Joining the Black Rock French Quarter
Photos by NK Guy, Todd Gardiner, and Neil Girling
What exactly is the Black Rock French Quarter?
We're a village composed of over a dozen different theme camps, which means you'd be part of a very small and close knit team (your camp) within a very large supportive community (the village). Our village is most famous for our two story buildings with wrought iron balconies, from which brass bands play during Mardi Gras on Tuesday, as well as the lushly appointed golden dome of the Golden Cafe, celebrating its 15th year on playa. Our camps include cocktail lounges, live blues and jazz venues, a bakery, a supper club, a bathhouse, a cafe that roasts coffee fresh on playa, a vineyard, a wine cellar, a dojo, a press corps, and a variety of other attractions in development.
What sort of people fit in as members?
Our philosophy was born in Burning Man 2002, when Black Rock City was a bit more rough and tumble, and contributing to the Black Rock community was more important than personal luxury - which is ironic, because we do offer some of the most exotic luxuries in the city - but our emphasis is always on creating the most amazing experiences for folks outside of our village, and sharing in those amenities, instead of just taking care of ourselves. We have a very high concentration of doers in our village - and people who take their work and fun seriously are always the best fit - we're very casual, with very little drama, but that's because everyone really does get their shit done and jump in to help a villagemate they see in need. Our members range in age from around 18 to around 80.
Where is the village based?
Most of our equipment, infrastructure, buildings, and the directors of many camps are based in Los Angeles. There are additional members distributed throughout the world, with large concentrations in San Francisco. Our greatest outreach is to the New Orleans community, which has been rapidly developing an impressive regional organization since Hurricane Katrina - with any luck, in the next few years there will be additional camps and buildings in the Black Rock French Quarter based in and occupied by citizens of NOLA.
Where on playa is the village located?
We can usually be found on the Esplanade at the 4:30 Portal, extending all the way to A street.
What are the dues?
Dues vary from camp to camp based on how expensive it is for that camp to operate - so bars that give away free cocktails, gumbo cookeries that serve up free seafood, and bathhouses that transport thousands of gallons of water tend to be more expensive than some of the other camps for instance. Dues are computed by estimating the costs of purchasing all the equipment and consumables, transporting everything hundreds or thousands of miles, providing whatever power is needed, dealing with all the trash and grey water that we produce and that is left by visitors in our space, and then dividing this total by the expected population of each camp. As a result, dues get higher when our population decreases or fuel prices increase, and dues get lower when our population increases or fuel prices decrease. In 2017, dues range from $100 per person for the camps with lower expenses, up to $300 per person for the camps with higher expenses.
Are there dues for the village, or just for the camps?
In addition to your camp dues, there are $100 per person dues to the village, that pay for shared infrastructure like our landmark buildings, last ditch trash and MOOP handling, food and drinks for the hardest working members of our early arrival build crew and late leaving cleanup crew, and, when we are lucky, special projects like flickering street lights.
What do I get for my money?
Just the honor of creating a truly extraordinary part of Black Rock City, the privelege to camp in one of the most fun locations with some of the most wonderful people at Burning Man, and the opportunity to earn a lovely medallion signifying your residency in the village. Our village does feature perhaps the most beautiful shower facility in the city, and a number of legendary chefs who sometimes offer meal plans, but all of these amenities are paid for on top of your camp dues. Make no mistake, as a village we are not about what we can "get for our money" - we are about what we can "give with our money". The dues and donations you contribute to our camps DO yield a TREMENDOUS bang for your buck - but that bang is not expressed in services that make your life easier on playa - it is expressed in the eyes of other Burners, virgins and veterans alike, experiencing the wonder of coffee and beignets, in the shade of our romantic French Quarter buildings, while brass bands perform from the balconies, and drunken revelers dance in the streets.
Why are your dues so high, when the dues at my previous camp were so low?
Of course it all depends on which specific camps you are comparing, but most camps with low dues are either A) large camps, B) high roller camps, C) dance camps, or D) minimal camps. Large camps can have low dues because if you divide say $10K in expenses by 500 members you get $20 each, as opposed to say dividing $5K in expenses by 25 members for $200 each. High Roller camps can have low dues because one or more of the founders are wealthy enough to blow a ton of money on amenities without needing anyone else to pay them back. Dance camps can have lower dues because the founders are frequently promoters in real life, and have exactly the skills necessary to run highly profitable fundraisers to defer the costs - dance camps are also frequently large camps with many members across which to split the costs as well. And last but not least, minimal camps - those that make their contribution to the city without giving away thousands of dollars of food or liquor, and without building or decorating huge structures, simply have much lower expenses overall, and hence less to divide up. In the case of the Black Rock French Quarter, we tend to do very expensive things, with very few members to divide up the cost, none of us are wealthy enough to contribute more than an even share with everyone else, and none of us are professional promoters or terribly good at the kind of fundraising we need to defer costs.
Can I contribute my skills instead of paying dues?
You can definitely contribute your skills, and they are greatly appreciated. In fact, one of the things that makes our camps special is the high percentage of folks from other camps and villages that play an active or even central role - more than half of the staff for our bakery, supper club, and other attractions are camped elsewhere in the city, and they come together under our roof to do incredible things. Alas, the expenses are the expenses, and someone needs to pay them - if you don't pay your dues, someone else needs to pay DOUBLE to cover you. And trust me, no matter how amazing you are at cooking or painting or construction, the other folks in the village, who you are effectively asking to pay more to cover you, are pretty damn amazing at those things themselves.
I have no money at all - is there a scholarship program?
For those who truly were able to scrounge up only enough funds for a low income ticket, gas for their motorcycle, and seven packets of ramen, but who want to dedicate their life and soul to the greater glory of the Black Rock French Quarter, we have always found a way to make them at home. We do want to be fair to the folks who struggled and saved to pay their dues and worked in the sun to build it all in the months before Burning Man, but we appreciate that life has its ups and downs and funds are not always handy - let us know your situation and we'll see what we can do.
What about the portion of dues devoted to cleaning up? I leave no trace myself, so can I get reduced dues?
As it turns out, almost no person or camp at Burning Man leaves a trace. Everyone swears to it every single year. Some of the people and camps insisting that they leave no trace have perfect track records from previous years. Other are new to our village or new to Burning Man, but are deeply and sincerely dedicated to leaving not a single staple or popcorn kernel on playa when they leave. And yet, every year, less than a dozen of us, out of a village of a three hundred people, find ourselves raking up the mess and packing out bags of garbage on Tuesday, after everyone else has gone home. Sometimes its misunderstandings where two people or groups each think the other is taking a particular trash bag home. Sometimes its MOOP left by neighbor camps or visitors. Regardless of where it comes from, everyone is lucky that even that small crew stays behind to leave the plot the BMORG lent us in as close to pristine condition as we can, and its only fair that the cost of renting a vehicle to haul the trash, and the cost of delivering that trash to the landfill, be carried by all of us who lived on that plot.
What are my responsibilities other than paying dues?
That depends on the specific camp you join. We have a page devoted to your most fundamental responsibilities that keep you from making an ass of yourself and reflecting badly on your villagemates, your ancestors, and your descendants. As a general rule, you are expected to help with setup, teardown, and cleanup, to the full extent of your capabilities, and to do an even share of whatever work your camp is involved in. So if you join the gumbo cookery, you will probably spend an evening cooking and serving gumbo or doing dishes. If you join the bathhouse, you will probably spend a day making custom scrubs and bath oils for visitors. If you join the cafe, you will probably spend a morning and evening roasting and serving coffee. You can contact each specific camp to understand what they do and what role you would play.
Is there time left to enjoy Burning Man?
More than you would expect, especially because everyone in the village is responsible for looking out for their own health and happiness. So long as you are not conspicuously absent or lounging in plain view when all the real work is being done, you come and go as you please. Some of our members spend almost all of their time in the village, because it really is that amazing, and because so much incredible stuff from all around Black Rock City comes directly to us. Other of our members roll out of bed, grab some coffee and breakfast with their campmates, help with a little prep for the day, and then disappear until the next morning. Both approaches to Burning Man are welcome and encouraged, so long as you take pride in setup, teardown, and cleanup, and participate in your community.
How do I sign up?
If this sounds like the community you want to be part of on playa, you can start by filling out this form:
Request to Join the Black Rock French Quarter