Plug-n-play, Yea or Nay?

The rumor is that BMOrg is now asking “Plug-n-Play” camps to pay them 3% of revenues. This is a similar deal to what Westfield offers their mall tenants.

To me, Plug-n-Play camping is a natural evolution of Burning Man. The event is a major logistics exercise. The more times you go through it, the better you get at logistics. After a while, some members of your camp will accumulate RVs, trailers, generators, sound systems, lights, bean bags, teepees and domes, bikes, all kinds of stuff that they can re-use AND share with their friends and camp-mates.

On a larger scale, the bigger, older, better camps like Disorient and Opulent Temple know what they are doing, they have their shit together, they pull off a major logistical exercise and deal with every drama that comes up, time and again, with few to no failures. The amount of money they charge is insignificant, in contrast to what it would cost you to have a similar level of amenity and organization in your own camp.

So, if you’re a first time Burner, or just not an expert in logistics, what is wrong with camping with people who know what they’re doing? To me this makes all the sense in the world, and if you have the option to get in with one of these camps, my advice is to go for it.

This conversation with some Plug-n-Play camp members was interesting, I am on their side and think it’s great what they’re doing. Moving Burning Man into the St Regis age and out of the Bedouin age.

For example, Playaskool had:

60 RVs

20 Tents

8 Yurts

1 Teepee

200 people

Their members paid dues to create a camp that was highly interactive with the festival. They built a schoolhouse and had curated classes, including the first TED at Black Rock City. They had numerous art cars, and threw a 7-hour party with international superstar DJ Lee Burridge.

Headmaster Janus says:

Hopefully some of you were able to come and participate in our Interactive heavy schedule last year that included daily talks, classes, demonstrations in our SkoolHouse as well as hosting the first-ever TEDxBlackRockCity at our camp — an incredible venue to share some of the great voices and incredible Ideas Worth Spreading from OUR wonderful community. Or perhaps you stumbled on our Sunday Graduation party with the amazing Lee Burridge spinning for 7 hours leading up to the Temple Burn? Hundreds of people were there and the moment was, for me, sublime — We had envisioned this very party while planning Play)A(Skool, and that vision was eclipsed by the true beauty of the moment.

Our gifts to the Burning Man community not only included these incredible events, but we also shared 8 different art cars in our camp including Shaggadelica – the big furry bus, Shagillac, Christina (the 70ft boat), The Scorpion, BalanceVille, FishTank I and II, and others. One of our campers created the now viral video called, “Home” — which hopefully you’ve seen? Images of Burning Man that were featured in many global media outlets from a number of famous Burner photographers — yes — they too are from Play)A(Skool

Play)A(Skool started from organizing their volunteer plan. A lot of people were spending their efforts on developing art work and art cars through the year off the Playa. When they arrived, they wanted to come with an RV, plug it into an existing structure, and have the pumping, power and water ready to go. They asked around from experienced Burners and what they wanted, and what had worked for them in the past.

So part of the Burner culture community to Burning Man, is how to efficiently run a whole camp without anyone missing out.

Some other comments from the discussion video…

Terry Schoop – Black Rock City Community Services Manager. “Burning Man has a tradition of camps who provide opulent services for participants.”

Jon La Grace aka Headmaster Janus: :“We missed the whole vendor pass thing – in the theme camp guide, it says you have to have it, we also needed certification from the Nevada State Department of Health, because we were serving food to more than 120 people.”

Table Nectar Catering, Andy Tanehill and Kimberly Morabito – in their everyday business, deal with project management and catering issues.

We build 2 camps – [one for the guests and] a crew camp, separate comissary, our own chill zone, bar; we create community within that zone, and a support network; we are service providers in an environment that is diametrically opposed to providing service. Every camp we’ve been involved with has shown up in the green zone, we’ve prepared for it and know what to expect. The people in our crew are Burners, who are involved in other projects out there.

The issue of “Plug and Play” directly affects gate, placement team, DPW (heavy equipment operators, safety concerns), restoration crew. Suppliers to the camp are not necessarily participants, they need to get in and out quickly without dealing with Exodus issues. When the party is over, workers may be there for a week or more trying to make that Moop Map Green

I’ll let Headmaster Janus have the last word:

We are a camp of 200 of the most incredible, giving, wonderful, dedicated Burners who come from all over the world for a week in the desert — to fill our creative well, to let go, to demonstrate a craft or realize a dream. For some it’s about building art and art cars and participating in conversations about how to bring these incredible gifts back to the default world. I’m proud of our Plug and Play camp and campers as I think we exemplify the creative spring and the fabric of Burning Man. I think we are a model community in many ways — and therefore really hope to continue the conversation about what Plug and Play means

50 comments on “Plug-n-play, Yea or Nay?

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  12. This is SOOO beyond disappointing that Burning Man would even entertain the ideas presented in this article, let alone start “taxing” theme camps. How is that not leading the Burning Man culture right into the same exact social issues we deal with in our ‘default world’? Almost every BM Principle goes out the window here and Burning Man becomes Club Med. Am I missing something here or are we completely departing from radical self reliance and communal effort? Are we not trying to live in an experimental society that is driving towards a more sustainable future? The plug n play camps should be left alone to govern themselves and evolve naturally and BMOrg should focus on things that promote the principles the event is built on. As soon as they openly support the act of “paying your way out of responsibility”, and profit from it….well, then how are we ANY different from our main stream, broken, society?

    From reading just a few of the above comments, its clear that “burners” are already taking advantage of opportunities to make a profit on the playa and the intentions of the majority are beginning to shift. I feel the shift was fueled by the 2012 ticketing situation and if the BMOrg doesnt make it a priority to protect the ethos of the 10 principles, ESPECIALLY during this time of rapidly increasing attendance, well, then we’re screwed. When there is such a large influx of virgins attending the event, obviously there will be a noticeable demand for “amenities” and all-inclusive packages that make their lives easier. So instead of meeting their demand and completely disregarding the point of Burning Man, why not make a COMMUNAL EFFORT to teach the virgins about, for example, radical self reliance – something that will not only benefit them personally but also will benefit the society (default world & playa).

    I know there are many sides to this conversation, like for example, how the fees can help fund art grants or how logistics can become more efficient, BUT I believe that these challenges present opportunities to experiment with new, innovative solutions instead of reverting back to systems that we know dont work.

    I hope the BMOrg understands the incredible opportunity they have to effect change on not only the people who attend the event, but also the outside world THROUGH those people. The decisions they make have a very powerful trickle down effect and this potential Plug N Play camp fee could change the fabric of Black Rock City.

    • What has happened is similar to the Operator game, where the story gets morphed the more it is re-told. The 3% “rumor” is a rumor. It seems this was a “comment” on the burning man blog, and doesn’t really have any context.

      And so, context…. 🙂

      The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the land where the Burning Man event takes place. Commercial activity on Public Lands managed by the BLM requires a Special Use Permit, which outlines cost recovery fees they have, including charging 3% of adjusted revenues. This has nothing to do with a fee imposed by Burning Man (BRC). This does not apply to theme camps.

      The BLM imposes this fee on anybody that provides outfitting services or vending on Public land that they manage. Again, BRC has no connection to this charge.
      Nothing new – been like this for years. They even charge BRC 3%. Same goes for race car events, guided tours, etc. Just google BLM Special Use Permits & Vending.

      Did I mention, BRC and the BLM are not taxing theme camps.

      As an example of a non Burning Man Event, see page 2 from Just google “ultra4racing” and “blm permit”

      The Burning Man special recreation use permit is also on public record. If you search for the SRP, you will see this in section 25:
      “BLM shall collect a fee from BRC for the use of public lands for the event. The fee as set by Regulation 43 CFR 2930, will be equal to 3% of adjusted income derived from the use authorized under the SRP…”

      • Thank you for the context. I guess it still leaves me with the question – isn’t “outfitting services or vending” in BRC (on said Public Land) supposed to be prohibited in accordance with with 10 principles?

        How much is a virgin going to learn about the Burning Man experience if they are given the option to show up, pay to plug in and go play. Whats the difference between Burning Man and Coachella for that person, then? Aren’t we going out into the middle of a harsh desert to learn something about survival, which in turn teaches us about becoming efficient (pack only what you need), self reliant (don’t rely on someone else to take care of you) and then at some stage reach a point where you can GIFT a service or good to someone else BECAUSE YOU WANT TO (not because you are paid to or have to).

        I thought the whole point was to experiment with a society wherein, on the base level, EVERY citizen is responsible for their OWN experience and is reliant on THEMSELVES for survival. Out of that foundation, theme camps come together on similar interests, art projects, collective gifting, etc – not to be a hotel (or so I thought). If we welcome virgins into BRC and completely remove the first step of learning about being responsible for themselves and the world they create around them, then we are taking a HUGE part of the Burning Man experience away and, as the BRC Manager in the video puts it, “eroding the event”.

        I may be alone in this, but since the Burning Man event changed the way I experience community and taught me about the direct effect we have on our society as individuals, the idea of departing from those priorities saddens me. My first year, I had to work my ass off in a theme camp and it was very hard work, but the satisfaction I got out of contributing to the whole was priceless and made me a better person and an ACTIVE participant in my community, on and off playa. If I had just shown up, checked into my “BRC Hotel” and partied, I would have let with nothing but a hangover.

        I guess we will see how it all plays out 🙂

      • Correct Karoline, Outfitting and Vending is not allowed in BRC.

        This should not be confused with BRC being against “commerce”. We realize the community needs to buy supplies to make the city work. Food, shelter, build materials, gas, propane, and the list goes on. We do our best to facilitate “deliveries” of materials (such as equipment and supplies needed to build the temple, art, etc.).

        One primary goal is to avoid on site “exchange of money”. There is no way for us to stop what people do outside burning man. Part of radical inclusion means everyone should be allowed to participate in what ever form suits them (as long as it doesn’t cause harm or massively disrupt the experience of others).

        For example, if there is a participant with some form of mobility disability, we should not take issue with them setting up a pre-arranged delivery of an RV for their experience. If they (or anybody for that matter) want to go through the trouble and expense paying for a ticket to have a friend or driver bring in an RV, nothing stopping them. There are also artists out there for weeks building large structures. The last thing they have time for is thinking about cooking, fixing tents, etc. In that scenario they are highly participatory. So if they have camp mates providing meals, shelter or hire out help to bring in living quarters, this too can be seen as radical self reliance. They figured out how to make their camping experience happen & still participate.

        Hope that helps.

        • I realize this is about 2 years later but I wanted to toss in my comments on this as I have camped in a village that supported a “turnkey” camp (or as I like to call it, a “Burning Man Cruise” camp 🙂 First, there are various flavors of these camps… Some are in fact quite participatory and do contribute to the event and are in keeping for the most part with much of the spirit of Burning Man (like Play)a(skool and Disorient and Sacred Spaces). Then there are the so-called “CEO” camps which are completely different (like Kandiland which for several years was part of Fandango Village and provided a $20,000+ experience for about 40 “guests” which was completely non-participatory, radically exclusive and sad, at least from my perspective). I am not opposed to camps and villages setting up structure for themselves and creating specializations (cooking, handling power, setting up structures, even bringing in RVs) for people in camp. That is the nature of society as it evolves. What I am opposed to is the idea of the Burning Man organization facilitating “turnkey” camps by providing SPECIAL services like “vendor passes” and special entrance/exits for service providers which enhance the ability of someone to create a “cruise” camp. Whether a camp is exclusive or not is up to the camp… I would hope that camps would NOT do that, but radical inclusion includes the notion of including those who might see things differently than you. BUT WE ALL SHOULD PLAY BY THE SAME RULES and one of the rules has always been that EVERYONE who passes through the gates (with the SOLE exception being certain BM staff required to support the event) comes in the same way, with their own ticket acquired in the same way as everyone else’s ticket. So there is no room, in my book, for “service providers” except those that BM deems necessary for the ENTIRE city (such as Camp Artica and Ramparts) which are mostly staffed by volunteers and are available to all for the same cost (either low like ice from Artica or free like medical services). If they also want to provide a single RV pumping service or water provider that EVERYONE can take advantage of, I am fine with that too. But the idea that a camp can hire their own caterer and get a SPECIAL pass for that caterer that doesn’t require a ticket so that they can jump the line to provide high-quality meals to their “guests” on the playa should be barred. Any “turnkey” camp should be (as someone else said) “on their own” having to deal with things just as the rest of us do. If they can manage to acquire tickets for all their “providers” and can get them on and off the playa through the same gate we all come in through, I can’t argue with their resourcefulness, but it will dramatically reduce the level of “turnkey” camping that is NOT participatory. I have NO problem at all with the truly participatory camps because those camps “get it” and are bringing people to the playa but still being part of our city. I just don’t want the carpetbaggers who lock the rest of us out, stay inside their enclave, and yet are able to do so because they really don’t have to worry about any of the important details which they can just throw money at. Just my $.02.

          Bleurose (Jon R., HOTD)

      • thanks for your comments Sherlock. While I appreciate your point of view, it is not what the BLM Special Use Permit says. It specifically outlines some of the particular types of vending that they collect their 3% fee on, and also provides an “other” catch-all. BMOrg charges fees to those making money at the event, such as the producers of the Spark movie. We recently heard a story of a propane gift that could not be accepted, because it was from the “wrong” supplier. Everybody wants their cut.
        Camps have dues, so what, it’s nothing new and everyone should just deal with it. If you don’t want to stay in a camp with dues, don’t; if you don’t want to stay in an RV, don’t. If you can’t stay in the desert for an extra week packing up once the party’s over and most people left, then consider what you can Gift to those who are.
        Be welcoming and inclusive to those who organize their camps, because most of the art , music, lighting, flame effects, and art cars were brought to you by them – the people who know WTF they’re doing, and know how to do the Playa in comfort and style.

    • P.S. – Im not sure why i was assigned that ‘angry face’ avatar! LOL! Definitely not angry about this subject – just passionate. 🙂

      I believe Plug N Play camps – as well and any other theme camp evolutions – should be left alone to naturally evolve within the flow of the surrounding BM community. If the BMOrg wants to directly effect the community that is built by us every year, I feel it should focus on maintaining the ethos of the guiding 10 principles. Obviously there are a lot of things that the BMOrg has to deal with outside of that week long community, things that make that community possible (BLM fees, logistics, red tape, politics, etc etc), and I am GRATEFUL that they take this on. Without the efforts of the BMOrg, there would be no community to experiment with and no place for thinking outside of the box at such scale. so THANK YOU – it has truly changed my life, which why I’m passionate about protecting the essence of event and continue to engage in these conversations off the playa.


  13. P.S. @ Burnerxxx — Now please don’t forget the not-so-well-know Starlets – There are many fine ones out there.

  14. Burning man isn’t a vacation. Do you think it is? I sure don’t. Money does not equal experience points. Go pay and play in Acapulco or something. You won’t have to lift a finger there.
    Seriously. Burning Man is not a vacation.

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  17. Pay-n-play camping is pointedly antithetical what makes Burning Man so wonderful. Nothing says this more clearly than Headmaster Janus -aka- Jon La Grace talking about how people come up to him and tell him they don’t like such camps and he’s all “what’s with that?” Dude, if you don’t get it, how in the world can you be providing a meaningful Burning Man experience?

    Burning Man is about a million things, but it includes:
    * packing amazing amounts of stuff
    * getting there despite breakdowns
    * finding the stuff you forgot via the kindness of strangers
    * setting up camp yourself
    * watching your camp get blown-down
    * putting it back up better and stronger (learning, get it Jon?)
    * having a good time but being at least 50% responsible for the work that gets you there

    pay-n-play camping eliminates all of this. It creates a class of burner that doesn’t understand what it’s about. Since they’ve PAID and dearly, they wait to be entertained and fed. They won’t share. They couldn’t help someone out even if they wanted to. It also creates another class that does get it, but is too busy earning a living to enjoy it.

    Good gracious, how can ANYONE argue FOR this stuff?

    • after a while of setting your camp up and watching it blow down, or going to the portapotties only to find there’s no paper and no water, you realize life is much easier in an RV. If you’re smart, then after 10 years of Burning Man your income will be higher at the end than at the start. Therefore, you become more able to afford an RV. “Where do you draw the line” about what is “acceptable” camping and what is “against Burners” is a silly question IMO. Having said that I do agree with a lot of the points you’ve made about the Burning Man experience.

      • Sorry but I disagree with Plug and Play camps. If someone watches their camp blown away each year and goes to the porta-potties with out toilet paper or doesn’t bring enough water — well I kinda see that as Karma — and one year hopefully, sooner than later, they’ll get it right. Camping in the enviroment is part of the experience and a learning curve.

        I think plug and play camps tend to isolate people – in a class/race kind of way. I’ve had opportunities to join a plug a so called Plug-and-play camp but you’ll never see me where the “Servants” and the “Participants” aren’t together. Sorry – “Money Wins” more often than not but I see Plug-n-Play camps as just more elitist “He with the most toys wins” mentalilty. That went out with the 80’s yet is just another part of our current troubled consumer society.

        PS Fix this site so the forward, back, up and down arrows show an activate cursor as you move back and forth through your post as you write it . Thanks!

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  24. You missed the point. Commercial vendors have greatly increased at BM. These are for profit companies charging anywhere from $4,000 – 15,000 for services including fully stocked trailers, complete camps, art car rentals, flying people in & out of the event, etc. these businesses require a BLM vendor permit at 3% of gross receipts. This also flys in the face of the 10 principles. You can buy a camp fly in play & leave without contributing anytnig toward the event.

    • it seems like some people see “contribution” and “camping” as the same thing. to me , you could stay in a plug and play camp and still contribute – they’re two different things

  25. Opulent Temple is not a plug and play camp. A plug and play camp provides your tent, sets it up for you, cooks your meals, does your dishes, provides private porta-potties and showers, provides a bike, etc. All you have to do is show up. Plug and Play’s ofter charge around 2 to 3K per person.

    Opulent Temple is a very well organized camp and yes, they do have it down but you work when you camp at OT.

    • apologies for any confusion – I was just praising Opulent Temple for being a well organized camp, I didn’t mean to imply that they were one of the dreaded “Plug-n-Play” camps. What I meant was that if this is your first camp at Burning Man, don’t expect that it will be Opulent Temple right away. If you want that experience, maybe they will let you camp with them; or, you can fast track your way to something like it with one of the plug-n-play camps.

      • I disagree. It’s not hard to get involved and camp with camps like Opulent Temple. All you have to do is demonstrate a willingness to work and get involved. If you contacted them right now and said, “how can I help” (they throw events all year long), “I’m willing to do what ever is needed”, you’d have a pretty good chance of getting in. Now is the time to get involved in those big camps. There is lots of work to be done, fundraisers to be thrown, etc….. Big art camps in particular need people to build the art, You can spend your summer building the art, make tons of new friends, learn new skills and you will have a really cool camp to camp with.

        I think you are confusing plug and play camps with large camps that have lots of amenities. For example The Red Nose District. They are a camp that has a meal plan you can buy into, private porta-potties, showers, cooled chill space, etc. I think the meal plan was like $300 and the dues were $150. BUT in addition you had to commit to help run the camp by either crewing at one of the performances in their big top, working in the kitchen, etc…. You cant just pay your money and do nothing, you’ll get kicked the fuck out. You set up your tent, etc. Not so at a Plug and Play camp.

        At a Plug and Play camp you don’t have to do anything and they offer no public amenities, they don’t have a theme, aren’t offering classes, etc… It’s like a hotel on the playa. You paid your three grand and you are a guest. When the BMORG talks about plug and play camps this is what they mean. A plug and play camp is a business that exists just to provide all this to someone who does not want to lift finger.

        • This is clearly on target. We shouldn’t confuse “plug and play” or “turnkey” camps with well-run large contributory/participatory camps that have great organization and even some specialization. At HOTD (my camp) I set up the shower for the entire camp, and I cook one meal for the week and in exchange I get fed all the other meals by others. I set up my own camp but it can be an RV (that is totally cool in my book, I am NOT opposed to people, especialy aging people like myself, having comfort that works for them in a harsh environment). I help with set up and tear down and mooping like everyone else. We have a few “hangers” who come late, leave early, don’t participate much and enjoy the amenities, but most of them disappear after a year or two. We are informal but pretty well organized and we all love each other and we welcome in the entire playa to our bar and stage (live music, no electronica!) every year (for 15 years now). We have a minor level of dues, $100, which includes paying for our camp truck that brings most of our stuff up for us from the bay area and pays for things like one private porto that we can use late at night (during the day we try to use the regular provided public portos and keep the private one for emergencies). Burning Man Cruise camps provide a hotel or ship-like environment (someone else called it Club Med which was also appropriate 🙂 ) with everything done for you from start to finish, and they (for the most part) do not encourage participation or mixing with the “riff raff”. And I am not even conceptually opposed to those camps. If you can figure out how to do that within the regular requirements of attending burning man (pay for tickets for all your staff, have them all get in at opening day in the same crush that all the rest of us put up with, bring in enough water and power and spare parts to handle the entire week) more power to you! That is “radical self-reliance” if in a very bizarre way. What bugs the shit out of me is when the BMorg provides special privileges to those groups (vendor passes, for instance) that would not be available to the rest of us or would cost us so much that it wouldn’t be worth it and which provide special access to the event (vendors do NOT have to wait in the long lines like everyone else, as far as I know, they come in a special service entrance).

      • I think we’re splitting hairs Bobzilla. Someone might want a “hotel room on the Playa” because they have spent all their time and money and effort on a mad art car that they drive everyone around in for hours. Does this make them less of a Burner, than someone who volunteers for 3 shifts of 2 hours each serving lentils in the Red Nose district? Or someone in an RV with a hot sparkle pony cooking and cleaning for them?

        Surely the contribution to the party is more important than the level of amenity they desire in their camp. I know that I camp in far more opulence and luxury today than when I started out in 1998 – I can afford to and I have learned to.

      • >someone in an RV with a hot sparkle pony cooking and cleaning for them?

        i’ve never seen a sparkle pony cook or clean. one time i saw one pull out a piece of rebar and the entire camp exploded in applause. 40 years of feminism!

  26. there’s no limit on P&P opportunities at burning man. i run one of the fire conclaves, and we’ve received requests from P&Ps to perform at private parties within these camps. this kind of money will help supplement our costs and without it, some of us couldn’t attend.

    with P&P camps finally being brought into the light, we no longer have to feel embarrassed about earning money at burning man. beyond performances, there are a lot of ways to make money out there that we’re currently exploring.

    • BMorg has shown that they’re all about money; why shouldn’t the Burner community be too? We are the ones spending all the money. “Radical Inclusion” may have been a noble principle when 3000 people attended Burning Man, but with 60,000+ (and half of them n00bs), security becomes an issue, and private parties are inevitable. I was bummed when security knocked me back from the Big Duck Art car, but there are limits of safety and physics to how many people can be on it at one time. Therefore exclusion is required.

      • Playaskool is definitely a PnP camp; this year part of Aspire Village, which seemed to be a collection of events, at various venues up 3:00, linked together by a desire to give the rich and hip a place to ‘be’. Weird neighbors. MV that had to be towed, fully loaded with private parties, around the playa (WTF). All players, no participants. Separated ‘service’ crew (WTF). Hired crews built, then left. Denizens arrived (lots of airport shuttles), played, left Sunday night. Deserted high end RV lot. Monday, strike crew arrives (WTF, where’s MY strike crew??) Esplanade bedroom placement for the posh, featuring a LOUD soundscape of classes and thumpa, heard from a block away. Loud, obnoxious, elitist, absent, exclusive, privileged, irritating… enlightening.

    • I’m down with you Bobzill -great points – Thanks for making the clarification. Burnersxxx, I somehow think, while you maybe more than half serious youabout your liking PnP camps that you are also trolling ~ but I understand why too. Interesting and thought provoking site.

  27. PnP camps have been great for me. I own a mutant vehicle with a friend that holds 20 people, it has a full bar, flame throwers and nice sound system. Since 2007, we’ve been hired out by PnP camps as private escorts. We hire out either day or night packages. Our average package earns us $2,000. We’ve been hired at at $8,000 from sunset to sunrise by some seriously connected peeps. The people are cool and it’s a lot of fun just going wherever they want. I’ve banged a few well-known starlets as a result of this, and I have nothing negative to say about being hired to serve this demand. This is the way forward for BM.

    This year I’m totally booked by PnP camps and will make enough money to pay for half of next year’s living expenses. Living the dream!

      • Wow, you people are the prime example of what went wrong with Burning Man. Charging folks $8,000.00 per night for the same art car you’ve brought since 2007? “Banging well known starlets” in exchange for a ride on this stupid expensive to rent old ass art car. I can really feel your love for the community in your messages. You don’t feel the need to kick any of that money back to BMOG to help pay for the art, or the clean up, or the low income ticket supply?


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