Burning Man's bacchanal: Big ticket sales, big costs


The annual revelry in the desert brings in millions of dollars, despite its anti-capitalist vibe.
by Verne Kopytoff for Fortune

Money is frowned on at Burning Man, the annual desert bacchanal that runs through Monday in Nevada. Participants are instead supposed to adhere to the festival’s feel-good philosophy of giving gifts like glow bracelets, sparklers, and vodka shots.

The group that puts on Burning Man, meanwhile, rakes in millions of dollars from selling tickets and parking passes to more than 60,000 attendees. It’s a complex operation with a full-time staff and a huge budget that dwarfs many big businesses.

Burning Man has long been led by its co-founder, Larry Harvey, who helped build it up from an informal gathering on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986 to an international happening. Ostensibly, it’s an art event and free-zone for “radical self-expression.” In reality, the event’s vibe has morphed into a mix of flower power, around-the-clock rave, and Silicon Valley wheeling and dealing.

Earlier this year, Burning Man’s owners fulfilled a promise to place the event—long operated by a private company—under the control of a non-profit organization. The switch was partly intended to mollify critics who accused the organizers of hypocrisy for espousing an anti-corporate ethos while operating Burning Man as a business.

In a blog post, the organizers said the change would allow the event to survive beyond the lifetime of its owners. “Our mission has always been to serve the community,” they wrote, “and a non-profit public benefit corporation is the most socially responsible option to ensure and protect the future of Burning Man.”

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Burning Man isn't what you think...


Burning Man Isn't What You Think, and Never Has Been

It is, and always has been, ruled by all kinds of techno-smart futuristic punks rather than nostalgic hippies or dippy ravers.

Consider: this is a week-long art party in a handmade city in an environment that is doing its level best to kill you. Either the sun is baking dry ground that is blinding white, leeching water from your body, or the wind is blasting mile-high storms of dust across this enormous barren plain at ninety miles an hour, or a starry desert night is damn-near freezing you to death.

Occasionally the climate likes to remind you you're actually partying on an ancient lake bed — the playa — and rains for days until the solid dusty ground turns to thick soupy mud that adds inches to your shoes in seconds.

Who thrives in that environment? People who are a little bit crazy, quite a bit determined, and a whole lot of wiry and smart. People with an Iggy Pop-style lust for life. Here are punks of all stripes: cyberpunks, steampunks, biker punks, punk punks. People who do what it says on the ticket — voluntarily assume the risk of death. People who are brought roaringly to life in this killer of a desert, and fight fiercely to build an all-inclusive volunteer-driven civilization that lasts for as long as a mayfly.

Read the rest at http://on.mash.to/1p7b6w0

Techies at Burning Man: Yay or Nay?


A Line Is Drawn in the Desert
At Burning Man, the Tech Elite One-Up One Another

New York Times Aug 20, 2014

If you have never been to Burning Man, your perception is likely this: a white-hot desert filled with 50,000 stoned, half-naked hippies doing sun salutations while techno music thumps through the air.

A few years ago, this assumption would have been mostly correct. But now things are a little different. Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for anew crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

Some of the biggest names in technology have been making the pilgrimage to the desert for years, happily blending in unnoticed. These include Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the Google founders, and Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon. But now a new set of younger rich techies are heading east, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, employees from Twitter, Zynga and Uber, and a slew of khaki-wearing venture capitalists.

Read the rest at

tech elites
Some of the technology elite who have attended Burning Man, include from left, Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin

Tech Elites Aren’t Ruining Burning Man. They Get Their Hands Dirty, Too.
TechCrunch.com August 22, 2014

Don’t believe the hate. While it’s a juicy narrative that rich people spoil everything the common folk hold dear, there are plenty of tech bigwigs at Burning Man that work hard to contribute and embody the event’s ideals of inclusion. And the thing is, what they do has little impact on Burning Man as a whole. Whether they’re secluded in forts of cushy tour buses like The New York Times’ Nick Bilton rails, or they’re cooking food and giving it away to total strangers as I’ve seen in my six trips to the desert, you probably won’t notice. It’s a massive ad hoc city where your experience is what you make of it, so there’s no need to worry about how the upper crust burns.

Are more super-wealthy people coming to Burning Man? Sure. Because more people are coming to Burning Man. It’s grown from a few dozen people in 1986 to 30,000 in 2004 to 70,000 last year, so it’s naturally going to include more financial outliers.

Yet pouring money into Burning Man won’t even get you that far, since most everything outside your camp is free. And moneyed burners aren’t all from tech. One widely criticized luxury camp that housed venture capitalists and likely inspired Bilton’s piece was actually started by a C-level executive of a giant hotel chain. Some of those VCs have ditched that camp because it felt at odds with the spirit of self-reliance.

Arguably a bigger threat to Burning Man’s culture are techie spectators. They come with little forethought, buy what they need to fit in, glom onto a friend’s camp, but then don’t actively contribute much. While it can be tough to know how to add to others’ experience the first year, everyone should try — no exceptions. Those that only take and don’t give dilute the atmosphere.

Luckily, one of the great things about Burning Man being a decentralized event set across seven square miles is that there are near-infinite ways to experience it. A temporary city the size of downtown San Francisco is tough for a couple of people to wreck for everyone else.

As Caleb Garling wrote for SFGate last year, “if you try to cherry pick a few of them to build a story, you’re left with a basket of disingenuous anecdotes.”


5 Ways to Make Your Life More Like Burning Man

by Steve Bearman and Troy Dayton for Burner Love. Photo by Spenser Jones.

So you’ve been to the playa, and you’ve seen the promised land – the promise of freedom, of self-expression, of immediacy and creativity and community. The playa fed you, and it changed you. It provided you opportunities for growth, you took advantage of those opportunities, and you came out the other side more the person you’re here to be in the world.

But then Burning Man ended, as it must. It was burned down, dismantled, packed up into dusty vehicles and carted away. Now, you find yourself without the the steady flow of magic that helped you become more yourself. You’re “home” (in the traditional meaning of the word), and you’re probably wondering whether you can still be the person you liberated yourself to become at Burning Man.

You can be. All you need to do is to make use of these 5 principles:

1. There is no default world
2. Expect more from strangers
3. Form your camp
4. Be part of the generosity economy
5. Embrace impermanence (at least for now)

1. There is no default world

Burners have come to use an unfortunate term when referring to life after Burning Man. They call it the “default world”, as if magic only happens in the desert during one week of the year. This is particularly unfortunate because there is one great secret to bringing everything you love about Burning Man into the rest of your life and to making the rest of the world more like Burning Man. What secret, you ask? As it turns out, there is no default world.

We’ll say it again, because this really matters.
There is no default world.

If it helps, you can think about it this way. Some art installations are just too big to bring to the playa. They need to be left out in the rest of the world. In fact, really the whole world is just one, big, world-sized, interactive art installation. It’s all just a series of temporary encampments in which humans have, through their ingenuity and creativity, figured out how to interface with the wilderness and live together in clusters. Just like the street clock and the open playa, the rest of the world is available to explore and interact with and play with while wearing one costume or another, playing one role or another. There is no default world.

When you start to recognize the true, interactive nature of what we’ll call “the extended playa” (that is, the world-sized, extra-playa art installation), you’ll find that so much more is possible.

2. Expect more from strangers

In a community like Burning Man, you can assume, even assert, the right to approach any random person and have an interesting interaction. There’s room to transcend the ordinary superficial greetings and interviews. You can introduce yourself effervescently, or oddly, or launch right into the middle of the conversation you wish you were having with someone. You can overtly express interest and curiosity. You can play. You can do all this because you expect, more often than not, that your enthusiasm and curiosity will be met with the same. You expect people to be interesting and to be excited by your invitation to play with them.

It’s no different on the extended playa. If you give people a chance to be their more expressed, more playful, more connective selves, more often than not, they’ll take you up on your offer. Everyone everywhere wants deeper connections, more meaningful interactions, less seriousness and more play. If you expect this of the people you meet, you’ll be right more often than not.

Hugs and affection are a particularly important domain in which to expect more from strangers. We all need love, and hugs are one of the best ways to deliver it. Take the risk to go in for a hug. You’ll be surprised how many people reciprocate. Of course some people will be hesitant. They may not even know that hugging is an option! Or they may just be plain scared of hugs. That means it’s your job not to be scary. You can pull this off by hugging people in a way that demands nothing of the huggee. Practice being sensitive to where the other person is at while still expressing your affection and admiration. If you get it right, you may notice them releasing and relaxing. Hugs bring us together. You are just the right person to initiate them.

Not only is there no default world, but there are no normal people. There are, however, many people who have gotten good at projecting the appearance of normality. At Burning Man, the endless parade of people flaunting their unusualness brings joy and excitement. The unusual is both delightful and challenging, enticing and intimidating. Out here on the extended playa, people love the unusual just as much as you love it at Burning Man, but there is such a constant press to conform to social norms, that we sacrifice our wonderful weirdness, our playful impulses, and our freaky freedom just so we can fit in. Without even realizing it, you have probably come to participate in this system of socialization, subtly and continuously discouraging people from coloring themselves outside the lines.

It takes some deliberate effort to reverse that tendency. Part of expecting more from strangers is noticing the weirdness in others and encouraging it to express itself. When you encounter someone who is already weirder than you, instead of looking away or otherwise indicating disapproval, remember the courage it takes to break with norms, and you’ll realize just how valuable that smile or that nod can be. Say “yes” to the strangeness of strangers.

Remember, nearly everyone you know was once a stranger. Expecting more of strangers increases the likelihood that the people you meet will become a part of that sometimes elusive network of connections we call community.

3. Form your camp
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Why Burning Man Didn't Suck This Year... and What We Can Learn From It

By Jay Michaelson for Huffington Post

There were many reasons veteran Burners like me -- this year was my 11th -- thought that Burning Man might suck this year.

There was a ticket fiasco, in which the event sold out and scalpers appeared online selling tickets at five times face value.

There was, we were told, an unprecedented number of newbies, threatening to overwhelm Black Rock City with well-meaning, but clueless, partying -- and, we were also told, accompanied by an increased police presence.

And then there was the bad weather: lots of dust, lots of wind, lots of reasons to stay away this year, which I and my partner almost did.

Yet Burning Man didn't suck. Although larger, it didn't seem that different from past years. It had all the magic, community, sacredness, emotional center and impossible-to-describe otherworldliness that we Burners struggle to convey to outsiders, many of whom still seem to believe this experimental city is just naked hippies getting high in the desert. (At this point, I'm inclined to let folks believe that if they want. Maybe letting go of that kind of assumption is a good prerequisite for participating.) And while the reasons for this non-sucking may largely be mysterious, I think that all of us -- especially those of us involved in building countercultures and cultural enclaves -- can learn a lot from how Burning Man managed to stay vital, and real, this year.

First, the Burning Man organization (BMORG or BORG, depending on how sympathetic you want to be) did much more than in past years to educate newbies about the values of Black Rock City. I've never seen Burning Man's "10 Principles" -- including radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, and so on - so prominently displayed as this year, including in the run-up to it. (One theme camp poked fun at all this preaching by depicting the 10 principles as the 10 commandments, stone tablets, thee's and thou's, and all.)

This was a crucially good decision. True, it was a departure from Burning Man's more anarchic, choose-your-own-adventure beginnings. It had a whiff of indoctrination. But compromising on some of that original ethos in favor of maintaining community norms was exactly the right move. The first-timers I met, and they were indeed plentiful, were a little naïve, a little clueless, but also generally enthusiastic, willing and prepared. They were kind of cute, really: like boy and girl scouts in EL-wire, happily replicating the memes of Black Rock City.
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Trilo On Tickets: "The fundamental problem is not the lottery - it's scarcity."

Good perspective from the Burning Blog: “First, a bit of background information about me. I am the admin and lead moderator of Burning Man ePlaya, and work directly with the staff at Burning Man headquarters in both the ticketing and communications departments. I've been participating in Burning Man since 2004, and am the leader of a theme camp. Outside of Burning Man, I've got relevant experience in event production, system design, and logistics that dates back to the 1980's. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. I am not speaking for the organization, and I'm not toeing some company line - once I wrapped my head around the changes to the ticketing system I agreed with the need for change and think it's a pretty good system.

Setting The Stage
Prior to the 2011 event, Burning Man tickets was a fairly uncomplicated process. Just get a ticket at any point in the process of preparing yourself, your camp, or your art project. There were no scalpers, and face value was the most you'd ever have to pay. Then, on the 24th of July 2011, it got complicated for the very first time when tickets sold out. It seems a simple enough thing, but it's not. It put hundreds of camps and art projects at risk as they discovered that essential members of their group had not yet bought their ticket. Anecdotally, I think most who were determined to go were able to find a ticket. Some weren't, and others just made the decision to take the year off and not get caught up in the ticket madness.
It created a situation where it would be necessary to make big changes to the way tickets were sold in 2012. For starters, everyone who had gotten burned or had a close call vowed to buy tickets earlier next year. So did anyone who knew someone who'd gotten burned or had a close call. And a significant number of people decided that they should try and stock up on tickets for their art project or camp. And a sellout event put Burning Man on the radar of professional (as well as amateur) scalpers.
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Burning Man 2012 Tickets Part 3 frm Halcyon (aka "Crap or Cone?")

click for more…


by clerkkent » posted on ePlaya on Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:12 pm

Many people are posting about how their theme camp only got less than 25% of the 'needed' tickets for their entire camp to go, and now the camp might not go at all (insert dramatic music) with the tone of 'you'll miss us'. I have been 7 times, and I have yet to visit a theme camp where I said to myself “Man, if this theme camp isn't here next year, this entire city is going to hell!!”. There were scores of camps that were awesome and I enjoyed my time with them. I coordinate a small theme camp and we didn't attend in 2009.. that was the year there was a severe population decrease. You don't see me running around claiming that everyone stayed home because my theme camp didn't go.

Our small camp generally has no more than 15 members, and I would estimate we've had no more than 400 quality interactive guests (people who stopped by, conversated, played around) per year (and even that is on the high side). As a participant, I would guesstimate that I've actually interacted with maybe 40 theme camps each year (interacted = walked into their camp, introduced myself, talked with people, had a drink or snack, did whatever interactive activity their camp is known for,etc). I would guesstimate that on yearly average, I've had a quality conversation with around 500 BRC citizens per year. There's 50,000 people out there, and chances are you'll barely meet 1% !!

My point?

It is nice to have, but not a must have. Yes, you put a lot effort into it.. so did the 200 other theme camps, as well as the other 40,000 burners who dragged their arse to the Playa.

One issue with the current 'theme camps should get the remaining tickets' philosophy: If you're going to make theme camps deserving of special treatment, then theme camps are going to be under the microscope to ensure they justify the investment of tickets to those groups. There are some lame 'theme camps' out there.: The 'chill dome' camps. The annual 'I'm going to have a super kinky mega sexually charged sex camp' that talks a big game online, but delivers a few RVs and a few horny old guys on the playa. The “I'm going to have one painting on a post but request 5000 square feet for all the camp supporters” camps. The the 'Fortress of RVs' theme camp. There's been some camps where I walked by wondering “What the heck do they do, and why do they have so much prime real estate?”.. Some are just long in the tooth, and might benefit from a year off or merging with other camps.

If tickets are assigned to theme camps, you're gonna have a lot more griping than the current annual 'why did they get placed but we didn't?' mope-a-thon.
click for more…

more from Halcyon on the Burning Man ticket lottery fiasco

Halcyon on the Burning Man ticket lottery fiasco

Dealing with Post Playa Depression (Burning Man I Love You)


Post playa depres­sion is a very real thing, espe­cially after your first burn.  A lot of peo­ple expe­ri­ence it, I know I did!  It’s a nat­ural prob­lem after return­ing from the best week of your entire LIFE!!!  Tran­si­tion­ing back into the real-world and pro­cess­ing all the amaz­ing things you expe­ri­enced can be an over­whelm­ing process.  There are SO many incred­i­ble things we expe­ri­enced in our lit­tle city for that full week that it is impos­si­ble that you are not wired dif­fer­ently now!
You may be ques­tion­ing your job, your cowork­ers, maybe your friends, the fact that you have to drive your car now instead of your bicy­cle and are stuck in traf­fic.  The lack of wide open, end­less, lib­er­at­ing spaces… Even your appetite might have changed, you may not be crav­ing sugar as much, or the tele­vi­sion, or Face­book, etc!
Direct that new­found energy to make life more awesome
Don’t worry my friend! You can use this energy to make pow­er­ful changes that will make your default world more like Black Rock City.  This is not the time to just go back to the way things were but to inte­grate the lessons you learned and make pro­gres­sive changes in your life!
This is why, for exam­ple, I ride my bicy­cle as much as I can, all the time.  It con­nects my spirit to the care­free and time­less way of life at burn­ing man com­bined with healthy exer­cise. So one thing you can do is…
ride your bicy­cle a lot more often! Inte­grate it with errands or work or ride around the park or any­thing you like.
Say hello / good morn­ing / good evening to strangers even if they don’t want to look at you or respond like most peo­ple in the city.  Even if they stare depress­ingly at the side­walk as they pass you… it’s okay, say hello to them any­way, it will make you feel good inside and maybe remind them to look up once in a while.
Smile and wave at the dri­ver stuck at the red light next to you! Who cares if they get con­fused and won­der why you would do such a crazy thing. Smil­ing is awe­some and that will lift their spir­its and raise the vibra­tion of the sit­u­a­tion.  Who knows, they might just smile and wave back.
:le gasp:
Take that “risk” of inter­act­ing with peo­ple like you did at the burn.  Maybe it’s time you finally start that con­ver­sa­tion with your neigh­bor of 10 years.
If you real­ize you hate being an office drone then maybe it’s time to look for a new job! What is it your really want to do?  Brain-storm.  Look for open­ings in the dif­fer­ent depart­ments that you could trans­fer to
within your cur­rent com­pany.  Maybe there are some new oppor­tu­ni­ties there you may enjoy more and learn new things.
Hate hear­ing the
TV? Then leave it off! Or bet­ter yet, save some money and can­cel your cable ser­vice. :-p
Do you real­ize now you have too many use­less mate­r­ial pos­ses­sions and can’t stand the clut­ter?  Start that cleans­ing process by sell­ing your stuff on craigslist and get some money for it while free­ing up your space!
Hav­ing prob­lems with your non-burner friends?click for more…

thoughts on decompression

This was posted on the Seattle BMan listserv -- had to share it!

"You can always spot the folks who are on the road home from Burning Man: Filthy, reeking, bug-eyed, sporting dusty tails, broken top hats and crusty corsets, reveling in simple things like ice cream sandwiches, porcelain toilets....rambling about room service...and that was just that one guy. And when you get home, you can immediately spot a driveway where folks have unloaded a car that's been to Burning Man. A week later, walking down the street, you'll notice a backpack with a tell-tale washed-out look to it. A month later, at a party or on the bus or at the bank, it really doesn't matter, you'll notice that the creases of that woman's boots over there still have playa in them. And you smile. You've almost got the playa out of everything, too, but bits of it stick around forever, resisting q-tips and toothbrushes and expensive bills from the auto detailer who said he never wanted to see you again.

Anything that goes to the playa is never the same again. Including you. It's persistent. It sticks with you. That's not a bad thing, really. It helps us remember. And it helps to be around folks who remember, during the decompression season 'n' all."

Media coverage of the 2011 Burn

Most corporate media outlets attempting to write about BM fail miserably. Slate has done all right this week in their 5-part series by Seth Stevenson: http://slate.me/rlIsdY. "The plan was for us to meet up with a large camp of people who'd be providing us shelter and food for the week. But as we pulled into the encampment...we couldn't find our group. And the sun was setting. We gave up, parked the car, and began to wander around. And this is when my brain melted a little...."

‎Part 2 of Slate's report on BM:
http://slate.me/r52fK2: “I’ve never personally had the urge to just hang out with my wang out, and that hadn't changed since I'd gotten to Burning Man. But late one night I biked deep into the desert, turned off my headlamp, and removed some clothes...let it be said: Reader, I shirtcocked. And I sort of liked it."

‎Part 4 in the Slate series on BM: http://slate.me/n9Arn9: “On Saturday night, the man burns. This moment means different things to different people. The transit of the human spirit. The exultation of pagan ritual. The simple, ancient joy of fire. The culmination of a 150-hour party. Whatever its meaning, it is spectacular—a colossal, billowing inferno, with explosions and face-searing heat blasts, and people cheering and dancing and stripping all their clothes off. At this point, stuff gets crazy."

Final installment in Slate series on BM: http://slate.me/n2be8K: “Whenever strangers at Burning Man briefly chat and then part ways, they bid each other farewell by brightly saying, "Enjoy your burn!" It occurred to me—as I thought about the desert dust that was the only thing here before this week started, and will be the only thing here when we've left—life is really just a burn writ large. We emerge from nothingness. We join together to create beautiful, temporary relationships, full of kindness and joy and love. And then we disappear again. Dust to dust."

‎”Silicon Valley has a long history with Burning Man that became most notable in the late 1990s when the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, began going. The first Google Doodle...was an “out of office” message they left on the homepage when they went to the festival in 1998. It showed the Google name with a drawing of a stick figure “burning man...Legend has it that Eric Schmidt won the job as CEO after showing up at Page and Brin’s camp at Burning Man."

"As the anti-establishment arts festival and survival project disappears piece by piece from the white sands of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, participants and organizers say Burning Man -- which just had its largest week in its 25-year history -- is going through some growing pains as plans to expand its size and scope moving forward over the next year." http://reut.rs/pX8iB2

"A circular temporary city plan built around the spectacle of art, music and dance: I wish all cities had such a spirit of utopia by being built around human interaction, community and participation.” : RIP, Rod Garrett, designer of our beloved Black Rock City: http://nyti.ms/n8cxWP.

Burning Man in the Age of Rick Perry: Revelation, Pluralism, and Moral Imperative

We cannot know his legendary head  with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso  is still suffused with brilliance from inside,  like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, gleams in all its power… You must change your life. —Excerpt from Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” 

At this moment, over 50,000 people from around the world are gathered, again, in a temporary city in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. By now, I suspect most RD readers have heard of Burning Man, though the nature of this temporary city—please don’t call it a festival—remains elusive. Some call it a Temporary Autonomous Zone devoted to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance. Others call it a utopian experiment in commerce-free living. Others, well, others call it a festival.

Like any pilgrimage site, Burning Man is less a destination than a pretext for the journey. These days, of course, flying into Reno isn’t so hard—but actually opening up to whatever Black Rock City has to offer… that journey can be arduous. If you go looking for a festival with sex and drugs and dance music, that is all you will find. But if you pause to wonder why there’s a temple in the middle of it, why people come back year after year even if they don’t do drugs, or, for that matter, how it is that the art, community, and culture of Black Rock City is constructed without a Them putting on entertainments for Us, much more can be received.

Generally speaking, those who intend to be open in this way come away changed by the experience. I’ve been to dozens of “festivals,” and some of them have been very cool. But they didn’t inspire me to change my life. Burning Man did, when I first went to it in 2001. What it presents are ways of being that most of us never imagine. It’s possible to be like this, it says, to live so richly and creatively and expressively and sensuously, to be this in love with life. And once one has really seen that such a life is possible, one cannot go back to how one was.

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