Burning Man Turns 25


This year, Burning Man, which began as an annual gathering of anarchist punks from San Francisco, turns 25. For the original crowd, going to the “playa” — as the desert two hours north of Reno where the event is still held is called — was a chance for a cowboy interlude without consequences: They threw bricks on their accelerators and flew around the desert at 80 miles an hour, shooting guns from the backseat. In the mid-nineties, engineers and programmers from Silicon Valley co-opted the festival, adding performance art, faux-political agitprop, and exhibitionistic sexual gags. These days, Burning Man has morphed into the U.S.’ largest dance party, in which thousands of people — the woodland fairies from Oregon, hippies from Santa Cruz, and nightclubbers from everywhere — gather for dusk-until-dawn electronic dance parties, often held in the shadow of a large-scale art installation. The same rules that have always governed the event are still in effect: No money is exchanged inside the event other than the price of the entrance ticket ($360 this year). The event does not provide anything for you, neither shelter, water, alcohol, a power grid, showers, nor even a garbage can — you must pack out all your gear and trash. The average age of attendees is 36, according to UCLA fellow Megan Mullet, who has conducted extensive research at the “Burn,” as it is called, but everyone remains young at heart. “Last year, you could be walking around where people were sleeping and hanging out as early as midnight and you hardly saw anybody,” says Brian Doherty, a historian of the event and author of the book This is Burning Man. “At first, I thought, ‘Oh, we’re all old and asleep,’ but then I realized that literally everyone was off somewhere dancing.”