July 16, 2006

fire arts festival reactions

(i sent this along to an original list of invitees to this event -- suttonhoo, on my probing, suggested i go ahead and post this here on the arch ... i'm putting it up as an article, although i may move it down as a comment later. thanks, as always, suttonhoo.)

b1-67er, his family, and i did hit the fire arts festival last night/this
morning (http://www.thecrucible.org/fireartsfestival/) and it was mind blowing.

the show itself was outside near the bart tracks in somewhat bad part of
oakland (i don't think there are any "good" parts of oakland near the bart
tracks). the crowd was very much the look-at-me-i'm-festooned san francisco
pseudo art set -- the kind of people that look good and interesting from a
distance, but less impressive up close.

everything was laid out inside a chain link fenced area. you could save
yourself 30 bucks by standing outside and gawking (and it certainly would be
worth the gawk), but inside was where it was at. $30 seemed steep to me (it
still does a little), but i ran into 67 straightaway and he was so into
it that it was worth half the admission just to see him all charged up.

the displays and sculptures varied in mood and type from the passive and
interesting (there was a beautiful chandelier that was spinning slowly with
fire instead of bulbs), to the bizarre (a giant lower jaw with fire that
would heat up until it was blue hot), to the truly dangerous (things that
would give controlled explosions of fire bursts in such a way that you could
feel the concussion), to the awe-inspiring (fire tornados, tens of feet

the line was around the block for about the first hour, but everyone got in
easily -- it got right to the point of being too crowded and then the
attendance eased back.

the stand out items in my mind were:

cool -
fire/water fountain
small light-up flower
glowing jaw sculpture
spinning l.e.d. sculpture
dinosaur of fire

ultra cool -
tornado of fire. they set up these fans to swirl the air then released
flammables into them and would sculpt the air into a fire tornado. this
will be the penultimate thing that sticks in my mind from the show. it was
beautiful and captivating.

weird -
* dance dance immolation (it was a modified dance dance revolution where you
wore a fireman's protective suit and if you lost, you got blasted in the
face with fire). funny for 5 minutes, then kind of boring.
* people who would run around in suits that essentially were faraday cages
and take the arcs from a huge tesla coil. cool for about 15 minutes then i found
myself rooting for them to get fried.

fricken scary -
* large flowers made of steel (maybe 15' tall) that would suddenly pump
forward a ball of flame hard enough that the concussion would bang your
chest and you could see the entire flower shake. i refused to stand near
* some crazy fire cannon thing that would shoot truly great balls of fire.
every time that thing got shot, the crowd got real quiet for a couple of
seconds and then nervous laughed. it felt like it could just explode at any
moment. i think it felt that way only because i'm pretty sure it could have exploded at any moment.

there were some bands and some dancers and very much of a carnival meets
survival research laboratories kind-of-feel.

but all of these things were just appetizers for the coup-de-gras. one of
the truly most amazing/horrifying/humbling things i've ever seen in my life
... i *think* it was a jet engine (with afterburners) that was pointed
directly at the ground. they only fired it up once, right at (what i'm sure
was supposed to be) the very end. a fountain of flame shot straight up and
it howled like a demon in the 10th ring of hell. it was loud. loud loud
loud. it was WELL over 120 decibels and may have been pushing something as
high as 150. they'd throttle it around and in full force it was so hot that
you couldn't approach to within about a quarter of a city block.

everything at the show had sort-of a european feel of safety about it. a
police tape here, a guard there, but mostly you could walk right up to
everything and if you wanted to torch yourself, it would have been super
easy to do.

but when they fired up the howler, people peeled back in the same way they
would if you walked into mcdonald's and pulled out an uzi. it was so hot
and so loud that it stopped the concert about 75 yards away and had people
scrambling off the top stairs in fear that they would be scorched.

and i was completely transfixed. i mean, like i zombie. i stood there,
truly agape and in awe. it was like looking at god. i didn't realize i was
mesmerized until i snapped out of it. the *way* i snapped out was my hair
was staring to singe and my forehead was getting burned. and i was
standing, probably, 35 yards away. it was then, and only then, that i
became aware that i was making this weird sound -- i was laughing, sort of
like a hyena, kind of a cackle -- think beavis on heroin. i looked around
and no one was even near me -- i was in a dead man's zone with nearly
everyone WELL behind me, the few forward folks hunkered behind objects of
protection (think welding masks and fire suits).

i came to, scampered back and they fired the demon up even higher. and then they shut it off.

i was pumped up. i mean, pumped up like you get when you crawl out of a
landrover that's rolled over in spain pumped up. like i wanted to have sex
with an entire dorm of co-eds, play poker with all the money i've ever
earned in my life and go fishing for a year kind of pumped up.

it was great. and when i say great, i mean, like one of the truly amazing
things i've ever seen in my life. and without going into even more self-aggrandizing details, let's just say i've seen a lot.

i've never been to burning man, but this is clearly that kind of crowd and a
subset of those activities. i've always considered it to be something for
the more-pompous-than-thou, but man oh man, after this night, i wanna go.