ARCHIVAL VIDEO: 1997 Burning Man 'Gathering' Heats Up Nevada's Desert

Sep. 8, 1997: A look back at one of the festivals that has become an annual cultural phenomenon.
16:31 | 08/26/16

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Transcript for ARCHIVAL VIDEO: 1997 Burning Man 'Gathering' Heats Up Nevada's Desert
The idea of a spontaneous city does sing them all what but that's exactly what turned up in the Nevada desert over the Labor Day weekend. A city with a curious name of burning man. Whatever you want to call it city or festival or community or event it's been going on over a decade and for most of that time. Word of each year's location has been quietly passed on the Internet. In fact some people believe burning man is the physical manifestation of the intimate a kaleidoscope Eck no hold barred cultural experiment. And just as the Internet is in directive so is burning man. The idea is that there are no spectators. In fact the press passes they handouts they simply this past entitled you. To nothing in particular have a beautiful experience of your own. Which is what everyone else is out to do. Thousands of people doing the strangest things and getting along and that in itself. Is cause for celebration. So we thought you might like to see up close what some people have called a total apocalyptic. Hippie neo pagan freak fest. Tom Foreman traveled there to see for himself. Two hours north of Reno in the vast emptiness of the black rock desert to a county's rising. Streets and half days neighborhoods and police. And thousands of residents yearning to burn. The main. Burning. A loosely organized frenetic explosion. Unity creativity and chaotic as it. For twelve years this five day alternative arts festival has been steadily growing. Now drawing somewhere between eight and 151000. People each summer. People who come from all over the world for a world of reasons. They really shy really reserved. Had trouble meeting people I thought if I came out here in such an open atmosphere. I could really be myself it's this is just a wonderful celebration of creativity it sounded like he was deal last cool thing to do. It's a weekend away from. Ordinary now. Traditionally this non traditional weekend starts on the Wednesday before Labor Day they're going to bring their before. If you know location so remote that everyone who comes must bring camping equipment food water. And of course their own ideas about march break interpreted Osiris and thirteen to a three vertebrae. This year Michael and his friends came from San Francisco with a planned to collect bones from the desert floor. And used them to construct an archway for him it is art for art's sake with what really purpose. You know I would say that. We're having fun for others there is deeper meaning phones but structural mark. And I'm switching neat graphic me it's like this. At its heart burning man has always been primarily about the art of building a community. In which people can be expressed it. Free and no one knows that better than Larry Harvey a dozen years ago he built a wooden man on a California beach and set it ablaze a crowd gathered. And burning man was born. What we creative ways was was an instant community. And Erin we were tremendously moved fired did you see the possibilities of it right then. I what I side that is that we had to do it again. Go ahead and start. Inching forward just ever served slightly. Today the man stands for or stories tall. He is directed at the start of each festival and quietly watches the community around him grow and grow it does. Camps are set up with themes that range from guys who like drums to croquet to earth well -- whatever this is. The point here is people can do or beat or aware or not clear what ever they line. We're walking into camp there was has to get it was all Green Zone policing negative this morning as they note today. I wanna be greens. I'm. So if you want to take the world's largest nude photographs. Go right ahead but I gotta thank yeah. If you want to go out to the Hot Springs paddle around and then pack yourself reminded. When will look twice. You don't we're told you don't have to if you want she can no it's whatever you want. That way should be you know. We make the hard favoring. We create just enough orders to vet this spontaneous. Natural Lee occurring process gulf culture. Which is sort of the interactions of people wouldn't know it complain and then knowing and control. We. Will begin to happen. The one thing that he is absolutely forbidden is almost all commercial trade. There are no burning man T shirts no bumper stickers no buttons there is virtually nothing for sale. Because the most basic tenant of burning man is that life is not about watching or buying the it is a vow to participate. They're nothing wrong with my. But there's something wrong with activity there's something wrong with vicarious. There's something wrong well wrong with the nation whose views like this led. It in France moved before you forgive me television. So when the sun goes down on burning man each evening the people are their own show. Fighting the streets through reading and fantastic customs and of course sitting lots and lots of fires. And I and. There's. Straight here is fully safe. That's a path a path of no uncertain safe and in some. Maybe not as safe as others. By the end of the first two days the feeling is running deep. Peace happiness and joy have descended on this improbable garden that he. But deep in the nighttime shadows serpent is lurking. The lions ready to tell us. While the creators of burning man may insist the festival is not supposed to be about money. They have discovered that the bigger the festival becomes the more people that flock to the desert. The more money they lose. Tom Foreman continues his report. Day three in the short life and times of this temporary town. And radio free burning man is on the year. And electricity up by good morning everybody out there and everybody coming up. There are three radio stations in this community and two newspapers. Telling people about planned events calling for volunteers and reminding everyone that even here there are rules here is the biggest. Reminder of them all please do he'd know driving in center camp so let's not do that not a very good thing. It used to be that people could drive in center camps that tens and fires almost anywhere. But is burning man has grown drawing more and more people. Some of the great freedom marked this festival has had to give way. We created a safer physical environment that we had in the past. Marian Goodell has helped organize burning man for a number of years now and has watched devolved to me in order for us all live here together and in general on this earth. We need to respect. What is reality has had a hard concept sometimes remind people as environment I'm sure it is that they think this is a big party. This party is in the desert and entering and me as I can do whatever it works. And what effect the stealing of the case. Indeed the streets of burning man are alive with county sheriff's deputy. Burning man's own security officers and a very real and accurate sense that Big Brother in this case washoe county sheriff Dick Kirkland. It is watching. One human being lost his life last year other human beings were. Or injured in injured critically in severely taking several air ambulance trips to the hospitals and several times more. Ground ambulance trips to a hospital in that had to be brought under control that had to be brought under control. To that end burning man this year or face the highest cost ever. For insurance permits fire protection police patrols paramedics. Most of the problems they encounter were not that serious after what kind of stuff even. Get out here Paul lot of heat related stuff you know dehydration. Lot of sun burns lot of burning. Yeah people pick it up burning things. But they had to be paid for nonetheless and for burning man that is a problem. Last year the festival ended 30000 dollars in debt. This year the county's bill alone was over 300000. Dollars. But the only real income coming from the 75 dollar entrance fee sheriff's deputies began seizing all proceeds at the gate. Ideally. Our expenses would be balanced by the ticket fees. At this point right now. We don't have we won't have 151000 people only need 151000 people in order to pay to share the pain breakeven on this site to break even. That's all we've months. It in their own. Own defense county officials note that this community in the largely rural Nevada has become overnight the tenth or twelfth largest town in the state. Athens say demands 24 hour public service and that cost money. You can't expect the taxpayers washer can need to pay for the funded the spokesman has they've they've got to pay for. In addition they point out that even though the sheriff's helicopter hovers and knowingly overhead throughout the events. Largely participants are free to do whatever they won't. From our standpoint. We we treat this as we do any other special man if if people are cooperative. They're calm they're rational. Really we're just here to make sure they have a good time. Still the county's deal with the clock. And it is not even include the money owed to private contractors pro degrading water trucks portable toilets. By Saturday evening organizers are asking participants for help. You can come up an extra fine. Extras head if you just. A hundred dollars you can take it to next year and he is patently don't happen next year and hasn't had a fairly. A few dollars emerge and are stuffed into the donation box. It's clearly. Not enough at this point. The costs that have been imposed upon us by the county are so high that it's. Entirely possible it quite likely that we will be in debt feminists over. The organizers of burning man believed they could quickly and easily solve all of these money problems. If they took on a major sponsor. Or if they allowed widespread merchandising of products. And therein lies the paradox because they say they would rather let the entire project failed all of this go away. Before they would do that. It we started spending like any normal operation and of course that's where we make our money but then everyone would be standing in line. To buy something. You know in the hopes that they could get a life. And they don't have to get a life that god alive here and that's why people have. That is why people com. For the primitive pageantry the barely contain created insanity. And the chance to experience something they might not find it anywhere else on our. Sunday night as the man finally burns. Symbolize it all at once desperate rage against the saints the lands the consumer culture of everyday life. Ability of the fight. Burning man is built to be doomed. Explode collapse in a moment of pure freedom turns into a night of celebration. With no thought whatsoever. What tomorrow may bring. Monday morning cleanup begins. It has always been a rule of burning man that everyone packs out of everything he or she brings in. Speaking no remnants of the pilgrimage orient people on the desert floor. We will clean this place so there's nothing here. Of the test toys before. Over the years however that ideal escape plan has fallen somewhat by the wayside. The arrival of more onlookers more media and more one day visitors has made it harder for everyone to know local protocol. Many old timers are furious about the influx of in her loafers at others for all of burning man's other world leaders. This is steal an American town where all are welcome. For good or bad party and I thought this is going to be a buckskin hits eating lizards and turning over cars in the desert you know. Tony came from Tom hold two years ago as a spectator he came back this year as a believe. And whether their employers or whether they're participating in the at. Who we are not just a bunch of good good. Don't really get kids out here this year it was easy to believe. Yeah cultural event burning man was wildly successful. Or exhibition is more participants no serious accidents few incidents of any kind it was almost perfect. The kind of event organizers say proves this community and keep going can keep growing. Expressed sadness is not dangerous. And what we've grown right elements of liking it together if we have 90% of the people here are expensive. And 10% what I kind of party with this with artist. With the probably maintain order. We have been told for years there you have people it if you have too many numbers people become pass even you'll have to be. Overrun by gawkers and any won't be burning man anymore and won't be so creative. Well good news is they were I have still to be wrong. But financially this year was disastrous. The gate did not even cover the county's cost let alone private contractors. Some county officials are suggesting. Burning man should look for a new hall. The bottom. If we leave. Creditors and paid in Reno the politicians who exploit that is a very responsible businessmen but we saved the county we we got there my. Still there is a remarkable level of conviction among those who are leaving that they will get to come back. Wherever it will be good to be here another side. I'm sure it's experiences connect carried on an old this is squashed something else we'll come up somewhere else because. It's a very strong movement is movement. People allowing expression you can live in new ideas and I loves. Larry hardy will just have to raise more money fans say. And eight Marion we'll just have to let more people know about the troubles. The county will just have to be more understanding. And every one who came we'll just have to kick in more money to solve their collective problem. That is what this community is all about they say it was everyone's help they are certain. Man will rise like a Phoenix from the actions to burn again.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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