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Prelude to Burning Man

With six months to go until Burning Man, local enthusiasts have devised a way to stoke the inner fires of creativity early — and introduce newbies to the concept.

Called "An Evening in Candy Land," it's a neon lollipop-inspired costume party, rave and "informational" set for 9 p.m. Saturday at The Black Sheep in Ashland. It's sponsored by the Siskiyou Burners, a group of about 150 local residents who attend Burning Man, a weeklong, commerce-free, performance art festival that takes place in Nevada's Black Rock Desert (known as "the playa") every summer. This year's festival is set for Aug. 25 through Sept. 1.

"This is a Burning Man-orientated group that likes to hold Burning Man parties and welcome people into the community," says Black Sheep owner and six-time "Burner" Susan Chester. "For those who haven't gone, it's an introduction, and for those who have, it's a fun halfway point until this summer."

Saucy "Hot Candy Dancers," aerial silk performers, two renowned deejays, crazy rave décor, door prizes and gifts for all are just some of the enticements.

"It's always our goal to do something nobody else has done in Ashland," says organizer Greg Goebelt of Talent, who coordinated the Siskiyou Burners' Freak and Fetish Balls and Fur Balls.

"I travel around and when I see something really provocative, I want to bring it to our small town and blow everything away."

Goebelt and his wife, Ann Goebelt, have been to Burning Man eight times and are the festival's Southern Oregon regional contacts. Like many Burners, they prefer to use their playa names (Squeeze and Tickle, respectively) when involved in Burning Man-related events.

"An Evening in Candy Land" was inspired by a mix of early '90s rave fashion, sexual overtones and a swirly, neon brightness.

"Then we wondered what it would look like if we were all shrunk down to the size of candy," Greg Goebelt says. "So then we got the whole idea "¦ it's truly a candy rave with giant candy, cotton candy colors and black lights."

Volunteer and three-time Burner Michael Kerr of Ashland has been transforming cardboard boxes into 5-foot lollipops, barrel-sized gumdrops and a crawl-through gingerbread house with a fur-lined interior and black-light illumination.

Most of the materials were scavenged from recycling centers and willing storekeepers, says Kerr, whose playa name is Magic. Special equipment — like the black lights and tents that create a "chill space" at the back of the gingerbread house and the vast white sheets and projector that will become the shadow-dance screen — has been borrowed from local Burners.

There will be Burning Man information at the event, including survival guides, packing lists, maps, videos and descriptions of philanthropic efforts.

Wearing costumes allows people to step out of their normal routine and get in touch with their "inner extrovert," says Kerr, who'll be sporting lime green neon pants with neon candy-striped leggings, a bright net shirt, a big fuzzy hat and boots with five-inch heels. "Think of me as the Magic Candyman. It should be a blast," he says.

Just putting on a candy necklace won't get you in for ten bucks — you've got to put some effort into it.

"Plus, it's more fun if you participate," says Greg Goebelt, whose cotton candy ensemble will include a pink tutu and boots. "And if you think that you might look too weird or too strange or too risqué, I'd say that's impossible."

Jennifer Strange is a freelance writer living in Jacksonville. Reach her at jlstrange@hotmail.com.

From left, Michael Kerr, Ann Goebelt and Greg Goebelt get in character for “An Evening in Candy Land,” a prelude to Burning Man set for this weekend. - Jamie Lusch