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Sonoma County residents gearing up for annual Burning Man arts festival

  • REI sales manager Joseph Fleish gives a woman, who did not want to be identified, advice on tents Saturday in Santa Rosa. REI has had brisk sales in camping equipment leading up to Burning Man in Nevada. (KENT PORTER / PD)

It happens every year in late August — a run on lanterns, camp stoves and sturdy tents at the REI outdoor gear store on Santa Rosa Avenue.

It's become so predictable that REI staff use a common name for the shoppers: “Burners,” the free-spirited, art-loving, sometimes eccentric characters who attend the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

“We set up an entire Burning Man display every year,” said Marco Arredondo, a retail sales manager. “We prepare a month in advance for this event.”

At least 200 Burning Man shoppers have geared up at the Santa Rosa store, Arredondo said, buying portable showers, sleeping pads and even ski goggles to keep the dust out of their eyes.

“Yeah, we see an increase in traffic this time of year,” he said.

The week-long Burning Man festival begins Monday when 68,000 people will descend on northern Nevada's Black Rock Desert.

Festival-goers will set up a massive tent city with roads, neighborhoods and a huge statue in the center. They will torch this wooden “Man” on Saturday night in a tradition that dates back to the festival's founding more than 20 years ago.

The event has grown into a celebration of community, self-reliance and art, said Nathalie Tendrick, 26, a Glen Ellen dancer attending her fourth festival.

“Everyone is there to have a good time,” she said. “There is no money exchanged. That is an important part of Burning Man.”

Besides the admission ticket, which can be as high as $650, there is nothing to buy at Burning Man except coffee and ice. All transactions are on the barter system in a rejection of consumerism, according to the festival's official website. The admission fee goes toward portable bathrooms, the land use permit, emergency services and commissioned art pieces.

Burning Man participants from the North Bay said most people share food, drink and sometimes drugs, which are officially banned. You can get a free breakfast by telling a joke at one tent. Another group rolls sushi for passersby.

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