So Not Glastonbury; Didn't Get Glastonbury Tickets This Year? Fear Not - Will Hide Reports on a US Festival That's Way Cooler and Still Has Room

Article excerpt

Byline: WILL HIDE

WELCOME to Nowhere" reads the sign by the side of the road. I am 10 hours' drive north of Las Vegas where budget brothels and lazy mountain ranges shimmer in 40-degree haze. Eventually, I hit the Black Rock Desert at the fantastically unimpressive town of Empire and get snarled in a traffic jam, heading towards a 500ft-high mushroom cloud of dust.

I am with 35,000 others heading towards the Burning Man festival, a weeklong gathering that's part dance party, part art festival, but mostly just people hanging out on the playa, the name given to the rock-hard dust bowl we are approaching. It's Priscilla, Queen of the Desert meets Mad Max with a whiff of Blade Runner.

The festival started 19 years ago in San Francisco when 20 people came together on Baker Beach to celebrate the summer solstice. Five years later, 250 turned up when it moved to its present site in Nevada and it's been growing ever since.

The form is simple. Bring everything you need and take all rubbish away.

Only coffee and ice are for sale, proceeds from which go to local charities.

It is not a commercial bunfight like modern Glastonbury.

Everything is swapped or shared and people dress up big time. There are lots of cowboy hats, feather boas, glittery pants, spangly tops and, vitally, ski-goggles to protect against the dust. Quite a few dress down. As I arrived, a man wandered past naked, painted green from head to toe, except for his nethers, which were done out in the stars and stripes.

Still, you don't come to gawp, you participate. There's a belly dance class at 4.30pm or find out how to pronounce your Chinese tattoo at 7pm.

Stop by the vinegar foot-wash, then maybe get married at Templewhore (bring Nevada wedding licence and ID). I attend the "how to say no and remain friends" workshop or you can try the Astro-match speed-dating.

(Four girls! Four guys! Eight minutes!) And on it goes: there's blind cricket, turban wrapping, naked tug o' war, sensual snuggles ("join us for a discussion on non-sexual sensual play gatherings") and the sacrifice of a stuffed animal at dawn. …