$2 million camps: Gentrification of Burning Man (NYT)

The New York Times published a story by Nick Bilton today (it will be in the print edition Thursday) about Burning Man. They referenced our story about Private Concierge services.

A few different perspectives are presented in this story – by no means all of them. It’s very interesting. He talks of $25,000/head camps where “models” get to go for free. By definition a modelling gig at Burning Man makes you a fetish model, right? At least. It’s a great place to get a week long job if you’re a dancer too. He also tells of camps with “sherpas”, where 12 people had 30 volunteers running around for them.

From the New York Times:

A Line Is Drawn in the Desert – At Burning Man the Tech Elite One-Up each other:

There are two disciplines in which Silicon Valley entrepreneurs excel above almost everyone else. The first is making exorbitant amounts of money. The second is pretending they don’t care about that money.

To understand this, let’s enter into evidence Exhibit A: the annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, Nev.

If you have never been to Burning Man, your perception is likely this: a white-hot desert filled with 50,000 stoned, half-naked hippies doing sun salutations while techno music thumps through the air.

A few years ago, this assumption would have been mostly correct. But now things are a little different. Over the last two years, Burning Man, which this year runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 1, has been the annual getaway for new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.

…“We used to have R.V.s and precooked meals,” said a man who attends Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. (He asked not to be named so as not to jeopardize those relationships.) “Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning.” He added with a sense of amazement, “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

His camp includes about 100 people from the Valley and Hollywood start-ups, as well as several venture capital firms. And while dues for most non-tech camps run about $300 a person, he said his camp’s fees this year were $25,000 a person. A few people, mostly female models flown in from New York, get to go free, but when all is told, the weekend accommodations will collectively cost the partygoers over $2 million.

“Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before,” said Brian Doherty, author of the book “This Is Burning Man.” “It does have this feeling that, ‘Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.’ It’s gentrifying.”

For those with even more money to squander, there are camps that come with “Sherpas,” who are essentially paid help.


Some of the technology elite who have attended Burning Man, include from left, Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin. CreditJeff Chiu/Associated Press, Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, Rick Wilking/Reuters, David Ramos/Getty Images, Robert Galbraith/Reuters


Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare — yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)

“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees.”

Mr. Hanson said he won’t be going back to Burning Man anytime soon. The Sherpas, the money, the blockaded camps and the tech elite were too much for him. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he said. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s now become a mirror of society.”

When the website Burners.me, which blogs about the festival, posted a link to the Key’s site, the Burning Man community seemed generally confused as to whether such extravagance was actually real or if someone was playing a joke. When it turned out to be quite real, people railed against the service, and the Key removed the Burning Man concierge option from its site.

Of course, you won’t likely see pictures on Instagram or Facebook of the $2 million camps, chef-cooked meals, the Sherpa helpers and concierge services, or private and pristine toilets. That would mean that the tech elite actually cared about money

[Read the full article here]

So there you go, trollers. It’s right there in the New York Times: private concierges at Burning Man are real, and there are more companies offering the service than just the Key group. Billionaires and millionaires have always been part of Burning Man. Big Art and Big Sound costs big bucks.

From the most recent Census data, 21% of Burners made US$100,000 per year or more. 2.4% made more than US$300,000 per year. More than half made US$50,000 or more, which in many countries on earth would be considered a fortune. Roughly a quarter were from overseas.




57 comments on “$2 million camps: Gentrification of Burning Man (NYT)

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  13. I’ve been reading a bunch on this topic. 1. Wristbands to get into a camp? That’s sad and they missed the point. 2. paying people to come and take care of you and building for you….. and clean up after you….. then those people missed the point and they they raped the people they hired of their experience. 3. You have money and want to build something…. good for you! Either way Larry Harvey said it best, he said something to the effect that a community is built by people struggling together! That means building, trouble shooting, helping, etc. The partying is so much sweeter when you’ve earned it. Just having money doesn’t make anyone smart, classy or knowledgeable. It’s sad that as a species, somewhere we agreed to trade in our time for some paper and ink and based on that make slaves out of each other. And let’s face it, all of us at this point are simply born into this bondage (matrix). Start sharing, and trading. Get rid of money and watch how fast the ego is gone!!! I give it up for the stealth burners i’ve met over the years. Best part is they just are that way in their life. As for the rest of us,…. keep it real Nothing can destroy our circle!!

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  33. Isn’t Black Rock supposed to be an experiment guided by certain, basic, principles like radical inclusion and decommodification? What do private camps, sherpa’s and concierge service have to do with any of that? And, to what end are we to take this experiment seriously if, it seems, the principles governing it seem to vanish at a certain pay grade? Either Burning Man means what it says it does, or it doesn’t. Either its reflects an ideal, or it doesn’t. I, for one, have no interest in more of the same; flame throwing art cars, sound camps, free smacks be damned. Whats needed are people who stand for something. What’s needed are ideals we can aspire toward. No one needs another festival.

  34. If you ask a veteran burner what BM is they will say it is an experimental city in the Nevada desert. Well, experiments can only go on for so long until they are no longer a test but a reality. It’s Black Rock City. Yes, city. And just like all cities you have basic demographics, and every social class is likely to be represented. The fact that BRC has very wealthy citizens one upping each other does not affect how we look at the burn. Simply put, it verifies that you can take an idea that most would call insane, “experiment” with some more ideas, and turn it into a success. Life is what you make it, and if you think that having more classes represented in the dust is a game changer, you’re probably not a “half full” type of person, and thats not the attitude the playa needs.

    John – 2015 was better.

    • Good point! Take money away from everyone and see a real community emerge! Check out the Venus project! I am surprised not more burners talk about it. The sooner we get rid of money we won’t have classes.

  35. I understand what’s happening to the Burn. It’s selling out. Which is fine. Do that. I’ll go my own way. There’s no one path to enlightenment. What I don’t get is the attitude of the org. We should all at once be thankful the rich grace the event at all, for what would we listen to or look at without them (no sound camps?…no art?…oh my!), then we should also stop complaining because you (the org) facilitates the largess of our benefactors; principles be damned, or, at the very least, not taken so literally?!

  36. These new burning man attendees should do the same as everyone else and share everything they have there that week with all other attendees, as everybody else has to if they are at burning man. Can I borrow your paid guests and models for a little? Lol

    • Bs. No burner is obligated to share everything they have there. Everyone gets to decide for themselves what and how much they will share. No one owes you anything. Everyone is expected to bring everything they themselves will need.

      No one is ruining the event for you, except you. Don’t like it? Don’t go.

      • you have a point kid! but walling your group in and not being communal? That’s kinda against the whole point no? these people don’t get it. Take money away and see how a community transforms! Some folks are stuck in a loophole! And you have a point. Basically fuck them! We make our own BURN!!!

  37. We each go for our own reasons. I couldn’t care less whether the elite want to fence themselves in or share their camp with the world!

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  39. We all the same under the sun 🙂 … is not about how much or how little materials things one or another have…your connection and appreciation for life is what really could make feel the richest in this planet..I am raw chef in San Diego…learned to be inspired and create something new everyday and that whats make me invincible 😉 no matter how flashing or opulent someone else life style is, I would not change who I am for all the gold of hot models of the world 🙂 … I do have intense fun either if I just walk to the BM with my fancy bare foot and my inspire attitude to self amaze, spread inspiration and live life intensively … let the universe where you live, so it will deliver amazing experiences to you…feel the flow, jump in there, is right in front you all the time, waiting for you to senses it and embrace it 🙂
    enjoy the burn 😉

  40. Thinking Outside The Burn: From Burning Man to The Andes … (Warning, this post is very long, proceed at your own risk!) My perspective on Burning Man is a bit unique, and very heartfelt. I share this as one brother who left the States exactly 5 years ago (this Aug. 23rd!), and one who has deep and ever growing love for my friends and family from the Pacific Northwest and worldwide that I have met over the years between 1986 and 2009. Rainbow, Healing, Yoga, and other Gatherings, Music Festivals, Barter Fairs, Dead Shows with Jerry, Sitting with Ammachi (one of her first devotees in the West, meeting her in a living room in 1987 in Santa Cruz), Chanting Hare Krsna (since I was 16, doing yoga and mantra since I was 13), diving deep into my connection with Osho (Sanyas in1985 Rajneeshpuram, devotee since 1981) and most of all, meeting the most amazing, beautiful, wondrous tribe of people over these years.Star and Earth Friends and Family from Galaxies Near and Far (Namaste’ to each of you now), Sisters and Brothers whose beauty, heart, healing, joy, love, wisdom and messages of truth have been the very flavor of my life. After Jerry Garcia died people started telling me about Burning Man. I had less than no interest. Electronic music was not my thing at the time. Finally I succumbed “just once, so I can say I was there!!”. So I went with some friends and a boatload of kombucha and coconuts to share, and ended up having the time of my life. It wasn’t only the most exciting and amazing party ever, or just even the best music and dancing anywhere, it was an awakening. How alive am I? Who am I in a bubble of people who are not part of the sleeping matrix, but are realizing their true selves and dancing and laughing and being very high mirrors and windows for each other. You think you are all “spiritual” and holy? Go to Burning Man and find out! Feeling alone, trapped, confused, stuck, bored, off track or somehow missing something in your life? Go to Burning Man! Dance through your blocks and frustrations to a new you. It’s so easy and feels so good, and the music will inspire you in a way you never thought possible, if you open to it. The best D.J.s on planet earth, with good intentions to uplift and free our family, sounds that will make you want to move and smile.Though clearly there are endless positive evolutions of anything, at this point, if there was ever going to be a currently functioning matrix deprogramming portal… B.M. would be it! Just do it. At least one time in your life… “just to say you did!”. I ended up going back 3 more times, (05-08 in all), and each one was totally unique and growth-full and deeply activating and powerfully inspiring me further on my truest path at the time. I LOVED my Burning Man experiences! And they weren’t all easy either, but they were exactly what I needed always. Burning Man is about being real. It’s about realizing we are not static, and neither is anyone else. We realize we have a choice as to how we show up in this life, and to what extent are we able to allow others to activate and inspire us to new levels in our own lives. We are a river of Awakening Creative Being, not static definition. Removing old clothing we have worn for so long is not always easy or pretty, it can hurt. As much as we may cling to that which is our source of suffering, our limited identifications with our selves, we long to be free from them. This paradox finds a home in Burning Man. We all need comfort levels. It’s not a sin to want to feel good and happy. We can be free and fulfilled at the same time. Sex is not contra to spirit, and body is not contra to soul. We are one river, one being, flowing through our vehicles here, our bodies and lives, our minds and thoughts and experiences and perceptions. But who are we within this amazing tapestry we call life, and what is really going on here anyway, and what is our deepest “showing up” within this story. (Thanks for reading this far, respect.). Aug. 23rd is my 5 year anniversary living in a small village in the Andes Mountains in Peru. I started a non profit organization with the B.M. funds I UpCycled to do my dream. Now I am working in the Indigenous Mountain Communities outside my village, Pisaq, which is located in the Sacred Valley, outside Cusco. My perception of money has changed dramatically, as things are very different here. On the levels of how far money can go, and the good it can do, and the suffering it can relieve, of children or simple people who have almost nothing. It really made me challenge my unseen attitude and expectations. I wonder about the true sustainability of things even amongst the most amazing and evolving festival scene, which is far beyond where it was when I left it in 2009 to say the least!! Honestly, for many, Burning Man IS the Best Party Ever! And that’s all they want. And to me, that’s totally cool! But What if there was a way to have that amazing experience, which really has to be known to be understood, and to enjoy that fully for as many years as we want an need to, on all it’s many profound levels, and then to move through that doorway, passionately propelled through the realizations and guidance and reconnecting that we received at B.M, and take it to the next level, for US. What is our part to play in these times. Once we have gotten everything we needed, and refreshed our inner guidance and creativity to further us profoundly and clearly on our path, what next? How can it be a jumping off point? Consider this, 3 years from now, thousands of people will have spent over the course of those 3 years around $3,000 each. As an example, a group of 33 friends over 3 years comes to $100k. 10K of it goes to throwing 3 Kick @ss Parties/Gatherings, complete with Live Feed from your project site in an Indigenous Community somewhere, and/or the site of your new Eco Village, with music, dance, art, presentations, live yummy food and and everything else you can imagine. Make it a collective Event. Do them locally in key places where there are many burners. In this example, you have $30,000 every year for 3 years to do something with it. I know there are children that are just a few dollars away from having some important upgrades in their lives, and a few more from thriving, but many will never see it. Straight up family there are thousands of the children of the Andes that surround me in dozens and hundreds of Indigenous Communities that are not getting enough good nutrition. The children of the Mountain Tribes where I live do not eat that much fruit. Hundreds, thousands of these most amazing Andean Children are eating artificial gelitin, lolipops, msg, aspartame, partially hydrogenated oils and worse every day. This Breaks My Heart ok? When I see my Conscious Beautiful Tribe back in the States sending thousands upon thousands of dollars on festivals (or whatever) when my little friends have next to nothing, it makes me want to weep. The paradox is I am finding a Deeper Fulfillment that is lasting and growing and dissolving me in it’s love, than any festival ever could. Do you have any clue how far 30k can go in a so called developing country? Far! Precious people’s lives can be profoundly positively impacted. Fully sustainable co collaborative projects that empower and bring expanded nutrition and health and wellness and education and opportunities within indigenous communities that are all but forgotten. Folks can really be blessed up big time with this kind of money. 10k U.S. for example, used wisely in an indigenous community could create clean water, solar light, a fish pond, and expanded organic agriculture and natural medicine. Do you know how good it feels to give an indigenous child the respectful healthy life they deserve when they didn’t have that before? It’s an absolutely beautiful feeling that can really change us and enhance the level of purpose and joy in our own lives to a whole new level. Another thing that can be done with this kind of money is creating land based ecovillages…. for ourselves!! This may be the first consideration, as we always need to start within our own lives, and move outwards from there. How and where could these kind of funds begin to create the best and most effective levels of true sustainability, yielding maximum ongoing dividends, far beyond what even the healing and great photos and memories of B.M. experiences may have brought! Then when you take it to the next level, in so called “developing countries” (South America for example) not only is the rate of exchange often 3 or more times that of the dollar, but also the actual value you get is as well. So, in this example, that 90k becomes over a 1/4 million in value as far as buying land or effecting positive change in an indigenous community. In other words your money goes a lot farther! 3 years from now, tens of thousands of people will have been at B.M. and have great memories, photos, and yes friends, learning, growth etc. to show for it. But following this kind of idea, some folks could have a community, land and homes and gardens, as well as have effected positive change for others. The possibilities are endless. I’m just trying to Think Outside The Burn! Please visit our timeline to see where my journey has taken me or visit our website: http://www.amistadsagrada.com I know you will enjoy seeing the photos of the Indigenous Communities of the Andes where I live and work now. With Love and Respect to All. Namaste from Peru, Sanan 🙂

    • I like your ideas and your thinking. It doesn’t need to be either/or, Burners could do both – have a private concierge, and support projects in the developing world.

  41. I think it is both sad and ironic that those people that are the main drivers of change in the “default world” turn out to be primarily non-participants in this world.

      • No, it doesn’t sounds like they are participating at all.

        “Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in.”

        This sounds like the exact opposite of what participating in Burning Man is, which, at it’s core, is the creation of experiences for all to share. This does not mean I would expect them to have an open door policy in their land yachts / RVs as all camps have certain things just for the members of that camp. The issue is, are they participating or consuming?

        If they are the secret sugar daddies of some of the sounds camps at 2 and 10 or some of the large scale art installations, then fine. If they are coming with nothing but an attitude of who can have the most exclusive personal sushi chef then they can fuck right off.

        • To be fair, I’ve heard that many of these same wealthy “non-participants” also donate vast sums to BMorg to underwrite the event, provide art grants, and donate to other art pieces and mutant vehicles via Kickstarter. These are anonymous donations that are not publicized, essentially subsidizing all of our Burns. It’s just a different method of “participation,” but it is one that is critical to make a successful, over-the-top event

          I think Larry Harvey said it best in the recent Atlantic article: “People get confused sometimes. They say that because we have a principle of decommodification, that we’re against money. But no, it’s not really about money. It would be absurd if we said we repudiated money. In order to assemble a city, we have to use market economics.”

          • Really? Subsidizing my burn? I totally get the that the people directly funding many of the sound camps and art are contributing but to say that the donations to BMORG are what make it all happen seems to be a bit of a stretch. Seems to me like the revenue from tickets is what makes this happen. I don’t really have an issue with anyone wanting a “deluxe” experience but I do take issue with the walled in/gated community aspect and lack of investment in participation. To be honest this issue cuts across all segments not just the well-to-do…

            On another note has anyone done a “census” of these plug and play or “full service” camps? How many of them are there? What percentage do they make up space wise?

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