Festivals vs. Burning Man

The topic keeps coming up, so I spent a few minutes talking about what I perceive as the main differences between “festivals” and “Burning Man.”


FESTIVAL: Organizers curate lineup & entertainment.

BURNING MAN: Organizers establish Framework only.


FESTIVAL: Ticket bought in exchange for entertainment. (Transactional)

BURNING MAN: Ticket bought to contribute your share of the city infrastructure costs. (Participatory)


FESTIVAL: Attendees are either Entertainers, Staff, or Audience

BURNING MAN: Every participant is Host, Medic, Janitor, Tour Guide, Audience and Entertainer.


FESTIVAL: Physical division between stages & RV and camping area.
BURNING MAN: No “Stages” area vs. “Camping” Area


Agree? Disagree? Other distinctions I missed?

UPDATE: Grey Beard correctly pointed out that this is just the tip of the sand dune.  Study up on the 10 Principles, like “Gifting,” to see the deep differences.


About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast HugNation.com. Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at www.PlayaPrinciples.com

8 Comments on “Festivals vs. Burning Man

  • I think you hit the nail
    You forgot the poetry and philosophy corner (as are your contributions)
    Maybe there is also the aspect you have no certainty of anything at BM

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  • shotty otter says:

    While I agree with all of this, I really don’t see why each of us can’t take that participatory sprit to every event. Rock that sexy costume. Dance yer butt off. Get off your high horse and get down. Black Rock is great, but $450 can go a long way in other “festi” contexts. Ive gone to BRC 11 times and its the most Ive ever paid for a porta potty and BLM law enforcement. (That my federal taxes already subsidize). I will keep doing it again and again, don’t get me wrong, but not without a long, hard, jaded-as-fuck, hummmmmmmm. At least its not Cochella which is backed by AEG and Philip Anchutz. A closet billionare backing anti LBGT programs. Sorry for the rant <3!

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  • Grey Beard says:

    Great start. One needs to just revisit the Burning Man 10 Principles to extract other differences between festivals and Burning Man … like Gifting. Some festivals in small measure may do some gifting … but not like on the playa where there is way more self-less-ness about giving material (or spiritual) things to other people with no strings attached.

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  • Soul Patch says:

    Another point I would make, in addition to BM ORG creating the base infrastructure, if not for DGS ticket sales, which guarantee that theme camps know we have a set amount of tickets we can count on to line up the folks we need run our Theme Camps. If Camp organizers had to count on regular sale tickets, planning would be near impossible.

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  • syrendipity says:

    To me, Burning Man and festivals seem the inverse of each other.

    Burning Man is the music and art and people; profit isn’t the goal.

    Festivals are produced events featuring art and music.

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  • TwoHott says:

    Thanks dude. As usual, you nailed it.

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