Arts and culture thrive at Spicer Ranch in rural Nevada

Many Beatty residents were puzzled by loud booms they heard on a recent Saturday night.

Most thought it was thunder, but could see no clouds or lightning.

Others were curious about unusual vehicles seen passing through town.

What they didn’t know is that Spicer Ranch, just north of town, was the venue for a regional Burning Man event called SNRG (Synergy), the Southern Nevada Regional Gathering.

The booms were from fireworks and a giant fireburst accompanying the burn that is the climax of Burner events. The vehicles were art pieces, such as a fantastic angler fish or a silver double-decker dance stage for “Dancetronauts.”

What it’s about

Like many other things at the gathering, both were much more impressive when they lit up colorfully at night June 24.

Regional events like the gathering are held all over the world as an extension of the Burning Man culture and experience. The gathering attracted about 500 Burners.

The gathering’s producer, Eric Rebollo, said, “People think we just party, and we do; we also like to bring in art.”

He said that the burner experience is more of a community and culture than just an event.

A statement on the SNRG website explains, “This is not a party. This is a community. A temporary city. A cultural movement. We don’t book acts or provide entertainment. What happens here is up to you! There is no corporate sponsorship. You are entering a ‘decommodified’ space that values who you are, not what you have. You are expected to collaborate, be inclusive, creative, connective, and clean up after yourself.”

Brad Hunt, who was supervising the event for ranch owner David Spicer, attested to the “clean up after yourself” behavior of the attendees. He said they carefully picked up everything, down to cigarette butts, and he was surprised to see a guy picking up cow pies in the meadow.

“I told him that if I’d known he was going to do that, I’d have brought some gunny sacks to collect the stuff so I could sell it for fertilizer.”

Hunt noted that these were maybe the nicest, least troublesome folks they’d hosted at the ranch.

“The Scouts are nice, of course,” he said, speaking of the Mountain Man Rendezvous they host every year, “but there are always some issues with kids.”

Hunt was a popular guy with the Burners. One fellow credited him with saving the event, which had the misfortune of being scheduled during a record-tying heat wave. Hunt was able to repair and set up some outdoor shower heads in the meadow so people could wet down and cool off.

“That was the greatest gift,” Thomas Claphanson said. “If it weren’t for that, a lot of folks would probably have gone home.”

As a gesture of their appreciation, the Burners christened the event’s burning man, (more of a tall, pink rabbit), Brad. Hunt requested that it be placed on top of the awning of the “temple” before it was burned, “so I could go out in style.”

Although some slept in local motel rooms, most participants at the gathering camped out at the ranch, some in RV’s, some in tents. They were organized according to types of camp. One area was for camps that had a theme. That is where you would find such things the “Cuddle Bus,” or the “Red Neckery.”

Theme camp

One of the most interesting theme campers was Denny Smith, whose Burner name is “Dragnet.”

Smith has collected some 2,000 sound clips of interrogations from the old “Dragnet” TV show and has arranged them into a collection of 35 coherent interrogations. He invites people to his camp where they can be interrogated by Sergeant Joe Friday.

Smith described himself and his fellow Burners as “the kind of people who don’t hang around the middle of the bell-shaped curve. We don’t like rules.”

Interesting artworks were scattered around the area, many of them created from repurposed materials, such as scrap wood or ball chain.

Perhaps the most popular art piece was “Gully,” by Vermont elemental artist Orion Fredericks.

This dragon-like sculpture, made of stainless steel, drew crowds at night when it spouted flame from various parts of its body as the artist varied the effect from a control panel.

The Burners universally said that they liked the Spicer Ranch location very much. They just thought that maybe the event should be scheduled away from the heat.

One commodity very much in demand because of the heat was ice. Producer Rebollo said they were selling locally-supplied ice and that profits from those sales would be donated to the Beatty Volunteer Fire Department.

Busy times

Crystal Taylor, general manager of the Denny’s in Beatty, said that the restaurant was very busy serving the gathering’s attendees.

“We had an abundance of people, and they were absolutely ecstatic, talking about coming to Beatty next year. I heard nothing but praise all weekend.”

Evidently, at least a couple of people from the event were so impressed with Beatty that they have been asking about the availability of property in town.

Richard Stephens is a freelance writer living in Beatty.

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