Note: Marian Goodell, the Org's CEO, confirmed for me that my conclusions are essentially correct, and called out this article as worth reading during her address to open the Virtual Theme Camp Symposium the morning of 3/28). She's also replied to a bunch of people in the comments below.
I see a lot of Burners online asking why the Org doesn't simply cancel BM 2020 and roll DGS tickets over to 2021? Cancel the event, and come back in 2021 in full force while making everybody whole who bought tickets this year. Sounds simple and good right?
The general feeling seems to be that they must be greedy a-holes to not promise refunds or rolled-forward tickets if they cancel it, but it really isn't that simple, which is what this post is about. The Org faces a very tough financial situation, which I'm going to lay out for you as best as I can. I think it's helpful to understand where they're coming from as you form an opinion about how they should handle it Burning Man 2020.
What Is the Problem With Just Rolling Tickets Over To 2021 or Refunding?
The first thing to understand is that whether they refund DGS (and FOMO) tickets already purchased or whether they roll them over to next year doesn't matter much in the sense that those two scenarios are more or less the same financially. Rolling tickets over is possibly a little better for them than refunding, since money now is better than money a year from now, and refunding would require re-selling the same number of tickets already refunded, which incurs additional costs from whichever company they select to run the ticket sale.
In both cases, the Org only gets revenue from one full ticket sale, while having to operate for two years on that one year's revenue. More on that below....
The Burning Man Org's Finances
To start with, I'm using info here that anyone has access to. None of this is private or privileged. It's all published online in their Form 990 that they file with the IRS every year. It's the equivalent of a tax return for their non-profit. The last Form 990 we have available to us is 2018's, as the form for 2019's fiscal year wouldn't have been filed or published yet.
Let's look at their revenue first, as this is very straight-forward.
Total revenue: $46.6 million.
Now let's look at the costs they incur each year, and try to estimate what portion they could save this year if they cancelled Burning Man. If you'd rather look at the spreadsheet I used for this, you can find it here.
So, by the above very rough estimates, it would cost them about $20.8 million ($44m-$23.2m) to run for a year w/o laying off permanent staff and with cancelling Burning Man. However, since I have no insight into how far ahead they have to lock in some of the BM expenses, and since some surely are locked in, I'm adding 20% to that figure to account for those expenses they can't get back in case of a cancellation.
That gives us a figure of $24.96 million to run the Org for a year if they cancelled Burning Man.
That is a revenue shortfall of $21,260,000 based on:
Cash on Hand
Of course, the Org also maintains an operating reserve of cash, like any responsible organization would. At the end of the 2018 year, the Org had about $14m in cash or short-term investments.
(This may sound like a lot, but for an organization that spends $44m/year, it's not. A typical guideline for a nonprofit might be to maintain a cash cushion equal to 3-6 months of operating expenses. $14m for the Org is just under 4 months of average operating expenses.)
However, they also had $3.5m in accounts payable, which effectively reduces their functional cash on hand to $11.5m.
Some of these numbers are likely different at the end of 2019 vs the end of 2018, but we these are the numbers we have.
The Org's Cash Shortfall If It Cancels 2020 is likely to be in the range of $10 million.
Since I'm estimating a $21.2m revenue shortfall based on the above numbers, and since the Org had approx $11.5m in (cash-payables) on hand in their last 990, that means that even if they used up their entire operating reserve, they would still be in the hole $9.76 million dollars.
Even if their entire staff could work for free for the year, that would barely cover it and still leave them with no cash cushion.
I think it goes without saying that if they have to cancel, the Org will have to make staff cuts, but those cuts would have to be deep and hard to make much of a difference, and then what? You can't just decimate an organization and expect it to come back swinging at full strength a year later. Institutional knowledge and expertise is lost when that happens. At best, layoffs blunt the cash shortfall some, but there's no way they can lay off enough people to fix the problem.
Conclusion and Possible Solutions
I hope this has helped shed some light on the tough financial position the Org is in. Nobody saw the corona virus coming, and no, they don't have insurance that's going to save them if the BLM forces them to cancel because of corona.
I'm not advocating for any particular outcome here. It doesn't affect me personally - I'd decided last fall I was taking this year off after 10 years in a row, and pushed our camp's DGS allocation off to next year as a result, so I'm not sitting on a ticket or planning to buy one this year.
I'm just trying to show that it's not so easy to say, "Just roll the tickets over to 2021" as if that doesn't cause enormous financial difficulties for the Org.
Even if they depleted their entire cash cushion (which is a terrible idea unless there is literally no other choice), they'd still need to come up with about $10 million from...somewhere.
So where could that money come from? Here's what I can come up with:
Anyway, that's what I've got on the subject. I hope it's helpful as you decide how to feel about however the Org ends up handling what I think is near-certain cancellation of the event.
I'll tell you one thing: I don't envy their position right now. I think they have very tough decisions ahead.
Dr. Yes's 11-Point Sacred Spiritual Path to Your Soul's Enlightenment at Burning Man, and Everything Bagel Recipe
A couple years ago around this time, I remember reading an article by Caveat Magister about his reflections on 10 years at Burning Man and thinking to myself, "I know nothing yet, but in two years, I will have so much to share."
Having been to Burning Man ten times now myself, we can all agree that I've achieved transcendental enlightenment and it's time for you to sit down, be quiet, and try to appreciate everything I've learned.
Each principle is represented by a different body part, and is meant to be read left to right, with the b&w left-hand portion representing the default world and the colorful right side showing an ideal world as transformed by that principle. I think they're pretty gorgeous.
They're packed with references to Burning Man art from the past, and you can have fun finding Larry's hat in each one. Enjoy!
As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big proponent for keeping the weird, quirky, and subversive in Burning Man. Last year, a group of us in my camp started Weirdout Wednesday as a day for people to let their freak flags fly and escape the bonds of Instagram coolness. Granted, it's hard to be truly weird at Burning Man, but think of it as a call to embrace your quirky side rather than DJ chase or pose for Instagram shots on big art or whatnot!
So, here's how some of us from our camp - Friendgasm - celebrated Weirdout Wednesday this year. My hope is that others feel inspired by these kinds of antics and are moved to shenanigans themselves!
Diapers and Vuvuzelas
There wasn't much photobombing to be had at either Duck Pond or Distrikt (that's a good thing imo!) so we mostly just danced, played our instruments cacophonously, and generally tried to make spectacles out of ourselves while strangers put on diapers and joined us. Best moment was when four of our group managed to get up in the cage hanging above the dance floor with the Weirdout Wednesday flag!
Some limited video of WoW. When you're busy partying and poopin' at the same time, there's not a lot of time for pics or vids!
Playing Oregon Trail On The Side Of The 747
One of my campmates, Ginger, brought a projector out to the playa, so we put it and a generator on a bike trailer and a few of us pedaled out to the 747's home to play us some of the very classic video game Oregon Trail on the big white side of the plane.
Anyway, we get there, the generator is on, projector is hooked up, the laptop is open and about to be logged into when the 747 starts moving. No problem we think, it's slow as balls, we'll just follow it. But, then we realized it was heading to Mayan Warrior, waaaay across the playa. We didn't feel like walking all our bikes that far with the gennie and projector and such, so the projector was strapped to the seat of a bike with the laptop strapped to the projector so we could play while moving. The generator fired up, and boom, we livened up a giant metal tube while it was being towed across the playa with some classic educational video game fun, if dying of terrible diseases is your idea of fun, at least.
A distraction? At fucking Burning Man? Heaven forfend! I'm quite sure if your crew can handle walking a 747 across the playa past umpteen art cars and art pieces while ending up at the mother of all distractions - Mayan Warrior - it can handle a little 1970s video game goodness.
We briefly debated just ignoring her and firing the game up again as it's not like there's any particular reason to listen to some random rude person yelling at us on the playa, but she was obviously having a bad day and we were feeling kind of hungry by now so it was time to move onto the final installment of Weirdout Wednesday for us!
(Plus, Ginger had just gotten dysentery. Thank god we had leftover adult diapers from earlier in the day...)
Our Dark Lord Loves A Good Grilled Cheese
We interpreted these difficulties, correctly as it turns out, to mean that we had been insufficiently assiduous in our worship of the Son of the Morning. Clearly, we had to rectify this.
Luckily, one of our camp-mates, Click Click, had a plan and we were only too eager to help make it happen. We pedaled out to deep playa and set up an LED pentagram to signal our fealty to the Dragon and as a beacon to other servants of the Dark. There, we planned to grill up some grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup.
What you unclaimed souls may not understand is the importance of grilled cheese and tomato soup in Satanism. It's referenced multiple times in the various ancient unholy documents we use to guide ourselves on this left-hand path upon which we walk.
I fired up some appropriate music - Runnin' with the Devil, Breakin' the Law, Highway to Hell, Number of the Beast, etc - and then Click Click and others started cooking up unpermitted sandwiches and soup on a propane grill and burner brought out for that purpose. Getting a health permit for it had been deemed blasphemous, for our souls may only belong to one Lord, and it is not the Nevada Dept of Health. We weep for those who fall prey to the temptations of the false gods of the bureaucratic and hide-bound right-hand path. Resist, and walk ye not there!
At first, it was just our group, but the Great Beast heard our cries and read the intentions in our hearts, and in small groups almost our entire camp of 30 managed to find us in deep playa, that they may participate in this most unholy of rituals. (Seriously, it was amazing. I think 25 of our camp members managed to find what had started as a small group of 7 or 8 with no preset meeting point).
Soon, others with the Morning Light in their souls found us, and while we preached to them of the Glory of the Original Rebel and urged them to consume the sustenance while giving thanks and praise to Him, they gathered in awe and lo, they did eat of the body of the Cheese and the Bread and drink of the blood of the Tomato, and were made deliciously impure thusly.
In the end, Lucifer Himself appeared to us, clad in a silver mask, and nodded His approval. We took this as an excellent sign, and indeed, our exit from Burning Man was, in contrast to our entry, flawless.
While Wednesday was now over, we decided we'd go celebrate as a group by going to see a set by Fleetmac Wood at Camp Illuminaughty, who, if they aren't Satanists, really ought to consider it.
The Devil really digs Fleetwood Mac mashups, you know.
"Ye shall know the Music of the Beast by its wood that is fleet." - Melek Taus, a Yezidi Devil-Prophet from the 11th century, translated from the Kurdish.
And when that was over, we went back to our lair at Friendgasm and threw an afterparty in our dome where we spoke in tongues, danced widdershins, and sacrificed many a birgin until dawn. It's possible some hot and spicy Doritos were also involved, but I will confirm no specifics.
Weirdout Wednesday was the best day of the Burn for me!
Keep It Weird, Burning Man!
Do you ever look around while at Burning Man and wonder why so many people are so intent on being ‘cool?’ I mean, sure, everybody likes looking good sometimes, but this isn’t Coachella. Burning Man is meant to be weird! It’s meant to be a place where we can embrace the eccentric and let our freak flags fly instead of trying to climb some sort of social validation ladder that plays out on Instagram.
In aid of fighting against this, last year, a subset of us from my camp – Friendgasm – implemented an idea a campmate had. More of a dream of his, really. (Thanks Ginger!) We’d put on adult diapers, some of those hats that hold a couple of cans of beer/soda, and we’d go rock out at day dance camps and elsewhere while trying to photobomb suspiciously-clean Instamodels. We dubbed it Weirdout Wednesday and it went hilariously well! Weirdout Wednesday’s origin story is here if you want to read more.
In the aftermath of that, people were talking about WoW on Facebook, and someone made a comment that stuck with me. She said, “Why would anyone wear adult diapers out on the playa? That’s not sexy at all!”
Well no shit, that’s the point! That comment really summed up why I think we, the Burning Man community, need to consciously fight against the vapidity that would result from a culture that has given itself over to the shallow and commercialized, to the worship of beauty over substance and the expected over the novel. Burning Man's culture, to be clear, is by no means at that point yet.... but we’re heading in that direction without some course correction. Let’s do our part!
Now, of course, I encourage you to be weird all the time - no need to save it for Wednesdays. That said, we have to start somewhere. Think of Weirdout Wednesday as Tutu Tuesday meets a diaper-clad chaos monster! What fucked-up scene can you make (hopefully with a proverbial wink, rather than maliciously)? How can you break or subvert peoples’ expectations? How weird can you get, which, let’s be fair, is something of a challenge at Burning Man insofar as weirdness is a relative property?
And if you want to come join us for some quasi-organized shenanigans, I invite you to meet us at Duckpond (9 & H) at 4 pm on Wednesday. We’re going to be there, and because it’s not weird enough to just repeat the same thing, this year we’re adding a new element alongside the adult diapers. We’re all going to have irritating instruments with us – kazoos, vuvuzelas, mini-tambourines, the world’s most obnoxious cowbell, etc – and we’ll form the Symphony of Cacophony, so-named as a tribute to the Cacophony Society that helped birth Burning Man.
We’ll party there for awhile and then we’ll move on to other nearby camps to generally make a weird (and joyous!) spectacle of ourselves.
We’ll have dozens of extra adult diapers and a bunch of small instruments, but you are absolutely encouraged to bring any instrument you want as if a lot of people show, we'll run out.
Hope to see you there! Feel free to introduce yourself to me. I'll either be holding the WoW flag or whoever is will know who I am. Let's get weird together!
When: Wednesday, 4 pm.
Where: Duck Pond – 9 & H.
How to find us: Look for the Weirdout Wednesday flag or just a bunch of idiots in adult diapers.
Join the Weirdout Wednesday Facebook group to stay in touch with other weirdos!
A few years ago I re-wrote the lyrics to the song, "My Favorite Things" from the movie The Sound of Music, to be about Burning Man and was inspired to do it again, this time using the music from Billy Joel's, "We Didn't Start The Fire." I had a guy named Jordan Fox sing the lyrics for me, as I sound like hyena in the depths of a coke hangover while attempting to belt out a tune.
The song's verses selectively trace Burning Man's history, in rough chronological order. There's a bit of skipping back and forth (like from '99 to '98 and back) within a verse, but in general, they're roughly in order, with imagery/footage in the video that almost always matches the song reference. In a a couple of cases, however, the footage I used is out of chronological order so doesn't match up with the time period in the song, such as the line "Man burn, Temple burn" where I used a Man and Temple from later years because the video looked better.
"We Started The Fire"
Lyrics, editing & production by Dr. Yes.
Vocals by Jordan Fox.
Music by Billy Joel.
A line-by-line explanation of the lyrics follows afterwards!
Baker Beach, Zone Trip 4, Cacophony, pissed off law
Black Rock Desert, Larry Harvey, Jerry James and TAZ.
Kevin Evans, Burn the Man, Danger Ranger’s Peter Pan
Crimson Rose, Marian, Seventy-Eight Olds.
Electronic music’s here, Turbo Ted’s spinning near,
Java Cow, Christmas Camp, Burning Man goes glamp.
Will Roger, Center Camp, Harley DuBois, Lit lamps
Shooting range, trash fence downrange, everything is now changed!
We started all the fires!
We weren’t always burning
but now we're returning
We did start the fire!
Yeah we tried to light it
And we never fight it.
Michael Furey, Papa Satan, Inferno and Hellco,
Techno Ghetto, regulation, John Law leaves the nation
Fly ranch, Hualapai, Rod Garrett, Sheriff’s eye
New Earth Guardians, LNT is hard.
Sergey, Larry Page, drama on the back stage,
X-Force, DMV, First Regional will now be
Piss clear, Best is here, Wheel of Time, Temple Mind
Banksy’s art, Jiffy Lube, camels on the playa!
We started all the fires!
We're forever burning
and the Conclave's whirling
We did start the fire!
Yeah we tried to light it
And we never fight it.
Theme camps proliferate, Contessa sails straight
Principles, Thunderdome, weather makes it hard to roam
Angels of Apocalypse, Passage and Colossus
Belgian waffle, first moop map, children of the dust clap
Addis’s Early Burn, Man Burn, Temple Burn
TV Free Burning Man, Big Rig’s no minivan.
Bliss Dance, Temple Flux, Dr. Yes’s epochs
South Park, Mantfarm, we don’t need no fire alarms!
We started all the fires
Now the world's learning
that we're out there Burning
We did start the fire!
Yeah we tried to light it
And we never fight it.
Tickets sellout, Rites of Passage, Temple of Transition
Trojan Horse, Pier bestows, Oh the places you’ll go
Bank of Un-America, playa dubstep mania,
Space saucer, Cargo Cult, DPW catapult!
Truth is Beauty, Church Trap, plug n’ plays are bullcrap
Embrace hey, rain to play, what else do I have say?
We started all the fires
Now it's concerning
and the community's churning
We did start the fire!
Yeah we tried to light it
And we never fight it.
Bug invasion, brutal cold, masturbating nun – bold,
Promise Temple, Revolution, Sextant does electrocution
White Ocean vandalized, Da Vinci’s work prized,
Space Whale, Light House nailed, Catacombs are unveiled
Fly Ranch purchase, hot as hell, leftover bikes bombshell
Tenere, Hatted man, Aaron’s cut lifespan.
Robots I saw bringing awe, Nixon’s under martial law
Larry passes, Hexatron, diaper squad, the plane's not gone!
We started all the fires
We weren’t always burning
Now the BLM’s turning
We did start the fire!
And when we are gone
It’ll still burn on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on
We started all the fires
Turns out we were yearning
Now we're always burning
We did start the fire!
Yeah we tried to light it
And we never fight it.
We started all the fires
We're all still learning
we're forever burning
We did start the fire!
Yeah we tried to light it
And we never fight it.
While many of the references in We Started The Fire are obvious, others are perhaps less so, especially for those new or newer to Burning Man. Here's your reference guide! You can always learn more about Burning Man's history here.
Baker Beach - The beach in San Francisco where the first burn happened.
Zone Trip 4 - The Cacophony Society's name for the first Burn out in the northern Nevada desert: "Zone Trip 4 - A Bad Day In Black Rock."
Cacophony - The Cacophony Society in San Francisco, whose Kevin Evans and John Law were a big part of Burning Man's founding.
Pissed off law - In '90, the cops kicked the crew off Baker Beach, forcing them to the playa and creating history. Also a side-reference to John Law, a key Cacophonist and one of Burning Man's founder.
Black Rock Desert - The site of Burning Man, in northern Nevada.
Larry Harvey - One of Burning Man's founders (to some who don't know better, "the" founder).
Jerry James - One of Burning Man's founders.
T.AZ. - Temporary Autonomous Zone - the original intention of Burning Man, arguably.
Kevin Evans - one of Burning Man's founders.
Burn the Man - Torch the effigy.
Danger Ranger’s Peter Pan - Michael Mikel, aka Danger Ranger, is a Burning Man founder.
Crimson Rose - She led the first fire Conclave and has been a core part of the Burning Man leadership team since the early 90s.
Marian - Marian Goodell. The CEO and leader of Burning Man, having taken charge of the event in the mid 90s and having shepherded it for 20+ years.
Seventy-Eight Olds - The first art car, owned by Danger Ranger. A '78 Olds that had been damanged during the '89 Earthquake, and had the exact time of the quake on its license plate.
Electronic music's here - In '93, electronic music made its first real appearance on playa.
Terbo Ted's spinning near - Terbo Ted, aka Craig Ellenwood, spun the very first set on the playa, in '93. I did an interview with him here.
Java Cow - In the early 90s, someone dressed up as a kind of freaky cow would go around pouring coffee for people. Java cow!
Christmas Camp - The very first theme camp, in 1993, complete with fake snow and decorated Xmas trees, started the grand tradition of annoying your neighbors with music on loop.
Burning Man goes glamp - Refers to '93 and '94, which was when things started getting elaborate on the camping front. Fancy food, champagne in crystal goblets, people wearing heinous formal jackets, outrageous drag queens dressed to the 9s, etc.
Will Roger - Cultural co-founder of Burning Man.
Center Camp - A large structure in the 'center' of Black Rock City. It started quite humbly, but is anything but now.
Harley DuBois - Along with Marian Goodell arguably rescued the event in the 90s. Effectively a co-founder.
Lit lamps - In '94, lamps in front of the Man were elevated above the playa floor, led by Steve Mobia, leading to the creation of the Lamplighters.
Shooting range - There used to be a shooting range out there. Guns were banned starting in '97, however.
Trash fence downrange - The first trash fence was in '96.
Everything is now changed - Refers to (and is an overstatement of) the changes that happened after '96.
Michael Furey - A burner who died/committed suicide by playing chicken with a van outside of Gerlach in '96. Larry Harvey's reaction to this death initiated a split with John Law that led this to be Law's last year.
Papa Satan - the '96 Burn had a strong theme and story running through it, involving Papa Satan, CEO of the evil Helco, trying to execute a hostile takeover of Burning Man. The Cacophonists put on plays and sublots in a series of pre-Burning Man events in San Francisco relating to this too.
Inferno - The '96 theme.
Helco - The evil company Papa Satan ran. One of the big art pieces that year was the Helco tower, which John Law famously climbed as it was lit, and then rode a zip line to the ground from the top as the fire began to get close to him. One of my favorite ever images of Burning Man.
Techno ghetto - After friction between electronic music fans and everyone else, a "techno ghetto" was organized in '96 about a mile north of the city to keep the large sound camps away from everybody else. Unfortunately, people were injured when a vehicle driving at high speed across the playa - this was the last year that was allowed - ran over their tent out in the techno ghetto.
Regulation - After '96, regulation started to creep in by necessity. No guns and no high-speed driving were big ones.
John Law leaves the nation - '96 was John Law's last year, as he quit over severe disagreements over the direction of the event.
Fly Ranch, Hualapai - Burning Man was held on Fly Ranch and the next door Hualapai playa in '97 in an attempt to escape the hassles of the BLM and law enforcement. The event nearly fell apart that year.
Rod Garrett - The man recruited to create plans and documents for creating Black Rock City in compliance with county regulations. Rod's Road is named after him.
Sheriff's eye - Even though '97 was on private property, the Washoe County sheriff was able to seize all the ticket sales at gate (back then you could just buy tickets at the gate), causing Larry Harvey to offer lifetime tickets to anyone who could chip in $500.
New Earth Guardians - A group formed in '97 by Harley DuBois to teach people about Leave No Trace.
LNT is hard - LNT in '97 was notoriously hard because Fly Ranch and the Hualapai are not barren. There are grasses, etc, and they had some tension with the Fly Ranch landlord.
Sergey, Larry Page - Sergey Brin and Larry Page (the Google founders) started going to Burning Man, famously, in the late 90s.
Drama on the back stage - This refers to the trouble BM was having with the local community in the late '90s. It was quite a contentious relationship.
X-Force - Marvel comics referenced Burning Man in '98 in their X-force #75 comic, with people at the "Exploding Colossal Man Shindig and Hullabaloo", with a sculpture that is unmistakably the Man from Burning Man.
DMV - The first organized DMV out there was in '99.
First Regional will now be - '98 saw the first regional. "Burning Man Texas" had 30 people and a straw man built on site. The picture is of AfrikaBurn, however, which is the largest regional. I couldn't find any pics from the first Burning Man Texas.
Piss Clear - The name of a venerable publication full of info and snark, published on the playa.
Best is here - David Best and Jack Haye built the first Temple, in 2000.
Wheel of Time - The 99' theme.
Temple Mind - The Temple of the Mind was the first Temple.
Banksy’s art - Banksy came to Burning Man in 2001 and left some art behind.
Jiffy Lube - A camp at whose art display resulted in the Org, under pressure from law enforcement, ordering said art display (of two men having anal sex) taken down.
Camels on the playa - There were real camels on the playa in the late 90s. Because people brought them, to be clear.
And the Conclave's whirling - a reference to the Fire Conclave that performs before the Man burns.
Theme camps proliferate - They started breeding like rabbits in the early 00s.
Contessa sails straight - an awesome art car that was a big rigged ship. First appearance was in 2002. Sadly, it has since burned down.
Principles - Larry Harvey wrote down ten principles in 2004 as descriptive of what the community at that time valued, in his opinion.
Thunderdome - They've been coming since the late 90s!
Weather makes it hard to roam - 2004 had terrible weather, with 40 registered art projects not making it because the weather stopped them from setting up. White-out dust storms to rain to very high temps and back again.
Angels of Apocalypse - An art piece in 2005 from Flaming Lotus Girls.
Passage - A large art piece in 2005 of a woman and her child, by Dan DasMann and Karen Cusolito.
Colossus - Another very large art piece from 2005, of hanging boulders that could be spun around a large center spire. By Zachary Coffin.
Belgian waffle - A group of Belgians came out in 2006 and built Uchronia, otherwise known as the Waffle, which was the largest art piece ever built on the playa at that time. There was some controversy later when it turned out that it had some kind of corporate sponsorship.
First moop map - the first Moop Map was in 2006....
Children of the dust clap - ....and we're all excited about it! Who doesn't look forward to the Moop Map every year?
Addis’s Early Burn - Paul Addis burned the Man early in '07 as a (dangerous) prank.
Man Burn, Temple Burn - So much fire.
TV Free Burning Man - There was a tv station broadcasting back to the default world via the internet in '06.
Big Rig’s no minivan - Big Rig Jig was an epic piece of art in '07 involving a pair of semitrucks, by Mike Ross.
Bliss Dance - A 2010 art piece - first in an eventual series of 3 by Marco Cochrane - that was the talk of the playa. A large woman posing gracefully.
Temple Flux - The Temple of Flux was in 2010, which was very different from most Temples, shaped like a series of canyons instead of a building.
Dr. Yes’s epochs - I'm Dr. Yes, and I started going in 2010. I later created a Burning Man history that divides Burning Man into "epochs." https://www.burn.life/history-of-burning-man.html
South Park - Cthulhu destroyed Burning Man in a South Park episode in 2010.
Mantfarm - a large art piece from 2010 that was like a big ant farm, but for people.
We don’t need no fire alarms! - A filler line, frankly.
Now the world's learning, that we're out there Burning - A reference to the increased attention Burning Man was getting in wider culture around 2010, leading to the first ticket sellout the next year.
Tickets sellout - First time tickets sold out was 2011, and it's happened every year since.
Rites of Passage - The 2011 theme.
Temple of Transition - The 2011 temple. Still my favorite of all-time.
Trojan Horse - A giant Trojan horse was built, wheeled out onto the playa, and burned in 2011.
Pier bestows - The Pier was a giant installation that was a long pier across the playa in 2011, and then in 2012 it was back, this time with a half-sunken wrecked sailing ship at the end of it. By Matt Schultz and the Pier Group.
Oh the places you’ll go - One of the most famous videos in Burning Man's history, set to Dr. Suess's book of the same name, released in 2011.
Bank of Un-America - 2012 saw a massive installation called Burn Wall Street out on the playa. One of the five buildings was the Bank of Un-America. Others included Merrill Lynched and Goldman Sucks.
Playa dubstep mania - Dubstep was huge for awhile in the late 00s and early 10s, and then suddenly everyone decided they'd just had enough and it all-but-disappeared. Skrillex wasn't really playing the playa during that time, but as he started out in dubstep and is recognizable, I used him.
Space Saucer - The 2013 Man base was huge, shaped like a space saucer, and burned like an inferno.
Cargo Cult - The 2013 theme.
DPW Catapult - in 2015, the DPW (Department of Public Works) launched a flaming piano from a giant trebuchet.
Truth is Beauty - 2013. The second installation of Marco Cochrane's series of giant metal women on the playa.
Church Trap - An installation I enjoyed in 2013 of a church tilted up on its side and propped up, like a mousetrap. By Rebekah Waites
Plug n’ plays are bullcrap - Fuck plug n' plays like Caravansicle, Humano Tribe, and Lost Hotel.
Embrace hey - Embrace was a large and beautiful art installation in 2014 of two human figures half-buried in the sand, embracing. By Matt Schultz and the Pier Group
Rain to play - it rained hard Monday morning in 2014, causing the gates to close and leaving some people trapped in line for 24 hours.
What else do I have to say? - Filler line!
Now it's concerning, and the community's churning - A reference to the fact that it became harder to keep communities at BM together in the post ticket-sellout period as demand for tickets keeps rising.
Bug invasion - In 2015 bugs invaded the playa pre-gate opening.
Brutal cold - It was really cold in 2015. I remember wearing faux-fur at 4 pm.
Masturbating nun in bold - Inside the huge Totem of Confessions in 2015 was a box with a nun masturbating with a cross in a box. The Burning Man Org made them lock the box, reportedly under pressure from law enforcement.
Promise Temple - The Temple of Promise was built in 2015.
Revolution - The third of Marco Cochrane's series of women on the playa, in 2015.
Sextant does electrocution - Sextant camp started building giant tesla coils in the mid 2010s.
White Ocean vandalized - White Ocean camp was famously vandalized in 2016 by what turned out to be disgruntled contractors. I dove into this story and discovered the truth of the situation was not what the media wanted it to be.
Da Vinci’s work prized - DaVinci's Workshop was the 2016 theme.
Space Whale - The Space Whale was an epic large stained glass whale in 2016, by Matt Schultz and the Pier Group.
Light House nailed - One of my favorite all-time art pieces out there, in 2016. A set of giant, crooked wooden light houses. The project was led by father-son team Max & Jonny Poynton.
Catacombs are unveiled - Also 2016, the Veil of Catacombs, led by Dan Sullivan, was a huge pair of pyramids that never got quite finished, but made for one hell of a fire.
Fly Ranch purchase - In 2016, Burning Man bought Fly Ranch with $6.5 million donated by wealthy Burners.
Hot as hell - 2017 was legendarily hot on the playa.
Leftover bikes bombshell - Thousands of bikes - something like twice as many as usual - were left behind by people in 2017.
Tenere - the Tree of Tenere, by Symmetry Labs, was an incredible art installation of a large tree lit up by 10s of thousands of sequenced LEDs for leaves.
Hatted man - the 2017 burn featured a Man inside a hut, and he looked a like he had a hat on.
Aaron’s cut lifespan - Aaron Mitchell died in 2017 after running into the fire intentionally during the 2017 Man burn. I wrote an article on having empathy for him here.
Robots I saw bringing awe - 2018's theme was I, Robot, which, being a nice and tangible theme, resulted in a lot of robot art on the playa.
Nixon’s under martial law - The BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) set up squads on tribal lands on the way to Burning Man to arbitrarily pull over Burners in Nixon and surrounding communities in 2018. They used nonsense reasons to search their cars, sometimes for hours, and almost all of the charges were later dropped.
Larry passes - Larry Harvey died in 2018.
Hexatron - A huge art piece by Mark Lottor originally built for the Electric Daisy Carnival, that was hundreds of giant LED-lit and sequenced poles, making a kind of LED forest.
Diaper squad - My campmates and I came up with Weirdout Wednesday in 2018 and put on adult diapers to go troll people. Read about it here.
The plane's not gone - The 747 was famously left on the playa for quite awhile after the 2018 burn.
Now the BLM’s turning - The recent proposals from the BLM are shitty and while the Org has had trouble with the BLM before, these new proposed restrictions could wreck Burning Man.
If you're interested in more Burning Man history, check out my year-by-year history of Burning Man. If you enjoyed the video, you might like my other videos.
I couldn't have made this video without the photos and footage of a lot of other people. The only photos and video that I took myself are from 2010 onwards, but by no means is all the media covering 2010+ mine. Thanks to:
Jamen Percy - Some of the drone footage, including the opening shot.
Roy Two Thousand - Some time lapses and burn footage.
Mark Day - Various pieces of footage of burns.
Terry An - Video of the Galaxia burn.
Infinit Studios - Footage of the mostly topless woman with a mustache riding a bike.
SevenClouds - Some drone footage from 2013.
Alex Freeman - Some burn footage.
Guy Jackson - Some burn footage.
Pete LaMoia - Video of 2013 Man burn.
Rick Parker - Video of Veil of Catacombs burn.
Afonso Salcedo - Some drone footage of the Temple of Promise.
Ahmed Elhusseiny - Some burn footage, and footage of fire dancers.
Brad Templeton - Some photos from the late 90s and early 00s.
Stewart Harvey - Some photos from the very early years.
Duncan Rawlinson - Many photos from the 2010s.
Scott Beale - A couple photos from the 00s.
David Gee - A couple photos from the early 00s.
Nick Lynch -Photos from the early years.
The Burning Man Project - A number of photos.
Danger Ranger - Photos from the early years.
Kevin Evans - Several shots of early years.
Carvermom - The photo of Java Cow.
Malderor - Shooting range photo.
Jim Provenzano - A photo of the early Temple.
Thomas K. Pendergast - A couple art shots.
Andrew Miller - DPW Catapult.
Jim Urquhart- Tea ceremony photo.
Dustin Mosher - Photo of the 747.
Probably others I forgot to thank, for which I deeply apologize! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to rectify any error I made.
Concrete Barriers, Private Security Forces, and More Plug n' Plays - A Possible Future for Burning Man
TL;DR: The Bureau of Land Management is proposing that Burning Man must contract independent, third party security forces to screen vehicles and participants coming into Burning Man for contraband, and install concrete barriers and steel fences around at least some of Burning Man and/or gate road.
They also want to mandate that Burning Man increase the number of people who take buses in or fly in (most of whom can't bring sufficient supplies for themselves that way) and go onto say that this may necessitate the need for more plug n' plays to accommodate those people.
Is this what we want?
We have an opportunity to be heard. Let's take it. Details below.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft proposal yesterday in response to the Burning Man Project's ("the Org") request for a 10 year Special Recreation Permit (SRP) for Burning Man. For those unaware, the Burning Man event is held on federal land that is managed by the BLM. Every year, the Org has to get an SRP to hold the event, which comes with a maximum population for the event, but they have now requested a 10 year permit that would allow the population to grow to 100,000 people by 2022.
The draft proposal is technically called an "environmental impact statement" (EIS), which the environment in this case referring to everything that surrounds Burning Man, from the actual environment to the impact on local communities to the roads to protecting burners themselves. It's really long! 372 pages across two documents, which makes sense considering that Burning Man is the largest event in the country that receives an SRP.
I've read the interesting parts and skimmed the rest so you don't have to! Much of this is pretty dry but a couple parts really stand out.
The Scenarios Considered
The EIS considers five scenarios:
Should We Be Concerned?
I think so, yes. I'll explain, but you also don't have to take my word for it. Jim Graham, spokesmen for the Burning Man Project, told the Reno Gazette, "Our staff is reviewing the document and accompanying 11 special studies, and our initial review revealed serious concerns with parts of the proposed stipulations. At this time it is premature to provide an assessment until we have completed a thorough review. We will then provide a more detailed response."
I don't know which parts he's speaking of, but there are four areas of concern that stuck out to me when going through the documents. I've read through the stipulations for Burning Man in previous BLM EIS/SRP reports, and there is nothing like these requirements in there as far as I can tell. These are new provisions.
What Can We Do?
I doubt any of you reading this like the idea of concrete barriers and k-rail fencing, and private security forces screening cars on the way in unless you're just trolling. I can see some people liking a 50k population cap scenario, and in future years I might even agree, but it'd be a terrible thing to implement this year with ticket sales already well under way. And if you think Burning Man needs more plug n ' plays, you're probably reading the wrong blog.
Mark Hall is the BLM officer who issues the SRP, and the EIS specifically asks that feedback be sent to him.
We like to say that Burning Man is a do-ocracy. That's true, but I believe that's the case for life generally. If you want something to happen, or oppose something from happening, do something about it, don't just complain. You may not be able to dictate the reality you want, but you can do your best to nudge it in the direction you wish.
His contact info is:
Dr. Mark Hall, PhD
EIS Project Manager
Black Rock Field Office
5100 East Winnemucca Blvd.
Winnemucca, Nevada 86445
Mr. Hall's boss appears to be Ester McCullough, the district manager of the Winnemucca District Office. She can be reached at:
The public comment period goes until April 29th, so make yourself heard! Mr. Hall told the Reno Gazette that, "Right now I have an open mind and I'm very curious to see what the public has to offer in terms of our analysis."
I urge you to contact Mr. Hall and potentially Ms. McCullough if you share my concerns, but to do so in a calm and informed manner. Let's paint a positive picture of Burners for Mark and Ester and not deluge them with the equivalent of all-caps emails.
There are also going to be public hearings for comment on the EIS in Reno on April 8 and in Lovelock on April 9th. Details on them are still forthcoming as of this writing (I'll update this when I have them.)
I'm tentatively planning on being at the Reno meeting to see if I can give the reality I want to see a boost. I hope you'll consider joining me.
If you're coming, please get in touch at email@example.com and I'll put together a mailing list to coordinate as many Burners that will be at the Reno meeting as possible. I think it's important we have a tight and organized response to the items in here that need to go.
Other Areas of Interest
There are some other interesting tidbits in here that I thought some of you might be interested in.
Hello Burners, Happy New Year, and welcome to Burning Man season, 2019 edition! To kick off the year, I've got an interview with Eggchairsteve, who is a very long-time burner and the head of Eggs Bar, the best bar on the playa that's never open.
Dr. Yes: What got you out to the playa the first time and when? Sounds like you were first there in ’94 or ’95?
Eggchair: Indeed, 1995 was the first time I attended, which makes 2019 my 25th consecutive Burn....holy shit!
In the early 90's I had begun hearing mentions of Burning Man in various magazines as well as on the radio, but I hadn't really given it very much thought at all. In particular, there was a morning radio talk show hosted by Alex Bennett. This had to have been '93-'94, listening to his morning show, he would mention it often, which is where I first got a real idea of what this mysterious anarchist-party-in-the desert was all about. But I guess you could say what really go me to first go out to the playa was the early SF rave scene. Though I didn't really consider myself a "club goer" at the time, I was particularly fond of the Wicked Soundsystem crew, and their legendary Full Moon parties. These monthly all-night dance celebrations were always held outdoors, and quite often at Bonny Dunes beach near Santa Cruz. Something about hearing booming dance music while outside in Nature, dancing all night under a full moon, sparked feelings that to this day still give me goosebumps. Fast-forward to the summer of 1995, and I hear that Wicked is planning to bring their sound system out the the Nevada desert to this Burning Man, and it just seemed like the perfect excuse to go, so that was all it took. With a ticket price of a whopping $35 (!), a spur of the moment decision to attend could easily be made. That first year I went with my best friend and my girlfriend, with all of our minuscule amount of gear for our 4-day weekend fitting into my tiny Isuzu pick-up truck. Absolutely anyone who attended that year in 1995, can recall with great fondness and awe the quick and powerful storm that hit us that year, followed by the largest double-rainbow we had ever seen. It even hailed! Having our tiny camp instantly destroyed somehow exhilarated us and made us want to return.
Dr. Yes: Holy shit indeed! And to never have missed a year is kind of incredible too. So what year did EGGs bar first manifest?
Eggchair: Well, EGGS Bar proper didn't actually manifest under that name until 2012, but you're jumping way ahead. We need to go back to Eggchair Camp which first happened in 1997 (with Fertility 1.0) for the origin story.
Dr. Yes: Let's hear it! And why EGGS? I mean, I like eggs, but...
As I started to talk with them, they shared that if I looked closely, the surface of the table was covered with pocketknife carved graffiti, they explained some of the markings were from their older brothers in the 70's, and that, holy shit, this was the ACTUAL picnic table they all first started drinking and partying on back in their day in their local park. It profoundly blew my mind, NOT at all that this was a motorized picnic table (which is cool, but c'mon we are at Burning Man, something so simple barely registers), but the fact that this object held meaningful juju for them, and they had this absurd idea to not only swipe it from their local park, motorize it, and give it a whole new history. To me this is just the coolest. I like to hope that to this day, if you take the time to scratch beneath the surface, you can continue to find amazing original stories from everyone, really about everything. I mean we are all moving through life, with all these material objects floating around us. They only matter if we say they do.
So there we are in '97, the theme is Fertility... Eggs seem like fertility objects, sure that makes sense. We create Eggchair camp and we get placed on the very first officially mapped Espalande! Yes, it was simply a chair, sitting along Esplanade, but hey, people seemed to love it! I'm not sure people truly understood what the chair actually meant to US, (Yes, Eggchair really was placed on Esplanade through 2003!) but I do think there was something about sitting alone, with just yourself, cut off from this cacophonous city filled with distractions and sensory overload, that people connected with. I began to dread that it somehow became a photo-op with literally lines of people getting their pictures taken sitting in the eggchair. It was because of those years that I earned my playa name, Eggchairsteve.
But by 2003 it had fully run its course and it all became a bit embarrassing. "Hey why do they always get Esplande placement? It's just a fucking chair."
But here's a word to the wise: a lesson I learned the hard way that year was about variety, be it musically, or thematically. No matter what your theme or schtick is, it's going to get really old, really fast on 24/7 repeat. Maddening even. One year I was camped directly across from Black Rock Roller Disco (and please do not get me wrong, I fucking LOVE them, I actually LOVE the music) and the constant 24/7 repeat, often the same playlist played on repeat, was literally annoying.
2005-6 I took off from planning any theme camps, and just camped in the back streets. I found it profoundly boring and passive to just go out into the city as a spectator. So we returned in 2007 with a bar-themed camp, still with the old-world facade out front, but much more variety in music and experiences and events, sometimes live bands would play, having variety and not being pigeonholed into one schtick, is everything. For years we would riff off of the years them for our bar name; Metropolis became EGGchtroplos, Rites of Passage became Left of PassEGGch....so when 2012 rolled around with Fertility 2.0 being the theme for the year (at the same time a good friend of mine humorously proclaimed that he was tired of calling me Eggchairsteve, and from henceforth I would be known as simply EGGS) It seemed like a perfect opportunity to shorten the the bar's name to just EGGS, especially since we initially brought the eggchair out for Fertility1.0 and now we would be simply EGGS for Fertility 2.0!
Dr. Yes: What was your infrastructure like its first year and how as it evolved over time?
Eggchair: Having run theme camp for so many years, I what works and what doesn't. I've seen evaporation ponds turn into disgusting swamps. I've seen kitchen setups turn into shambles. I think the two most important lessons of Burning Man are Radical Self Reliance and Communal Effort. So for our camp we have always expected everyone to pull their own weight. And you have to have solid campmates. In the early years when we were such a smaller bar, it didn't take much to just ask everyone to contribute booze and mixers to stock the bar. Our structure was so much smaller that it all fit in a trailer, and we all chipped in to pay for it.
In 2016 we built the current iteration of EGGS Bar, which is much bigger than ever before. We now have to throw fundraisers, as well as crowdsource funding, to pay for everything. We now own a trailer, which now means yearly storage costs. We also serve way more folks.
Dr. Yes: How big is your camp population-wise now?
Eggchair: I personally feel that anything over 30 members starts to fall apart, so we try to keep the camp population around 30.
Dr. Yes: Same here. So what’s the leadership structure of the camp like? How many formal or quasi-formal positions do you have and what are they?
Eggchair: With our big jump in camp presence in 2016, it required a lot more leadership structure. I am the first to admit that I suck at leadership, and I have been blessed to somehow be surrounded with people who support my vision of having one of the best bar experiences on playa. I had to learn to let go of doing everything myself, because it is simply impossible for one person. So we now have several formal positions, Camp Lead, Financial Lead, Build Lead, Bar Lead, LNT Lead, but again, everyone is expected to pull their own weight.
Dr. Yes: How often is EGGS open during the week…even though we all know it’s never open?
Eggchair: Always Closed! Yes, that actually has a funny origin. I made that sign years ago, one side saying Closed, the other saying Open, and for some reason one year it just stayed on the Closed side. It never ceases to amuse me that we can be in the midst of a raging party, and you can point up to the Closed sign, and a patron will be "oh, I'm sorry" and actually walk away! And you have to say, "no, of course you can have a drink!" and it really breaks the ice, and you can begin to have a conversation with a stranger.
Conversely if they are being rude (you can sort of always tell the type that just want to get a drink and continue on their way) and they loudly bang their cup on the bartop, you can always point up to the Closed sign, and they will leave. EGGS Bar strives to be friendly and welcoming to everyone, but we are NOT there to just serve the masses. We truly want patrons to sit down and talk with us, that is the whole point.
To answer your question, we are technically "open" whenever we feel like it, which seems to be all day every day. I really I would like to see it as more of a late afternoon in to evening sort of space, but the last few years have become more of a round the clock bar.
Dr. Yes: You guys have been at 6 in the Center Camp ring for a bit now – when were you first placed there?
Eggs: Actually we have only been placed at that spot 2017 and 2018, and I kind of enjoy having slightly different spots every year. Before that we were in various spots within the Center Camp Plaza, and even earlier in various spots on Rod's Road. We have been part of Center Camp proper since 2007.
Dr. Yes: How much booze do you guys go through during the week and how many people do you estimate you serve?
Eggchair: This is a question that a lot of people ask, and it is hard to accurately answer. We fundraise throughout the year to buy booze, but we also get bottle and mixer donations (PLEASE DO!!) The truth is, no matter how much or how little booze you ever bring, you will always go through it all. We've got a pretty good system going now, of two premixed drinks in 5-gallon containers that we restock as needed, as well as beers, but we also have a stock of special or unusual shots going too. As for many estimated served, I really couldn't even guess, but it is quite a few. But again, encouraging patrons to sit down and talk with us, fills the stools, and discourages the masses of folks that just want a drink and run.
And as a bit of advice to every Burner out there, if you get a drink at ANY bar in Black Rock City, and you DON'T stay and hang out with the bartenders or camp experience, you're being fucking rude!
Dr. Yes: What's the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in your own bar?
Eggchair: That's a hard one to answer, I just love everything about it. Spontaneous things happen all the time. Bands show up to play, etc.
I guess having Bryan Cranston as a patron was pretty cool....
Eggchair: If you are ridiculously drunk (as happens often in BRC!) it's time to head back to your tent. If you are being rude and obnoxious, you can get yourself the fuck out of EGGS Bar - there are a million other bars.
Dr. Yes: What’s your favorite thing about Burning Man generally? What’s kept you coming back two dozen times?
Eggchair: Oh my god, it's EVERYTHING! After all these years it still continues to blow my mind. I think people tend to forget that literally everything you see out there, someone brought out to the middle of the fucking desert, just for us, just for a week! I can't believe that it even happens every year. The art you get to see and interact with out there, you simply cannot do anywhere else, at least on that scale. And music! One of the unique things about dancing in the desert to large scale sound is literally having endless space to dance any way you wish. I hate the feeling of being constricted into a tiny personal space in a dance club. Dancing in the open desert is simply magic.
Dr. Yes: You were there in ’96. That year seemed like kind of peak crazy between the Satan theme, John Law riding the zipline off the burning tower, the existence (though last year of) the shooting range and high speed driving on the playa. How has Burning Man changed for the better and worse since then in your view?
Eggchair: Yes, I was there in '96, sitting on a hay bale, watching the Helco tower burn. I saw the infamous zipline. I did also drive out to watch the shooting range, I'm not at all a gun person, it didn't excite me, but driving out off the playa exploring the outlying areas DID spark a lifelong love of the Black Rock Desert area. |
The questions most often asked after going for over 20 years are "What was it like back then?", "How has it changed?", "Was it better, or worse?" And I don't want to sound cliche, but because I've gone EVERY year, I've seen every incremental change, I've experienced the reasons for every new rule that came along, its truly hard to compare what it was like back then as opposed to now. What I mean by this is, I think of "Burning Man" as one long ever-evolving 25 year long experience that I've been involved with. I can't really separate back then from now. Of course it has gotten bigger, but along with that came bigger and better everything. People tend to look back at those early years as anarchic and wild-west, but there was never the scale of beautiful art and music and theme camp experiences as there are now. So, yes, it's only getting better!
This last year, one night I rode my bike randomly on way back streets, and I was blown away at all the elaborate, amazing camps that I had never even heard of, and I just love that. I truly think that eventually the entirety of Black Rock City should be as interactive as Esplanade. Too many people is not the problem, a lack of participation is the only potential problem.
Dr. Yes: Yeah! Give it up for the back streets!
If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about Burning Man, what would it be?
Eggchair: Hard to say... I guess I'm upset by the new influx of supermodels posing in front of art so that they can post that perfect cool shot on their instagram feed - they just seem to be missing the point of attending the Burn, and because they have an audience of fans, they are inadvertently sending out a very inaccurate image to the world at large of what Burning Man really is.
The whole millionaire/plug and play/sherpa/curated faction of the burn I feel are also fundamentally missing what it IS to attend the Burn....the reason everyone in the world wants to go, is to EXPERIENCE that magic, and that only comes through participation and passion, and collective effort. I think the Org is struggling with this issue a lot, they see all these wealthy and influential people, but are failing to see that THEY are all passively missing the whole point with these curated experiences.
If I had a magic wand, I would use it to wack some common sense into all the federal law enforcement officials who are illegally pulling us over and infringing on our civil liberties. That shit has got to stop!
Dr. Yes: Yeah, it does need to stop! Nice to see that many of the prosecutions were dropped, but it was still unwarranted harassment. Thanks for taking the time and for your verbosity!
Note: If you'd like to support EGGS, they would love your donation here - https://www.paypal.me/eggsbar
I'm Dr. Yes, a 10 year burner. I run this site, was on the '15 Temple team, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!