Dec 5, 2021 | 0 comments

You’ve probably heard of Burning Man but have you heard of the Burning Beetle?  For the last eight years, Custer, South Dakota has hosted the Burning Beetle and Bark Beetle Blues Pub Crawl/Music Festival the third Saturday of January.  Thanks to Covid 19, there will be no pub crawl/music festival in 2021 but there will be a Burning Beetle!  So, mark your calendars for January 16th and head to Custer for an evening of fun.

Custer, like most of the Black Hills, suffered a devastating mountain pine beetle infestation that killed thousands of acres of pine trees in the early 2,000’s.  Wanting to bring attention to the issue, locals got together and came up with the idea of the Bark Beetle Blues Festival.  The first year was so successful, that the event continued and now people come from across the country to attend. 

“Burning Beetle stands for our community’s resilience and collective personality. It is an opportunity to reflect on and educate the community about continued forest management in the twilight of this latest infestation,” said Hank Fridell, one of the organizers of the events.

Volunteers build the beetle each year

The day starts with a down home variety show.  This year (2021) it will be virtual and can be viewed on the Burning Beetle’s Facebook page.  New this year is the lighting of the sculpture, Vigilance which commemorates the Burning Beetle.  Created by local artist Jared Capp, he describes Vigilance as “the rising out of the ground on a foundation stone with a pillar of flame.  The foundation stone represents the community and the ephemeral flame pays homage to the annual burning celebration.  Saw blades represent the cyclical nature of the outbreaks and a practical method to combat the beetle.”


Once Vigilance is aflame, members of the Custer High School cross country team will carry a lit torch across town to the high school parking lot where several hundreds of folks will gather.  Many will carry their torches (for sale at the high school), and some will bring their own pitchforks.  It’s an old fashioned angry mob set to rid the Black Hills of the pine beetle. 

Led by a drum corps, the mob marches the short distance to pageant hill where more people will be waiting and a 20 foot wooden beetle set atop a 10 foot pyre.  Torches are tossed into the pyre and within minutes there is a spectacular BURNING BEETLE topped off with fireworks!  It’s the best bonfire in the Black Hills. 

After the flames die down, head downtown to some of the local restaurants to have a yummy dinner.  I hope to see you there!

Here’s the schedule for December 16th: 

  • All Day:  Burning Beetle Virtual Variety Show-Unmasked World Premier!  Burning Beetle’s Facebook page
  • 4:00: Light Vigilance (corner of N 4th St & Crook St)
  • 4:40: Cross Country team leaves Vigilance
  • 5:00: March begins from Custer High School
  • 5:15: Light the Beetle and Fireworks at Pageant Hill
  • 6:30: Music Downtown Custer

Lesa McDermott | Girl Camper Guide to the Black Hills

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