The pseudo-pagan, and very San Francisco, Burning Man festival in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, has gone national in the last few years, attracting an increasing number of New Yorkers (Moby, for one). But for obvious reasons, most of the wacky dystopian homemade art floats that roam around the encampment are produced by West Coasters. Last year, Quill Hyde, a theatrical engineer (he worked on sets for Mamma Mia! and Blue Man Group) went to Burning Man for the first time and thought, “I’ve found my audience.”
He also saw that he could do better. “I was inspired by the art cars out there. Some are well-thought-out, just not as tight as I could make them.” This year, he designed a 60-foot-long, 35-foot-high, fire-spouting, carousel-inspired rolling installation he named A Cavallo (“by horse” in Italian). With its steel masts and elevated band platform at the stern, it looks like a demented iron ship on wheels, towed by an antique farm truck. Over the last eight weeks, it was constructed by a crew of fifteen volunteers at Hyde’s workshop in Red Hook. To pay for it—it cost upwards of $50,000, Hyde’s not sure exactly—they threw fund-raising parties and got a “nice-size” grant from the Burning Man association. Plus credit cards.
Just after lunchtime on August 22, all 10,000 pounds of steel, oak, propane tanks, and recycled theater machinery were packed up into a 26-foot box truck, towing a trailer full of metal horses that will “cut you if you let them. We sanded the edges fairly well, but they are not entirely friendly.” The trip will take four days; Burning Man begins August 27 and ends September 3. “There’s very much a ‘we’re from New York and we don’t mess around’ vibe,” Hyde says. “I hope they’re inspired to take it up a notch.”
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