13 More Burning Man Alternatives

Article by: Eamon Armstrong|@EamonArmstrong

Thu February 19, 2015 | 00:00 AM

Burning Man tickets sold out in an hour. Now what? Don't fear, there are definitely still ways to get tickets, including The Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP), the OMG sale or through volunteering on a project. However, there's a chance you may not get to go at all this year. And maybe you’re ready for a different experience altogether. In the spirit of trying something new, we at Fest300 present our 2015 list (just like last year’s, but not – there are no repeats!) of some awesome alternatives to the Burn.

The festivals on this list are by no means exactly like That Thing in the Desert. Rather, this list will highlight certain aspects of Burning Man you can find elsewhere in the world. For even more alternatives to Burning Man, including regional burns like AfrikaBurn or fairly well known events like Lightning in a Bottle, see our list from last year 11 Alternatives to Burning Man.

Beltane Fire Festival (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Hero Beltane Fire Ellen Duffy

Photo by: Ellen Duffy

If you go to Burning Man for the promised freedom to dance naked and perform fire rituals, you’ll love the Beltane Fire Festival. This Scottish take on Germany’s Walpurgisnatch (Witches’ Night) takes place every spring on April 30th. Thus, there is a deep reverence for nature, including a representation of the Green Man (a Burning Man Art theme in 2007) and plenty of fire! Ever had a playa wedding? At Beltane you can get handfasted, which is a temporary or permanent marriage, depending what you’re looking for. This is definitely a great pilgrimage for hippie burners.

Burning of the Clocks (Brighton, England)

Hero Burning The Clocks Ray Gibson

Photo by: Ray Gibson

Is your favorite part of Burning Man watching the temple burn and letting the past go up in a blaze of beautiful art? You'll like the Burning of the Clocks in England. This small festival is a winter solstice celebration and a secular celebration that signifies a rebellion against the commercialism and consumerism of Christmas. Every year there is an art theme relating to the concept of time and participants create their own unique lanterns. At the climax of the festival, everyone throws their lanterns into a massive bonfire to ignite their hopes and dreams for the coming year. The event culminates with larger lanterns being set on fire and fireworks displays along the coastline. It’s not so much a big party, but more a celebration of ambitious intentions and FIRE!

Electric Daisy Carnival (Nevada, United States)

Electric Daisy Carnival 2014 Official A Live For Insomniac 1

Photo by: aLIVE for Insomniac

If you like to spend your time at the big sound camps of Burning Man, Electric Daisy Carnival is the festival alternative for you. Some burners might reject this recommendation as too commercial and not in the spirit of the 10 Principles, but the radical community that exists in this PLUR wonderland invokes much of the burner ethos. There’s also the fact that EDC buys a lot of art from Burning Man, which in turn helps support artists who’ve slaved away all year creating huge pieces of art. And let’s be real: You can’t deny the incredible costumes and surreal atmosphere of this festival. The Insomniac folks responsible for this event are burners themselves and run the popular “Wide Awake” mutant vehicle. There’s also a similarly wretched exodus when it’s all over, so if you love sitting in your car you’ll get to do a lot of that as well.

Envision Festival (Costa Rica)

Envision Festival 2014 Daniel Zetterstrom   16

Photo by: Daniel Zetterstrom

Are you into the international vibe and cultural exchange that happens on the playa? Envision Festival in Costa Rica has that in spades, and is literally on the playa. We also give props to Envision’s commitment to Leave No Trace – they take festival sustainability to the next level. They have filtered water stations, contribute to permaculture, hold panels on greening ethics, work with reforestation organizations, and they're initiating a no single use policy where patrons participate in a reusable cup and plate program. No more throw-away plates and cups in this jungle paradise. In addition to all that mindfulness, there’s yoga, healing centers and plenty of cutting edge electronic and world music. For the globe trotter who still likes to get down and boogie, this festival is terrific.

High Sierra Music Festival (California, United States)

High Sierra Music Festival High Sierra Music Festival    03

Photo Courtesy of High Sierra Music Festival

Some people love the silly irreverence of Burning Man but aren’t so into the spirituality and self-importance that sometimes permeates Black Rock City. Consider High Sierra Music Festival. It’s an unpretentious shredfest featuring eclectic live music and a friendly vibe. There are silly costumes and hilarious theme camps, like the fine people of Glittertown who will accost you with “glitter emergencies.” It’s truly all fun and games with sunrise kickball and lots of families running around. Finally, HSMF is very participatory for a music festival – there are lots of campsite jams and a free-for-all acoustic stage where you can noodle to your heart’s content.

Kumbh Mela  (India)

Kumbh Mela 2013 Porter Yates Fluxville

Photo by: Porter Yates

If you view Burning Man as a spiritual pilgrimage, you should check out Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest festival – and one of its oldest. Kumbh Mela only happens every three years in India, and 2015 is your chance to go. This important Hindu festival may be the most similar physically to Burning Man (on this list) because they both involve creating a massive tent city despite great logistical strain. In 2012, on Kumbh Mela’s largest day, its attendance made it the most populous city in the world, with 30 million participants. There are art cars, theme camps, and holistic healing. In fact, the commonalities between these two major cultural events of East and West are so striking that Fest300's founder wrote an article about it after visiting in 2012 which was part of the inspiration for this website!

La Calaca (Mexico)

La Calaca Mishele Wells   35

Photo by: Mishele Wells

If Burning Man is all about experiencing epic art and participating in community, go to La Calaca in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. La Calaca was founded by a bunch of burners who wanted to apply some BM principles such as civic engagement into a different context. Now the festival holds its own as Day of the Dead-meets-Burning Man, complete with costumed processions, musical performances and live art installations. This context creates a reverence for life and death similar to what you might find at the Temple. Yes there are parties but at its core La Calaca is a cultural ambassador and art movement that calls for more urban arts interventions as a means of positively impacting a mostly Mexican community.

Lucidity (California, United States)

Lucidity 2014 Art Gimbel 028

Photo by: Art Gimbel

Is Burning Man your chance to be free-spirited and experimental? Check out Lucidity in Santa Barbara, California. This “Burning Man in the woods” experience was born out of planting a dozen fake trees at Burning Man in 2011 in an installation called “Walkabout Woods.” Like Burning Man, the festival has a dynamic yearly theme and has art installations scattered throughout the grounds. It is one of the most environmentally conscious festivals and is committed to ending single use.

Oregon Country Fair (Oregon, United States)

Oregon Country Fair 2014 Athena Delene 2

Photo by: Athena Delene

Who wouldn’t want to create his or her own experience in a magical wonderland? That’s what BM is all about, and that’s what the Oregon Country Fair is about too – only it takes place on 280 wooded acres of land, making it a lovely change from the dusty playa. Oregon Country Fair has 18 stages of eclectic offerings: jugglers, poets, belly dancers, puppets, marching bands and a big area for exploration. It produces zero waste and educates attendees about sustainability. Anything goes with festival costumes at a fair where breast painting is even more popular than face painting.

Shambhala Music Festival (Canada)

Shambhala Shambhala    13

Photo Courtesy of Shambhala

If you go to Burning Man for the incredible sense of community, put the magical forest of Shambhala on your list. Shambhalovies could actually teach burners a thing or two about brotherly love; there are no corporate sponsorship. Instead, they say “our attendees are our sponsors.” Shambhala’s incredible stages are like large-scale Burning Man art pieces mixed with theme camps. Each represents its creators’ vision entirely, right down to the stage’s performance lineup.

Symbiosis Gathering (California, United States)

Symbiosis Gathering 2013 Art Gimbel   02

Photo by: Art Gimbel

If you’re into the radical, the sustainable, the immediate and the weird, you’ll dig Symbiosis, the “born from burner culture” festival. Happening just after Burning Man in September in neighboring California, it is a more deliberate, curated experience. Symbiosis’ mission is to “provide a space for the fusion of aesthetics, sound, and natural living, in an atmosphere of interactive co-creation.” Similar to Burning Man, there is no corporate sponsorship, but instead an alternative marketplace. Some of the art comes straight from the playa, as do many of Symbiosis’s participants.

Up Helly Aa (Scotland)

Up Helly Aa Andrew Shearer 02

Photo by: Andrew Shearer

Are you a viking at heart? Do you like to burn stuff? Do you hang out on playa with DPW or Death Guild? You might want to make a visit to Up Helly Aa, an annual Viking festival on an island north of Scotland. At Up Helly Aa, costumes (of the viking sort, naturally) are abundant during its traditional procession featuring the Guizer Jarl and his Jarl squad. The squad also designs parts of its viking costume for the event, so its different each year. If you fancy dressing like a woman, one of the main afterparties includes Transvestite Tuesday. Each year is themed and like Burning Man’s 10 Principles, Up Helly Aa has an annual bill drafted in secret by a committee of volunteers – which then gets read aloud at the ceremony. In true warrior fashion, Up Helly Aa has never been cancelled due to weather, including severe winter storms. Sound familiar? The culmination of the event involves burning a 9-meter-long galley, or Viking longboat.

Wickerman Festival (Scotland)

Wickerman Wickerman   29

Photo Courtesy of Wickerman

At Wickerman they burn a 40-foot man. That's pretty much it. 

Did we miss any of your favorite Burning Man alternatives? Be sure to check out our list from last year first and add your ideas to the comments.