By Selwyn Harris
It took more than four hours for Pahrump Town Board members to take care of their regular business on Tuesday evening.
One notable agenda item was the discussion and decision to approve an event permit at the Pahrump Fairgrounds for a regional Burning Man festival tentatively scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.
Though board members voted in favor of the event, they directed town attorneys to go over the contract submitted by the organization before giving the official okay.
Burning Man is a world-renowned annual event held in the Reno area that promotes freedom of expression, a collaboration of innovative art projects and a variety of music and entertainment.
A veteran “Burner,” John Pawlak, said he has attended several Burning Man events in the past.
Though he welcomes the proposed Memorial Day event, he said he has problems with the way it was presented to the town.
“Chairman Harley messed up big time by having the regional Burning Man come here and not tell anyone what he had in store for us. They even set it up to have tickets go on sale the day after the town board meeting and this was before the meeting itself,” he said.
Town Board Vice Chairman Bill Dolan said he also had concerns about the apparent lack of communication between all parties involved in the event.
“I heard you were talking to the Nye County Manager and other Nye County folks. It’s a town even and I would think you would have talked with the town manager and the advisory board that oversees the parks even before you went to Nye County. It seems you’ve been in discussions for quite some time. Our Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Matt Luis should have been involved in this. With all due respect to the county, they don’t have any jurisdiction over this whatsoever,” he said.
The event would be the regional celebration for the main annual event scheduled for late summer up north.
The group would pay the town for use of the land and other services supplied.
Organizer Dirk Schmidhofer provided the board and staff with the history of the event and details of how he envisions the regional celebration.
“The event we are interested in pursuing in Pahrump we have named “Forgotten City.” In a nutshell, we are asking to use the fairgrounds during Memorial Day weekend for this event. I want to start off by saying what is Burning Man? The answer to that question can be answered in about 50,000 different ways. It depends on who you are. It’s a very large festival of art. It’s held up in northern Nevada. It is held annually. It began as tribute to radical self-expression back in 1986 where some people gathered on a beach north of San Francisco. They built a nine-foot statue and they burned the stick figure. It wasn’t long until they outgrew that location. They sought a larger location in northern Nevada in the Black Rock Desert and last year there were 56,000 participants,” he said.
Some of the highlights in previous festivals include “Art Cars,” which are huge parade float type vehicles. Schmidhofer also said “Theme Camps” are always a fixture at the festival.
“The theme camps are places where like-minded people can aggregate with common interests and they vary across the map from hydrogen cold fusion to foot reflexology, which I attended. They cover the gamut. No doubt about it, it’s radical self-expression. It could also be defined as a week-long costume party to some people. They have also had a few marriages and, of course, they culminate the festival with a very large burn,” he said.
Board member Amy Riches told Schmidhofer she believes many local residents cannot afford to pay the ticket price, which ranges from $40 to $65 a pop.
“Our town is very distressed financially. What is the likelihood of being able to get some tickets from you and having them at the town office for people who want to go but really can’t afford it. Is that a possibility?” she asked.
Schmidhofer told Riches that he would have to take that question back to his organizing group for consideration.
“There have been occasions where we have. Normally all ticket sales are done online, so that’s how we organize the ticket sales. We would have to evaluate that,” he said.
The organizer also told the board that some proceeds from the event will go to local charities in the town.
“We look at what we have and there are guidelines that we follow for regional event holders. We try to use those guidelines to determine who would be the recipients of any money left over from ticket sales that isn’t spent putting the event on. It’s typically determined when the dust settles and the bills are paid. We figure out what we have left and then we can determine that after the event. We are very open to your input as to where it would go,” he said.
Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Lewis told the board that he has been in communication with Schmidhofer.
He made the point that his department is prepared to handle the event, which could draw more than 300 burners.
“It was a great conversation. The plan we spoke about was comprehensive. I could tell by the content that they had done this before and it was clearly outlined. With the large burns he showed, we would definitely be on standby for that with the fire apparatus and make sure that it’s our paramedic engine if there were any injuries,” he said.
Town Board members voted 5-0 to approve the event but they will wait to hear from the town’s attorney’s contract review before officially green-lighting the festival.
The four-day festival is tentatively scheduled from May 24 to 27.