, including the young Travis, who blew us all away. It’s been a while since I took pictures, but last night, I did (log in as “adamguest”, password “adamguest”).


It was firenight at Cafe Mundi again, as it almost always is on Tuesday. I got pictures

It was a noteworthy firenight for the fire-fan performance by 10-year-old Hannah. Pretty amazing. Very dynamic, and graceful beyond her years.


Another Tuesday, another firenight.

I had been feeling that my usual wicks were a bit too light, so I made a set of monster wicks, and used them last night. I haven’t had that much of a thrill firedancing since the very first time I lit up–the intense sensations of noise and heat, the excitement and surprise and fear. These monster wicks are a little too heavy for me to be comfortable with (so far), and I have a lot of almost-blisters from the force, but that was fun.

Deep Eddy gig

adam_deep_eddy_thumb.jpegThe gig at Deep Eddy was fun. A lot of families, a lot of young kids, some of whom seemed to know exactly what was going to happen before we went on, and came over to talk to us while we were getting ready. Gwen got some pictures.

My arms are still killing me from the staff number.

Fire show

Sage, Zara, and Beru put on a typically excellent fire show at Elysium on Tuesday night. I was holding a towel, but Gwen got some pictures, which I’ve finally posted. The woman who got Sage started with firedancing was there, and it was pretty neat to meet her, as just about everyone in Austin who plays with fire was inspired by Sage, directly or indirectly.

I didn’t realize that it was also Fetish Night at Elysium that night, so there were a few chicks gadding about in skimpy vinyl outfits. Which is fine by me, although the “fetish show” they put on was barely worthy of the name.

Firenight in the tunnels

Another Tuesday, another firenight. Our status at our beloved usual location being somewhat up in the air, we met in the tunnels. I got a few pictures.


Last night was firenight, made extra-special by the fact that the Ringling Bros’ circus train crept past in the middle of it, which was excellent fodder for jokes. Everyone stopped and went to look at the elephants, camels, and Lipizzans. Kristen and Gwen (a different Gwen) both had their first burns, but I forgot my camera. Sage was there, her first firenight since she returned from New Zealand.

And tomorrow, Gwen and I are taking a road trip out west. We may see the McDonald Observatory, we may see the Marfa Lights. Here’s what my Texas road atlas has to say about the Marfa Lights: “These mysterious lights, first reported by settlers in the 1880s, have still not been adequately unexplained.”

firenight photos

Stopped by the opening of an exhibition of art by ACC students, where my friend John had a piece showing. Bumped into several familiar faces there.

Proceeded from there to firenight. Because it was Goddess Night at our usual hangout, we met at the tunnels under MoPac, where they have the hippie full-moon drum circles. Despite the lack of amenities, it was a fun place to spin fire–we got down inside the tunnels to spin, which resulted in some interesting shots. I didn’t bring my tripod this time, but still managed. John made his way there, late (after going from his art opening to his blacksmithing class). Things wrapped up a little after 11:00, and John, Bob, Bean and I stopped by the nearby Magnolia Cafe for some late-night snacks.

Perils of choreography

So tonight, I got together with Andrew to work on choreography for a synchro routine that he and I will be doing in an upcoming show.

I had mapped out all the moves in meticulous detail, with cues showing which measure the moves came in at. Or so I thought. For one thing, I was counting half-time for about the first two minutes of the song, and then started counting on the beat. So my metrical counts are really screwed up, and we wound up spending about half an hour working out how I had intended it. Plus I had a few counting errors apart from that.

But even if all that stuff were perfect, there was still a layer of detail I hadn’t reached–figuring out which direction move A needs to start on in order to set up move B correctly, and that sort of thing. Being able to enter and exit a move in synch with the other guy. Doing the same move the same way, knowing exactly where each hand is going to be when exiting a move. This is a real learning experience.

Firedancers get in free

A local bar has a night where firedancers can get in free, on the assumption they’ll provide some free entertainment, and I went last night. While I have mixed feelings (to put it mildly) about this “perform for free” thing, most of the people there were other fire-folks or their friends, so it had more the feeling of a community gathering. Got in one good burn and one pretty good burn myself.

firenight: scary moment

Another Tuesday, another firenight. For the first time ever, I got tangled badly enough that I had to have my safety person put my wicks out–in a behind-the-back move, my right chain got looped around my left wrist and I couldn’t shake it loose. Somewhat amazingly, I didn’t get burned (at least, not in that incident). My other two sets were OK, though, and I tried the 5-beat btb weave for the first time with fire. That went pretty well.

The finger-wand design process

This morning, I shipped off a set of fire gauntlets to a customer. It’s a funny thing: in my fire-gear business, finger wands (which are sisters to fire gauntlets) have not been my most popular item, but have occupied an inordinate amount of my attention. I think I’ve gone through something like 9 design revs on them, if you count major and minor changes. Getting a drill press was a real breakthrough, as it allowed me to use tubing instead of wiring, and I like tubing much better. These fire-gauntlets, though, they’re the first finger-wands (or wand-like product) that I’m really happy with. I can imagine improvements, yes, but this set really balanced competing demands pretty well.

Cold and quiet at firenight

Tuesday, so it’s firenight at Cafe Mundi again (no pictures). It was really cold and windy. Not many people showed. Me, Thomas, David, and Rita. “Het-man” stopped by, decked out in tails and glittery pants. Rita left without lighting up, and Sage appeared. We managed to get a few burns in, and then called it quits. I couldn’t get warmed up enough to really get comfortable, no matter what. A newcomer to twirling, Penina, stopped by briefly.