YOUtopia 2015: Magic on the Mountaintop

*written and reviewed by Kari Tervo for Electronica Life

Was it a party? Was it a delusion? I don’t even know.

What I do know is that YOUtopia 2015 was a Burning Man regional event held from October 15-18 at the La Jolla Indian Reservation, in the mountains near San Diego. Secure with that knowledge, and wristband tightened, I set out to describe YOUtopia from the perspective of a first-time participant. I had it all planned out—I even marked myself up a schedule in the event guide! The theme was “Robots and Dinosaurs YOUnite!” So, I expected to see many dinosaurs and robots. And I did.

But now that I have been there, and now that I understand, how am I supposed to describe this thing I am supposed to describe when I can’t even describe it?

Well, let’s start here, at the beginning, and maybe by the end, you’ll understand.

My boyfriend Matt and I arrived at the La Jolla Indian Reservation on Thursday afternoon. We walked towards two people sitting at a table in the middle of our home for the next several days: Camp H.A.W.T. Wheelz, a theme camp for people with mobility limitations (which I have after being hit by a car a few years ago—don’t text and drive, kids!). I was really grateful for Dimples and Marty, who we had never met before, for including us in their camp. Dimples wasn’t there at the time, but campmates Marty and Whatever were there to greet us.

Marty said hello and gave us a hug. We sat down to chat and get to know one another. The talk turned to playa names (a playa name is like. . .an essence of you). Marty talked about how “Marty” seems to be the perfect name that sticks for him, and Whatever told us how his playa name is great for him because he’s up for “whatever.”

“What’s your playa name?” they asked. “I don’t have one,” I told them. “But I’d like to leave here with one.”

With that, I set an intention, and so it began, the magic of YOUtopia. Which I am not entirely sure was not just a mass hallucination.

I still can’t figure out what it is. I do know that YOUtopia is not a party. But at the same time, YOUtopia is a party. Let me tell you about some party things first, because that might excite you. But after you get your rocks off, you have to stick around for the woo-woo stuff and a coupla hugs. Okay, promise? Okay, here we go:


-DANCE DANCE DANCE! There were electronic beats bumping at all hours, wherever you went. You want to dance at 3:30 in the morning? Okay, just wander around and find a sound camp. Or, head to the outrageously awesome Triptych stage and bounce around. I also heard about a couch that played music. This is a literal quote from our shuttle driver: “Yeah, that sound camp wasn’t playing stuff I liked, so I just went back to the couch. The couch was playing better music.”

-You want a drink? Well, just belly up to one of the many open bars around the place, put your (self-acquired) cup on the bar, and pull a Bruno Mars: Fill my cup, put some liquor in it! Okay, no, probably don’t actually say that, but you will get the urge. Tip your bartender in compliments and what have you (but cash is not welcome here).

-There was this robot, and its keeper would have it hold a board. Then, the keeper would teach you how to. . .KARATE CHOP THE BOARD IN HALF! Yes, I freaking karate chopped a board in half. It was more than amazing.

-You could watch a blacksmith melt metal and hammer it into shapes on an anvil!

-If you wanted to chill, you could lay down in the Kelp Garden, where pastel gossamer strands would sway in the breeze and pet you.

-It’s a gifting economy, so people—total strangers sometimes!–would just. . .give you stuff. Melon balls, bandanas, fancy Spanish cheese, fondue (both cheese and chocolate!), pink lemonade vodka, kitty cat earrings. . . I gifted “be your own subculture” buttons and sandwiches (shredded beef and cheese in a pita or bacon/turkey/cheese on a croissant). There is no better feeling than when someone is really jazzed about your gift.

-There was karaoke at the Xara Sports Lounge! Everyone was really good. This guy did a version of Killing Me Softly that turned into an improvised beat-box/call-and-response thing, and the whole crowd was so fired up and excited! It was totally pro, so talk about gifting us. Then. . .it was my turn, and I am but a wee amateur. But! I think I did a pretty good “Jump Around.” Jump up jump up and get down!

-You need a break from all this amazingness? Just chill in your tent for a while and read for a little bit, like I did on Friday night. During my time alone, I thought, “What would I want my playa name to be?” I pondered for only about half a second before deciding, “Oh YES. That is what I would want my playa name to be. That is it.” And then I didn’t tell anyone, even Matt, who was snoring softly next to me. I just waited. I knew it was going to happen. Because YOUtopia isn’t really a party—it’s magic.


Well, first, didja know: The ONLY reason we were at YOUtopia was because we wanted a do-over after we spent much of our time at Woogie Weekend in July trying not to let our camp float away in flash floods. We bought tickets to DirtyBird Campout, but then Matt remembered his cousin was getting married that weekend. . .so. . .YOUtopia it was! And it was this weird confluence of flash flooding and forgetfulness and me being hit by a car in 2012 that put us in the exact place we were supposed to be that weekend. That’s magic.

There was an earthquake on Thursday night, a brief but intense JOLT! We felt it in our feet, and it knocked apart a balancing-rock sculpture that Charlie On The Spot had contributed to our camp (he later re-balanced it). That jolt set the whole mountain on a new axis, and prepared us to open our minds to what was to come.

Friday night, Matt and I headed out with Sammy, a fellow H.A.W.T. Wheelz camper. We had soooo much fun chilling and dancing, and Sammy knew everyone. It was like walking around with a celebrity. Though we just met Sammy the day before, we all definitely felt we were of the same tribe. I’m sorry I crashed early (“just gimme ten minutes,” I mumbled) and missed out on even more Friday night frivolities, because I know there was more magic waiting (and here is where I’d like to throw in a THANK YOU to YOUtopia, Marty, and Dimples for arranging a shuttle for people with mobility limitations—it helped A LOT).

Saturday morning, a woman came to our camp and asked if she could use our camp stove. Of course, we said. Have at it. We got to talking, and we just connected immediately, in this honest and loving and totally weird way. Hummingbird (that’s her playa name) and I chilled and talked periodically throughout the day. It was a great connection, and. . .well, you’ll see.

Matt and I went up to the Fire Hoes bar for some random chatting and drinks, but it wasn’t until we climbed the hill that Matt realized he forgot his cup. He ran back down the hill to get it (there was no way my back could take that hill again), and I was left alone. I turned and saw a woman in a shiny robot dress; the dress said HELLO. So I said hello. And I realized the wearer of the dress was a Facebook friend I had never met before in real life! So we had some fun connection and conversation. At one point, she pointed to an inflatable dinosaur in some sort of congress with a robot. I went to take a photo, and realized that this display was right in front of the tent of a friend I haven’t seen for almost two years! MAGIC. MAJOR MAGIC.
robot and dinosaur
And in the meantime, by the way, if you want to talk about magic: Try the feeling of family and safety you have when a group of people you have never met before (Camp H.A.W.T. Wheelz and my neighbors, now totally my peeps) instantly love and accept you. It was like nothing I have ever felt before, and I am so glad to have met those amazing people.

And one of those amazing people was Hummingbird. Later, on Saturday night, a bunch of us headed out towards adventure. But Hummingbird and I kept slowing down the group because we kept stopping to yammer at each other about any and all sorts of topics. “Come on, you guys,” Sammy encouraged us forward.

But we had to stop one more time. Because Hummingbird, this chick I had just met that morning, had important business to conduct:

“I have a playa name for you,” she said.

I was nervous. We hadn’t even talked about playa names; I didn’t even know she knew I didn’t have one.

“If you will accept it,” she continued.

I nodded, shaking a little in anticipation. Was this really happening? This couldn’t be real—it was just a silly little intention I set, and. . .now it was happening? No.

But Hummingbird continued, looking at me intensely: “Your playa name. . .if you will accept it. . .is. . .”

And my knees were shaking and my eyes were wide! How could this be real?

And then Hummingbird conferred upon me, like a queen dubbing a knight, my playa name:

“Your playa name is. . .BLUE.”

And omg you guys, omg! I almost freaking passed out. Because that name I had conjured up there in the tent that night, that name I just knew belonged to me, was. . .BLUE! That was exactly the name I wanted, and this person I had just met that morning just knew.

And I felt different somehow, now, as Blue. I was elated.

And the magic doesn’t end there. There was talking and hugging and gifting and stopping to gawk at a giant steel giraffe robot lit bright with colorful LEDs. And then it was time for Matt and I to have some chill time together, so we sat on a rock by a stage and talked for nearly four hours.
temple detail
By the time we decided to go back to camp, it was five in the morning, and we were far from home. We struggled to find our way back through the hills in the dark. But, we weren’t worried as we walked along the paths in a quiet connectedness. There we were, lost in a makeshift city on a mountaintop, and found in this magical enterprise of community and love.

And that was just my experience. There were 3,000 other people there, amidst in all this, with their own experiences to share. It is magical, but it’s not a delusion. YOUtopia is real.


Love, Blue.

*Kari Tervo is a karaoke singer and writer who lives in Los Angeles.