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I've been through the Desert on a Horse named Chester
by Terri Harris

Published on July 20, 2021

Jason has always been to me an epic showman, the evil genius behind the darkest horse in the art car universe and a man unafraid to say exactly what is on his mind.

And that is true! But there is so much more to Jason - he is passionate in his beliefs: whether women’s rights, climate change, art or his rights and responsibilities as an artist. Above all, Jason brings his incredible passion, joy and community based activism to everything he touches.

I laughed, I thought and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this conversation! Join the Everywhen and join Jason for a rocking good time in the Mojave!

Chester's Concept Sketch

Creating chester

Jason: “It's time for something besides Burning Man. You know what I mean? It really is. That's one of the things that I really like about your original statement of purpose, is like, you said that you're gonna continue to use and reuse things.

So what inspired Chester is in 2008, on my very first appearance at that thing in the desert, it became very obvious to me that those who were having Art Car experiences were very different than those who weren't, right? And it was my intention to be one of those people that was going to have an Art Car experience of my own kind.

If you ever find pictures of Chester from 2008, he's really low and all he has is regular old truck tires on him. Alright? Uh, and they painted my rims pink and stuck a unicorn horn on me just to really piss me off because it's really not the look I was going for. They put a pink glittered unicorn horn out there in the middle of the night, one time while I was sleeping, and painted my rims pink. The people who are on my crew and help me building.

July 2011 - Aaron Dana (Montana) inside Chester's first skeleton

So there’s Don Cain, there's Aaron Scott, right, also known as Hubby, he did lots and lots of the welding. He was out there - we had June rain that year and we were welding outside and so he was welding in the rain. Um *laughs* and so he got that done.

Then, there was, um, Aaron Dana, also known as Montana, right? Uh, he did a lot of the electrical and the mechanical and stuff, like seriously, and I gotta, I gotta tell you: almost all that stuff has been replaced. He did it straight up, you know, he made it work for one year, but that’s all it had in it.

By the end of that event, it was all trash. Um, but what can you expect? We started in June, we didn't have a really big budget. It all got ground down and dusted and you know? I learned a lot of lessons, and, um, thank God for him, because you know, uh, I had an Art Car that year."

Adding the dance pole

Jason: "So, um, the pole. So I had a girlfriend right? Who like I was totally in love with. I mean, I mean, like really -- and, um, we were going back and forth, you know, she kept breaking up with me and then, coming back to me and seriously, she said it, boom! It was like an idea brought to me from God, alright? Straight up.

She says: "You should put a stripper pole on that thing,” and I'm just like, "Great idea!"

You know, she was kinda like, you know, in the fitness world and stuff and, um, uh, um, you know, she hung around with a lot of people that weren't, they weren't strippers, right? Um, uh, but they were, like, fitness pole dancers. You know, fitness pole performers. Um, there are two entirely different worlds in the pole, pole dancing arena, alright? There are fitness and acrobatic performers and there are strippers, and I love them both equally. *laughs*

And, like, seriously, I don't love one more than the other, right? They wanna come up and they wanna show up and they wanna perform and not hurt themselves, right? Everybody loves 'em and so do I. Alright?

The way that we maintain, manage the crowd, uh, our statement of purpose, what our intentions are, what our goals are, you know? How I manage folks up there and who I let up there and why and what I expected of them as passengers while we are there has completely changed since I first got Chester, alright? When I first got him, I was just like, come one, come all. I've mob twenty-five people up there, right? Seriously? And they'd all have a seat all over the dance floor and mob up there and pack all over and hang their legs over the edges and freaking kick plumbing lines and freaking make propane leak and accidentally set off my fire extinguishers and punch holes in my speakers, spill shit all over the place, and then the next morning I'd have to clean up two bags full of garbage and end up having to take home, at the end of Burning Man, freaking ten bags full of garbage, alright? That's what my, that’s what my original Art Car experience look like, okay?"

Managing the crowd

Jason: "Little by little, change by change, what I realized was: Guess what? If you don't have it in a sippy cup or a bottle that closes, pfft, you gotta go, alright? Because I'm not gonna fucking clean it up. I'm sick of cleaning up after people, alright? Ten people. That's it.

We don't want the fucking car dude heavy, right? If there are seven dudes up there and only three women, right? Guess what? No one's gonna fucking pop their ass out in all those dudes faces. Stand the fuck back and let the girls dance.

Dude, this is really my favorite thing to do. When the place is big enough and there's enough shit going on, I just like to roll up to highly concentrated people and throw everybody the fuck off! Sit down below with the flame effects control, and let, let performers stand in line. Men and women alike, acrobats and pole dancers. We just park it, and let them come up one at a time.

My beautiful, lovely wife, Sophia, she’s gotten really good at managing them. I honestly, I take care of the car. She takes care of the dancers. It makes it a lot more inviting and entertaining when, like, it feels like women are managing, like, the crowd, right? Because if Sophia says, "Fuck you, you gotta go," it’s like, who's gonna talk back to her? Right? Me, I just manage the machine. You know? I manage the machine, and she manages the people. Works out a lot better that way.”

Jason Anderholm at the Oakland Marathon, parked at the halfway mark to cheer on the runners.

Terri: “If you had to give Chester a movie house rating, what would it be? G to XXX, day and night?”

Jason: “R.”

Terri: “Day and night?”

Jason: “R. We do attract, you know, strippers that wanna come dance. You know, there's a large portion of them that would take their clothes off, if they didn't think there were a bunch of cameras pointed at them, alright? And that's the only time we're ever R, right? Seriously? And, um, Sophia, she's a good one. She likes, like, she literally, like, the second she sees someone take their clothes off, right? She is like, in that crowd, like, what are you doing with that camera? Boom. Let me see your camera and she’s deleting some pictures. Like she has no problem taking camera. What are you doing with that camera? Does your press pass allow you to take pictures of nude folk? Cuz you, because you don't have our permission. You didn't get her permission, right?

So she takes folks' cameras, she makes them delete them, we keep our eyes on the crowd, um, we like people to feel comfortable to do whatever they want without feeling like they're gonna lose their job when they get home, you know, end up on social media.”

Terri: “I, I read that stream on the Chester page, I believe. I was really impressed by you. You stood up for your property. You stood up for women everywhere and I thought that that was fantastic.”

Sophia Marie, dancing on Chester on Fire at the Everywhen, Juplaya 2021.

Managing the Stable

At first glance, one might mistake Sophia (Playa name: “Cheeky”) for a resident Sparkle Pony, but don’t let the lingerie fool you: in addition to being the star performer on Chester’s main stage, Sophia has built and maintained Chester’s web presence, managed his bookings, donations and volunteers, and gotten her hands dirty with cleaning and upkeep during many “Spa Days” for the steel stallion.

Sophia: “A lot of art cars have big crews and deep pockets backing them, but Chester has been a labor of love from day one. Dancing on board can be very cathartic for folks who think ‘I could never!’ That was me once upon a time too, but look at me now! Hard work and being fabulous are not mutually exclusive, so why limit yourself?

Our dream for Chester is to wow the audience and create a safe, supportive, and fun environment for dancers of all genders to radically self-express and let their freak flag fly!

We’ve met the most amazing people every time we bring Chester out, and it’s an honor to facilitate opportunities for people to drop their inhibitions and be totally present. And that’s what Chester demands: total attention and presence, from performers and spectators alike.

Many of the dancers we host are entertainers in real life, and many of them are like me: women with mundane 9-5 jobs seeking an opportunity to let their hair down and feel their power! Every time we take Chester out, people tell us how some of their most fantastic and exciting experiences took place onboard—whether it was on Playa, or in a parade, or just cruising the streets of West Oakland. That’s an amazing feeling, and a huge honor that we absolutely cherish!

I am so grateful to Rebecca Anders, Don Cain, Hubby, Montana, and of course my handsome and charming husband Jason for breathing life and fire into this beautiful steed. Can’t wait to see y’all again in the Mojave! And make sure you check out Jason and Rebecca’s latest creation—the Tiki Hut Hot Rod aka @tikihut.hotrod on IG!”

Mad Hatter Parade in Vallejo, 2019. Copyright © Stephen Jacobson

Naming Chester

Jason: “I didn't name Chester!”

Terri: “How did Chester get named?”

Jason: “Chester got named by the artist who built the head, Rebecca Anders. Okay, and Rebecca Anders is a very, very well-known, highly-admired artist at Burning Man, among a very, very large community from the top to the bottom. She’s totally, she knows how to take a group of people who have never touched a tool and barely have any skills and collaborate them together with a handful of people who know how to use tools and from the ground up, make gigantic works of art.

Rebecca is the one that I was lucky enough to have build Chester's head, and, um, you know, the idea was going around at the shops like, what are we gonna name him? What are we gonna name him? And um, shit I can't remember what I wanted to name but of course some like, you know, some tough thing, you know, Dark Horse up at the Top of the Fucking Apocalypse or some bullshit, you know? Climate Changer. I can't even remember, you know, it was something, you know, evil. You know what I mean? Dark and destructive! You know what I mean? Cuz that’s how I saw him. You know, that’s how I still see him pretty much, you know?

August 2011 - Rebecca Anders & Chester's Head

And, um, Rebecca said, among friends, Chester! And I was like, Chester? You mean, like Chester the Molester? You gotta be fucking kidding me. You are not gonna name my-- that is not gonna happen, okay? That is not gonna happen!

His maiden voyage out of the desert, right? As soon as I got him off the trailer and I hooked everything up, made the speakers [work, and play] um, that song by America: "I've been through the desert on a horse with no name," alright? So, I played that loud and we cruised around and it felt great, and um, fucking, sure enough, everybody started calling him Chester. Because Rebecca just said it among friends, and like, you know, the words that come from her mouth are as good as gold. You know, so it became written in stone, and he was called Chester by so many people.

I was hearing it ever-- “There's Chester. There's Chester!" I was like, are you fucking kidding me?"


Jason: "The very first night I brought him out, right? I caught the attention of a couple of friends of mine, two lovely young ladies, okay? So one of them was gay, and she was like, let's go out on the deep playa and do slownuts, and I was just like "Slownuts? Are you guys fucking kidding me? What’s slownuts?"

And she's like, "That's when you bungee cord the steering wheel to the side and just forget that you're driving, and go around on big circles."

So we went out to deep playa, bungee cord the steering wheel to the rail, went around, start doing big old rails, just freaking, you know, barely paying attention to where the fuck we were going. You know, had the fire on and honestly, um, ah, leave the rest to your imagination. *laugh* The three of us had a great time. *laugh* Like we forgot about it, you know? It's like we were adrift at sea and, um, so, then I was just like, wow.

A Journey of Transformation

You know, I just became a lot more open to, like, whatever everybody else said. You know, Chester kinda turned out a life of his own. Chester, not so much the molester, fucking became a real name, and it came to fruition and, um, I just stopped resisting it, you know. All the best things about Chester kinda like happened, um, um, on it's own course. You know what I mean? It's like, it’s like my ideas, but everything that happens is just kinda like, duh.

Dude, the car is fucking amazing. It kinda like has a life of his own. It really. All I gotta do is take care of him and bring him everywhere, and if I try and force something, he'll show me like that's not the way it’s supposed to be, and then, like, as long as I continue to go with the flow and stop resisting, um, you know? Like Chester has a fucking life of his own, and it's a pretty, pretty fun life to be part of.”

Sophia Marie and Jason Anderholm at the Everywhen, Juplaya 2021

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