Burnapalooza XXX: Students brave January rain, mud in third run of pyrotechnic gathering

By Sheila Moussavi 2007

To most, fire-dancing, blazing Christmas trees and tribal music would create some unusual and probably sinister imagery, but to about 36 CF students, these descriptions can only mean Burnapalooza XXX.

For anyone who’s managed to remain oblivious to this strange fire-based event, Burnapalooza is an invention of senior Tom Otting, with the sole purpose of gathering people together to exhaust their passion of burning things. But besides creating a perfect atmosphere for pyromaniacs, Burnapalooza also has many promising features, varying from some form of tribal choir to very unusual delicacies.

As an attendee of the first of these gatherings, (Burnapalooza VII), I was one of half a dozen student to witness the cooked rabbit served as dinner and the Turkish drumming of former exchange student and CF celebrity Ahmet Cinar. At the second Burnapalooza (XIX), Cinar made his final appearance, amidst the cow tongue and shark meat that was passed around to all.

So naturally, when I saw a poster for Burnapalooza XXX, I made plans to attend, knowing full-well that when it came to unpredictable fire-parties, Otting had only himself to outdo. Slightly skeptical that he could beat shark meat and human-sized flames, I decided to go and judge his success for myself.

So, for the second time in a year, Saturday night found me in front of the Otting home, and the difference registered instantly. Instead of the small handful of people I had expected to find standing in the rain, the backyard was filled with a few dozen CFHS students. Some sat talking by the bonfire while others filled the void of Cinar’s absence by creating tribal music of their own with whatever instruments they could find (e.g. coffee cans and Gatorade bottles).

Some, however, came prepared, and they percussion was soon accompanied by senior Patrick Miller’s harmonica and senior Nate Anderson’s ocarina.

Upon entrance, Otting immediately welcomed us and apologized for what he called a “boring year in food,” consisting of chips, marshmallows and pop. But even without the presence of cow tongue, I could tell by the size of the crowd and the participation in the fire-dancing and tribal music, that I had been wrong to doubt Burnapalooza XXX.

As Otting and I discussed the origin of Burnapalooza XXX’s name (no, it has nothing to do with straight-edge), the music died down and everyone talked around the blazing fire, which was being kept alive with unwanted Microsoft programming manuals, Christmas trees and a very flammable Winnie the Pooh bathrobe.

Things had potential to turn creepy when Otting and Anderson began duct taping an effigy they had created from wood and a piñata, but even that was somehow brought to normalcy by Otting’s explanatory speech, in which he informed us that the effigy was no more than a symbol of everyone returning to the sky after death. In a characteristically Burnapalooza manner, the explanation was accepted as truth, the effigy was burned and everyone returned to their talk.

After about an hour of typical social-gathering conversation, I began to wonder at the absence of Tom’s father, Mr. Otting, who led the singing at Burnapalooza VII. On cue, the crowd began to chant for Mr. Otting, asking him in unison to tell them a tale. Not knowing what to expect as Mr. Otting sat down with a giant stick in hand, I waited for the story to begin.

Slowly, and with a perfect story-teller’s cadence, Mr. Otting began to speak: “I am reminded right now of two stories …” So began his well-crafted explanation of how the crow came to be black while skunks have a stripe and how the Earth was created — all told in the same even pitch, enhanced with well-placed expletives.

This seemed the appropriate ending to the night, and when I left at about 11 p.m., there were still at least 30 people gathered around the fire. And though the highlight from me was Mr. Otting’s tale-telling, there was something to be enjoyed by anyone.

“I most enjoyed the tribal dancing,” said junior Andrew Doyle, who had been at the Otting home for at least a couple hours. Verbalizing what seemed to be the general opinion of the night, Doyle added, “I can’t wait until Burnapalooza XXXXII.”

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