Can the regionals pick up the ticket sale slack – and transform Burning Man?

Burning Man is still sold out.

To the extent that you learn about a community during a crisis, I wonder what our reaction so far says about us.

Many are mocking the ticket seekers, suggesting this is a kind of Darwinian victory:  if you can’t get your ticket you don’t deserve to get there.  The Onion parodied Burning Man with a similar conceit about eight years ago.  It was funny then, but it still wasn’t original.

It’s less funny now, because it’s become apparent that some very good people are being left on the outside:  people who clearly have a lot to offer.  People who would be a benefit to the entire community – and I don’t just mean “big name DJs.”  In fact, I’m not talking about them at all.  However few tickets there are, Burning Man will never run out of DJs.

But we have run out of space.  In my previous post I suggested that 21st century Burning Man was a culture of abundance, and this is our first meaningful encounter with scarcity.  I made a few suggestions about what to do about it.

Many people writing in the comments section had much better ideas than I did.  But by far the most trenchant idea proposed was this:  the future of Burning Man belongs to the regionals.

They got what I’d missed:   the ticket limit is potentially a catalyst turning the regionals from followers to co-conspirators.  “Burning Man” itself would become a kind of pilgrimage site that the faithful try to get to once in a while, but “Burning Man” culture would be led by dozens of regional events around the globe.

How you feel about that might depend on your experiences with the regionals.  It does for me.  Would you mind sticking around while I explain this?

I was introduced to Burning Man by a friend of mine who quit her life to go on a cross-country journey to nowhere in her RV.  She spent the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot, met some other people in RVs, and they told her about this thing happening in the Nevada desert.  She didn’t have anywhere else to be, so she followed along.

When it was all over and she was living with some Burners in Colorado, she called me up.

“You HAVE to come see this,” she said.

“Uh huh,” I replied.  “I’ll put that on my to-do list before ‘tell my father I love him’ but after ‘die in a dual over a woman.’”

She was shocked.  “You STILL haven’t fought that dual?”

“I’ve got a day job!  I’m busy!”

“Really now,” she asked me.  “Why won’t you at least try it?”

“Because it combines camping (which I hate) with hot temperatures (which I hate) with raves (which I hate) with what sounds like atrocious installation art (which I hate) … with 40,000 people who like all these things so much that they’d go to Nevada for them.  It’s like everything I hate, only without water.”

I thought that would be the end of it, but she wouldn’t stop.  Eventually she invited me up to Colorado to attend a burner event in Steamboat during my birthday.  I said “what the hell,” and spent my birthday in a natural hot spring, with a glass of very expensive scotch, surrounded by naked people, watching fire dancers perform to a drumming circle, on a cool mountain under a full moon.

Oh HELL yes!  I LOVED these people!

I was hooked.  I went back to Apogeia and took part in the eternal warfare between cowboys and clowns.  I went to a few other regional parties, promising that I would eventually reach the Burn, and in another year I did.  Now I’m a regular.

So it works, yes?  The regionals as both a hook and a manifestation of Burning Man does the job, right?

Yes but, here’s the thing.  You might have spotted it already.  The first burner experience I ever had, the one that hooked me on to the whole thing, was almost completely unlike Burning Man in almost every way.

It took place in the mountains.  I was literally immersed in water.  It lasted for a weekend.  Instead of camping, we spent the night in a luxury hotel sweet we were all chipping in for, and the next morning went shopping in order to make a huge fresh breakfast.  There was a (relatively) small group of people involved.  It was scheduled out pretty tightly.

To one extent or another, all my regional experiences have been this way.  Some have been amazing, some have been dreadful … but none of them have really been anything “like” Burning Man.

That’s not because of a lack of expertise.  In fact I’m going to risk offending some friends here by saying that the burner events I like the least are usually thrown by experienced burners in San Francisco.  These are the same people who make Burning Man happen – literally – and yet their Decom/Precom/Holiday/Thank You/Keynote/Summit parties leave me annoyed and bored. They’re everything I hate crammed into one industrial or gallery space – except that I know and love these people.

Some of it is an issue of place:  the environment you’re in matters.  Some of it is an issue of population:  how many people you bring matters.  Some of it is an issue of duration:  how long it lasts matters.  A lot of it is the people and the expectations they bring … and frankly “Burning Man” does so well what “San Francisco” does so badly.  But a lot of it is also intangibles, and the bottom line is this:  Regionals will never be Burning Man.  Most won’t even get close.

That can be great.  I wouldn’t have traded some of my regional experiences for anything – and some of the best have been the least like Burning Man.  Some of the worst have tried way too hard and been sadly derivative.

But for a whole combination of factors, beginning with the Nevada desert, no regional will ever be an equivalent experience to Burning Man.  Ain’t gonna happen.

So when we talk about the regionals picking up the slack for a Burning Man that can’t accommodate all ticket-seekers in the future, what are we talking about?

We may say they’re going to spread Burning Man culture, but in fact they’re going to reinvent it.  Which is what they have to do (and to some extent are already doing) if they’re going to thrive.  They will be (and perhaps already are) more and more successful the more they find their own identities.  Inspired by Burning Man, but not derivative of it — the way the best theme camps at Burning Man are inspired by the event but doing their own thing.  The very best of them may actually run out of DJs.

Honestly I have very mixed feelings about that, but I think it’s inevitable:  even if Burning Man expands by getting its own private site, I suspect the eventual alternative to a burner culture led by the regionals is decline.

Perhaps it’s a fundamental truth:  when you change the world, it changes you.

The thought terrifies me.  But I still have faith in abundance.  There are now more pilgrims to Burning Man than it can accommodate in a week.  That generates energy, and what the people who can’t get in to Burning Man decide to do with it will change us.

We could do worse than have them expend it in their local Burner communities.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at)



About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

11 Comments on “Can the regionals pick up the ticket sale slack – and transform Burning Man?

  • Dearest Caveat;
    I posted a few true heartfelt journals entries tonight – your call to blog made me react – what I didn’t mention was that my first burn, in ’01, when I came from Florida was because my father had been going to BM in the ’90’s (in his late 60’s) and INSISTED that I attend – use old man daddy voice here – “I know what’s going on, and this is the grooviest thing going on on the planet” Well- he was right and I’m a proud second generation burner – if it takes regionals to pass on the feeling of love and caring and respect and bewilderment, so be it – I would never want someone to miss out on this amazing opportunity, and let’s be honest, it does take some serious resources to get to BM, especially if you don’t live in the general area.To be denied the experience that helped shape me, well, I”m not sure I can go there…

    BUT at the same time – there is the idea of commitment and as you announce or pronounce that perhaps regionals are the answer, may I just ask how will that impact the idea of sacrifice, because BM is also all about sacrifice, is it not? Perhaps your bloggers could please comment; Specifically, how getting to BM, which is so difficult, is part of the pleasure? May I add that we are not wealthy people and I’ve NEVER traveled outside of the continental US…I know that I sacrifice my abiltiy to visit other countries (AND US States – no Hawaii for me) and I hear about it from non BM’s all the time -why wouldn’t I take my hard earned money and go to Thailand, etc. -They think I’m an idiot – perhaps:) The answer is so personal -I make the commitment to go to BM – and when I see people come to BRC from all over the world it is a powerful statement – how will regionals work if we are seperated?

    Just a bit confused why we think there needs to be a solution when I’m not sure there is a problem – as I said in my previous post, it may not be fair, but not everyone gets to have a “beach cottage” or a pony and perhaps, not everyone gets to go to BM – It’s a vetting out process. Now that the secret is out and the world knows that this is the place to be, well…maybe some of us need to give up our seats on this ride….Sigh….Think I’d rather have that than regionals.

    Regional folks – pls. don’t beat me up – it’s just about the journey as well as the arrival:)

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  • hunnybear says:

    Funny, because our regional (Playa Del Fuego) has had the problem of more people wanting to attend than tickets available for the past 2-3 years :D And I know of one other (possibly not an official regional) that only people who have attended in the past have a shot at getting tickets. Out on the east coast, regionals are very much in demand and not ready to handle an influx of more people.

    I say the more regionals the better – they will never replace Burning Man but they will evolve it and expand to reach more people. I especially love hearing about ideas for bringing the 10 principles and the burner attitude to everyday life and not making it just a few weekends out of the year.

    To me that’s where the real future is – and yes it will be something that looks completely different than living in the Black Rock Desert for a week – which is why it will never replace the actual event itself.

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  • PaddyD says:

    Buy the desert and scale it.

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  • Hug Slut says:

    AfrikaBurn is held in a desert that looks so much like the Playa, you’ll think you’re seeing photos of Burns from 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t know how close the culture is to Black Rock City, but I’m thinking of going there next year instead to find out. Who else wants to come?

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  • Sad About This says:

    What I would love is if Burning Man can do something to prevent the chance of getting a ticket coming down to how fast your internet connection is when they go on sale. I think past ticket holders should have a 24 hour window of privilege before sales are open to everyone – this is a challenge to radical inclusion, yes, but I’d argue preferable to an internet-speed based lottery, which is a challenge to the culture of the event.

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  • Osden Coolidge says:

    You guys are a bunch of baffling clowns.

    Whining about how your anti-esablishment festival doesnt have enough tickets because of the permit rules. Reminds me of all the “non-conformists” who dress EXACTLY the same as all the others.

    Gimme a break. This f—ing rule fest has more firggin rules than the Republican Party Retirement Board meetings.

    What happened to Burning Man? Who the f— runs this thing these days? Some power hungry jackasses with nothing better to do all year than make more friggin rules!

    Rules about cameras, gates, media, rides, blah blah friggin blah — you guys really want to be so anti-establishment?


    1) tell the busy-body goons running this show to back off with the 28 pages of rules (which they wont do)
    2) so, start your own festival right next door
    3) when the sherrif comes to give you a hard time because you dont have a permit- tell him this is America and, yes, it is public leand and you aint leavin other than by gunpoint
    4) pull out your trusty camera and tape it for YouTube — sherrif wants to bash your head, he can deal with the publicity

    When you’re done with your festival (or done getting beat up by the sherrif, depening how it plays out) burn the f—ker to the ground! …. and mean it

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  • tommy says:

    Osden Coolidge you are right on. What went wrong with you Burning Man? Did old age,money, and conformity get to you?Did you forget the essence of the burn? You need to light the man up with all that money you collected… it is all wasted and dirty money anyway.

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  • jimmu says:

    Abundance is not sustainable nor will it ever be, instead merely a waypoint to scarcity as even one day the mother earth herself will hang the sign “sorry, sold out no vacancy” in just the way the universe intended. Our reaction of course validates the experiment, which will be described eloquently and to the point by a single precise word … extinction. Then and only then will it begin anew, in another universe far away. We are inconsequential can’t you see? Life is to be lived in abundance until it no longer can be…

    Enjoy the ticket for whichever “event” purchased and of course at the price willingly paid as eventually it will be punched – the ultimate transition.

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  • Javier Espana says:

    That’s funny…jajaja! Burning Man will have churches now:
    “Burning Man” itself would become a kind of pilgrimage site that the faithful try to get to once in a while, but “Burning Man” culture would be led by dozens of regional events around the globe.

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  • Hedmekanik says:

    Once a year on a baking hot plain in the middle of nowhere, a temporary city takes shape as an eclectic community numbering thousands of artists, makers, movers, shakers and doers gathers. Together they create a beautiful cacophony of structures, spaces, artpieces, music and mobile art. For all their differences, they are the same – all of them come looking for something more in a place where they are able to unleash their creativity through radical self-expression whilst participating in a whirlwind desert romance that lasts a week.

    They’re a hardy bunch, being damned well self-reliant, but they’ve a heart of gold which reaches out to anyone who cares to join them, gifting their way through it all and welcoming anyone prepared to join them in their crazy dance amongst the flames and the dust.

    Sound familiar?

    Come to AfrikaBurn.

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