Theme Camp: Zion Communal Kitchen & Hookah Lounge

This is my second profile of a theme camp. For the first, see The Story of a Theme Camp: Smack That Ass!

Zion's Camp Logo. Click to visit their Facebook page.

At festivals in the Burning Man community, everyone is expected to bring enough food and water to survive the entire event. The response to this varies widely — for every camp with a luxurious kitchen tent, there are Burners subsisting on energy bars and trail mix. Camp stoves are convenient and open up a wide variety of dining options to the hungry, but aren’t affordable for every camper. Finally, hunger or thirst can strike unexpectedly during long, hot festival days and nights, often when you are far from your home base.

Any experienced participant can tell you how much food you are gifted at Burn events. It’s inevitable that I come home with all kinds of food I never had the chance to eat. A number of theme camps even specialize in providing for hungry Burners. Arguably, one of the most successful and influential in the Texas regional community is Zion Communal Kitchen and Hookah Lounge. Camp founder Ranger Elder Warlock was happy to share their story with me.

Warlock, an accomplished fire breather and fire dancer from Houston, attended an event on the periphery of the community called Fall Freaktacular in 2003. He stayed up late one night and heard all about Flipside and the Burn experience. After attending Houston Church Nights for a while, he found himself at Burning Flipside 2004: Glitter Monkey Rodeo.

The seed for Zion was planted when Warlock joined a theme camp that charged $40 to buy into their meal plan. He discovered, to his frustration, that with the chaotic nature of these events he was unable to make most scheduled meals and ended up eating sandwiches and cereal or eating at other camps. At that year’s Orfunner, the local orphan Burn, he began experimenting with a communal kitchen and served “Warlock’s Famous Fries” (later Warlock’s Famous Curly Fries) for the first time, by the creek at Recreation Plantation. At Burning Flipside 2005: Innergalactic Circus, a prototype kitchen, “Ravelock” appeared — a combination of Warlock’s name with that of Raven, another Burner who helped the camp.

A chalkboard welcomes visitors. Photo by Amy Sage Boyd, Sense & Color Photography (click to visit).

But it was at Burning Flipside 2006: Fall From Grace that participants first got to experience Zion Communal Kitchen and Hookah Lounge. Zion’s name comes from Zion’s Flame, a Houston-based fire performance tribe. It refers to the mythological final city, the final utopian gathering place of humanity. It suggests that the camp is a similar social center for the events they attend.

Flipside was originally held at Recreation Plantation; though regional events are still held there to this day, by 2006 the larger event was beginning to outgrow the space. Unable to secure a location as their own theme camp, the first Zion was a part of the Circle of Fire theme camp (which I hope to make the subject of a future profile like this one). Since then, it’s come into its own, growing more elaborate and efficient every year.

The core offerings have been the same ever since: scheduled meals every day, a kitchen open to anyone who wants to cook, and water and snacks available to everyone day or night. Of course, visitors are expected to clean up after themselves using the washtubs provided.

The camp offers a number of comfortable places to relax and multiple hookahs to smoke. Contrary to the impression some may have of Burn events or hookah smokers in general, the only substance smoked in Zion’s hookahs is shisha, a blend of tobacco with a flavored syrup based in honey or molasses. In fact, Warlock works to educate the Burning Flipside community on proper hookah etiquette, which includes a prohibition against loading other substances into these water-filtered pipes without the owner’s explicit permission.

Though Zion is a quite popular chill camp and kitchen at Flipside, it’s at the smaller events still held at “Recplant” where it becomes truly essential to the community. Burners have less time, money and energy to prepare for these shorter events, so they pack light and there is far less infrastructure. Over the years, so many have come to depend on its facilities and it has given so much to these regionals that a permanent shade structure has been constructed to house the kitchen.

No theme camp of this size is a one-man creation, and Elder Warlock depends on many other core volunteers to make sure the camp keeps running. Among other tasks, designated volunteers are responsible for each planned meal; it is their job to make sure that all ingredients arrive and that the meal gets done at the scheduled time. This was never more evident than in 2010, when Warlock, a dedicated Ranger who describes himself as “always on duty,” was scheduled for a total of 24 hours of volunteer time over the course of the 5 day event. Even so, he knew he could rely on his Zion family to keep the camp running.

To close out this discussion of Zion, I thought I’d assemble some of the community’s best photos of Warlock in action. In the photo gallery below, be sure to try the full screen option available by clicking on the FS button. Photos 1-2 are by Amy Sage Boyd of Sense & Color Photography, photos 3-4 are by Ryan of One Flame In the Fire, and Photo 6 is from Ira Weinschel of Seven Star Photo; all photos used with permission.

Ranger Elder Warlock Breathes Fire

Houston Art Nerds Effigy Burn

Zion Communal Kitchen & Hookah Lounge will return at Burning Flipside: Bad Idea later this year. Warlock dreams of someday bringing it to Burning Man as well. Zion has a Facebook page and a Yahoo! group.

I am grateful to Ranger Elder Warlock, and the contributions of the photographers, for making this entry possible.

I would like to hear from Burners — and theme camp organizers — with suggestions for future entries in this series. For more on Burning Man, see http://kitoconnell.com/lexicon/

Comments (3)

  1. Ranger Elder Warlock wrote:

    Kit,

    Thank you for your article and glad that I was able to help out with answering your questions. It brings such happiness to my heart that you are sharing this with others and so very honored that you are a close friend, brother and family.

    With Love & Respect,

    Ranger Elder Warlock
    Zion Communal Kitchen & Hookah Lounge
    (“That MEAT Camp!!!”)

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm #
  2. Kit wrote:

    Thanks, Elder Warlock! I also consider you part of my ‘Burner family’ and I am proud to be able to share the story of you and your camp and its fantastic people here on my blog.

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm #
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