Though Burning Man continued to grow very quickly from 1997-2000, the days of the population doubling every year were over. Instead, the population went from 8k in 1996 to 10k in '97, 15k in '98, 23k in '99, and then 25,400 in 2000. Rapid growth, certainly, but not quite at the pace of the early to mid 90s. These years were also characterized by increasingly elaborate theme camps and mutant vehicles, partly funded by the dot-com money that poured in from the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area, and by maturing into the form the event still has today, if grown larger since.
Population : 10,000
Man Height: 50 feet
Ticket Cost: $50 and $65
Man Height: 50 feet
Ticket Cost: $50 and $65
This year Burning Man moved from the Black Rock Desert to the Hualapai Flat and the Fly Ranch. After last year's troubles, it's possible the event would have run into fatal growing pains had two women - Harley DuBois and Marian Goodell - who had long been involved not stepped up taken charge of revamping the logistics of the Burning Man.
Jim Fenton, one of the old-school Black Rock Rangers said, "If it hadn’t been for Marian and Harley, it would have fallen apart."
Marian Goodell (Burning Man board member): "I came in as Larry’s companion, so I went to the meetings with public officials, and I had a fresh perspective. We’d been like cowboys with our hats tilted sideways, and that wasn’t the best approach."
Harley DuBois: "There was a new appreciation for organization. Most of the infrastructure that people see when they come to Burning Man today, I created. I created Playa Information Services, which maps out where all the theme camps go. I developed the New Earth Guardians, the environmental arm that teaches people about Leave No Trace."
Goodell: "Even on private property, Nevada has to approve mass gatherings, and since the event was partially held on scrub-brush land, $350,000 had to be designated to Washoe County for fire protection. We didn’t have that. We made an agreement that 25 percent of every ticket would go into an escrow account. When they found that the escrow balance was low, the sheriff started taking the entire gate home every day."
Brian Doherty (author of This Is Burning Man): "While it definitely changed after ’96—it was way more planned—that didn’t keep it from being amazing. Before then, a lot of the art was discards. Stuff cobbled together, old doors or signs, or Steve Heck’s surreal collection of junk pianos. As it went on, the art was commissioned. It may have become more of a theme park, but people were still making the theme park as they went along."
By 1997, Burning Man's present form can almost be seen, in miniature. Theme camps were a fixture and 1997 saw the first list of registered theme camps, with about 3x as many as the previous year, and about 4x as much art.
This was also the first year that Black Rock City was laid out like an actual city, with planned streets and some sense of civic structure. The city was more like a 'V' instead of a circular 'C' in those days. Rod Garrett (R.I.P.) of "Rod's Road" (which surrounds Center Camp) was recruited to create plans and documents for compliance with County regulations. Here's an excellent post on designing Black Rock City.
Some favorite past-times like driving around on the playa and shooting guns had to be banned this year, simply due to the size of the event and the dangers involved.
1997 was again a challenging year for the event organizers. All of the gate ticket sales were impounded by the Washoe County sheriff's office, a number of staff members had resigned, and clean-up was problematic due to the tall grasses on the event site and the somewhat ornery nature of the Fly Ranch landlord, who removed the staff at one point. It took a number of years to overcome the bad public relations that BM suffered this year, and to fix their relationship with the local community.
The Burning Man org was in a financial quandry by the Burn this year, and at one point Larry gave a speech summing up the history of Burning Man and how it got to where it is today, and asking people to donate, promising lifetime Burning Man attendance to anyone who donated $500.
By the end, it was clear that holding Burning Man on private land was not a solution, and with the lack of vehicular incidents this year, they were able to secure a permit to move back to the Black Rock Desert again for 1998.
1998: Nebulous Entity
Population : 15,000
Man Height: 52 feet
Ticket Cost: $65, $80, $100
After the difficulty of holding Burning Man on the Hualapai Flat and Fly Ranch the previous year, the theme Nebulous Entity was perhaps apropos. It was also decided that Burning Man must move back to the Black Rock Desert - its home, after all. This time, however, it was much closer to Gerlach in the Black Rock than previously.
This year, the streets were numbered and they built street signs to sit on each corner. The Burning Man Earth Guardians were formed by volunteers to help the Bureau of Land Management manage the environmental conditions of the playa. There were over 400 registered theme camps.
The first regional burn ("Burning Man Texas") happened in '98 too, organized in June, in Texas, by George Paap. 30 people attended and it featured the burning of a straw man built on site.
1999: Wheel of Time
Population : 23,000
Man Height: 54 feet
Ticket Cost: $65, $80, $90, $100
Growing by over 8,000 people (more than 50%) this year, the Burn was moved to Saturday night from the traditional Sunday night, in order to give people more time to spread themselves out over when leaving and give them additional time to Leave No Trace.
The windstorms were fearsome and the nights were legendarily cold in '99 (close to freezing). There was a lot less nudity as a result.
The art was also laid out in a pattern drawn from the theme.
Ladybee (Burning Man's art curator from '99 to '08) said: "In 1999, our theme was "The Wheel of Time," and for the first time ever, the newly-formed Art Department decided to map the art in a theme-based pattern. We created a map that represented a clock face, with the Man at the center, and twelve major installations mapped at the hour locations just off the Esplanade.
On Friday night we staged a series of performances, starting at 6 PM, at the 6:00 position. Dana Albany’s Bone Tree led participants around the clock face, where a performance awaited them every hour, on the hour. Of course by about 3AM it was freezing, and the weather put an end to our grand cavalcade of performances. We did learn, however, that arranging the art installations in some sort of logical pattern added theatrical significance and prominence to the art."
This was the first year that there was a formal DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles), having been formed by Jewelz Cody.
On Tuesday night of the week, a camp called Capitalist Pig Camp was escorted en masse out of Black Rock City due to several complaints lodged against them. Apparently they were spray painting other peoples' art and the Man, and then really went over the line when they made sexual comments at a 12-year-old girl. Out they went.
"They tried to argue that this was their art, and that they were expressing themselves artistically. This is the most free city on the planet. I have not problem with bad art, but these actions were aggressively ant-social."... says Big Bear, "They basically evicted themselves."
2000: The Body
Population : 25,400
Man Height: 54 feet
Ticket Cost: $200
"We used to play House. Now we're playing City." - Adrian Roberts, Piss Clear 2000
The final year of the last millenia was to see nasty weather, again. Big windstorms and cold nights were the name of the game but by the end of it, Black Rock City had more or less fully matured into what you see today by adding a huge, 34,000 square foot Center Camp structure, creating the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock sound corridors at the ends of the city, and, perhaps most importantly, seeing the very first (and unofficial at the time) Temple of the Mind, by David Best and Jack Haye, come to the playa.
Theme camp participation grew to 460 registered camps, even though the population didn't grow too much, perhaps because of the somewhat large increase in ticket prices, to $200.
Regarding the creation of the 10 and 2 sound corridors for, basically, camps playing techno/EDM, Larry Harvey said in response to a question about requiring turning down the music volume:
"You are naive. A certain kind of loudness is a part of the aesthetic. It's meant to penetrate your body. People bathe in the sound. Asking folks to turn it down is sort of a non-sequitur. This year we plan to restrict large-scale amplified sound of this kind to a very limited area. Installations of this kind must register ahead of time. People can go there and enjoy it, but there will be less of it. I have seen 6 or 8 people gathered in front of speakers the size of Volkswagens. But why should the enjoyment of 6 people afflict 600 others? Sound at such levels can travel forever in the desert, regardless of how you insulate it or how you orient your speakers. We recommend earplugs at the event. That and a very broad tolerance for other people's tastes. But even earplugs won't avail against that bass."
Other notable changes this year include no tickets sold at the gate after Friday, to discourage last-minute visitors, and the first real presence by law enforcement (vs mere regulation). There were around 60 Bureau of Land Management and police arrests and citations, mostly for minor drug charges.
A fairly wide-eyed look at Burning Man from a mainstream news organization in 2000.
Click here to go to the years 2001-2010.