Things Were So Quaint, Back In The Day

Just stumbled upon this story from 2003.  It’s the perfect example of how social engineering of Burners can start with a prank, and be passed off as ironic, and then quickly become the new normal. Timeshare slots in the Oasis, anyone?

Vacations > Western U.S. > Western U.S. Tours
Burning Man 2003
Travelocity and Burning Tours invites you to Burning Man 2003! Come experience the colorful sights, the amazing sounds, and interesting people that come to this grand festival in the Nevada desert every year!
Tour Highlights | Inclusions | Options | Lodging & Dining | Itinerary | Prices
 7 Days from $1400
Prices are per person and reflect land cost only. Price is based on tourist-class hotels and similar services.
LODGING: Air Conditioned Travelocity Oasis Camp

Experience the spectacles of the Burning Man festival! Join Travelocity for this week-long tour package that lets you experience the wonder and awe of Burning Man 2003 without the hassle. Take in the beauty of the Nevada sky and mountains while seeing the many eclectic art projects, interesting sounds, and incredibly dressed people that make up this fantastic “city in the desert.” Don’t worry about being in the desert, as Travelocity has it’s own air conditioned “theme camp” where you may sleep in the comfort of your own private living space. Breakfast and dinner are served daily.

The Burning Man 2003 package includes the following:
Fourteen meals (breakfast and dinner) and six nights accommodations at the Travelocity Theme Camp, located near the Burning Man festival’s Center Camp
Burning Man 2003 ticket included with the package
Travelocity Playa Safari shuttle for transportation from Reno to Burning Man and back after the event
Complementary daily supply of water and ice
Modern, air-conditioned tent with private sleeping areas and separate toilet facilities
Professional Burning Man host and guide
Front-row reserved seating for many popular events, including the burning of the Man
Free Travelocity/Burning Man “Trading Trinkets”
All service charges and tips, baggage-handling fees, and local taxes
Travel bag and wallet containing package documents and helpful information

The following add-ons may be available at an additional cost:

Travel insurance
Accomodations at the Reno Atlantis Hotel and Casino
Sightseeing tour of Lake Tahoe

The following is a summary of the accommodations for this tour:

Accommodations are based on twin-shares.

The following is a summary of the dining plan for this tour:

Breakfast: Seven are included.
Lunch: On your own.
Dinner: Seven are included.

Day(s) Activities
1 Arrive Reno
2 Arrive Burning Man
3 – 6 Burning Man 2003 festival
7 Arrive Reno

Please note: Prices below are listed per person based on double occupancy. Prices are for land cost only. Rates may vary and space is limited. Deposit and refund information.
Departure Dates          Land Only
August 26, 2003 
August 27, 2003 


Triple share reduction: $35
Single room supplement: $325
Child share reduction (5-11 years): $295



At the time, the publication of this site and the supporting email promoting it, caused quite a stir. Big enough to become a story in WIRED magazine, just like Popsicle Camp is now in Bloomberg.

From WIRED (emphasis ours):

Burners Sweat Over Package Prank

Daniel Terdiman Email 07.24.03

Everything’s included at Travelocity’s Burning Tours!

Burning Man participants are often borderline fundamentalist about the mores of their desert bacchanalia. Over the years, they have steadfastly insisted that organizers never consider opening the doors to anything corporate.

So last week, when a message advertising an all-inclusive package tour of Burning Man spread like some out-of-control virus among the desert fest’s regulars and their e-mail lists, a lot of people went ballistic.

Supposedly sponsored by Travelocity and an unknown outfit called Burning Tours, the package promised prepared meals, an air-conditioned tent, free “Travelocity/Burning Man ‘trading trinkets'” and front-row seating for the annual alternative art festival’s signature spectacle, the torching of the 50-foot wooden Man.

But for anyone calm enough to look at the promotion’s Web page for a moment, there was a clue that something was not quite right. Instead of a address, it was It was not an attack on Burning Man’s principles at all. It was a hoax.

Precisely because vast numbers of “Burners” are tightly connected through e-mail lists, bulletin boards, websites and real-world gatherings, the Burning Man community is a juicy target for hoaxes. For example, a fake story raised serious hackles on April Fools’ Day 2002. That one announced that the event’s organizers had sold its marketing and promoting rights to MTV.

Who were the instigators of the pranks? Burners themselves. Who else could better exploit the wired nature of their community, preying on its passionate adherence to anti-commercialism and radical self-reliance?

Specifically, the guilty party in the Travelocity gag was Dale Ghent, a 26-year-old Internet engineer from suburban Washington, D.C., who had seen the MTV ruse. He downloaded a Travelocity package tour page, did a quick mock-up of the Burning Tours package and, posing as a first-time Burner named Alan Douglas, posted a message to the New York Burners regional e-mail list asking if he should buy the tour.

“You sit there and you watch the e-mail, and the time elapsing and the people starting to read it and replying, ‘No, no, you can’t do this. It’s not the Burning Man spirit,'” Ghent laughs. “The general level of outrage was pretty satisfying, I have to say.”

Indeed, even veteran Burners were taken by the realistic representation of the Web page. A Seattle Burner known as Abdullah posted a message to one list with a link to the Burning Tours page, asking, “What the everlasting almighty FUCK?”

“My initial reaction was asinine knee-jerk reflex. I know how to read a URL and should have realized that this wasn’t in the Travelocity domain,” said Abdullah. “But I didn’t pay attention, and had one of those berserker moments. It was pure rage.”

At Burning Man headquarters, however, even as e-mails and instant messages started flowing in, the mood was relaxed. They’d been through this before and they love good art.

“The first thing to do when one of these hoaxes come around is usually to smile because they’re funny,” says Burning Man senior staffer Andie Grace. “The whole purpose of it is to prank people. So I don’t want to run around being the one who killed the joke.”

cartoon-going-fungalBut Grace says she was fascinated watching the viral spread of the hoax across the countless Burning Man regional and department e-mail lists, many of which share members.

“There is overlap,” she explains. “A friend sends it to a friend in Seattle, who puts it on their regional list, and then someone e-mails it to their friend in St. Louis.”

As one e-mail list discovered it was a hoax, other lists were just beginning to see the original message. The word that everything was okay, that Burning Man’s purity was safe, was always one step behind. In fact, even though most Burners now know the Burning Tours offer was a gag, some are still hearing about it for the first time, Grace said.

Meanwhile, Ghent started hearing from people about his work. “I think overall, people had good humor about it,” he said. “I got private e-mails saying, great hoax, good job,” he says. “I think once people realized it was a hoax, they got a grin on their face.

And as for Abdullah?

“It obviously took a lot of time and skill to do this,” he says. “It reminded me that I’m not quite as clever as I think I am sometimes…. To the author of the Travelocity spoof: Nice one, mate.”


We’ve moved along the spectrum of turnkey camping from irony to stark reality. Today, $1400 looks cheap for a Commodification Camp. And “look at how much fun the tech billionaires are having out West!” is the new marketing slogan for Wall Street and the City of London.

It’s amazing to look back and see how things have changed. Progress? Evolution? Or devolution?

evolution of a djI guess I am still with the 2003 Burners, who see this as an attack on Burning Man’s principles. The Ten Principles were not even encoded as such, that happened the year after this ironic scandal. Clearly, Radical Self Reliance, Leave No Trace, and an environment away from the Default world capitalist model of labor organization were part of the core values of Burning Man much earlier than the Tin Principles.

Were the Principles actually specifically crafted in response to this meme? It was supposedly created by a New York Regional contact. BMOrg admitted they were promoting it via their regionals email lists and carefully watching “for amusement”? Perhaps the Founders actually liked the idea of selling tour packages, so they wanted to create some fine print that would allow this to really happen in the future.  As I’ve noted before, there’s nothing in the Principles about ethics, and they are carefully worded to only discourage transactions taking place on the Playa, rather than completely ban commerce itself. There have been quite a few posts from the official Burning Man blog over the last couple of years trying to clarify this point for us.

Now, not only do BMP’s Directors run multi-million dollar camps like this, massive ones with more than 50 sherpas; but they actually go to to blame their staff for wrongdoing while they lecture us about how their VIP wristband camps are shining examples of the Ten Principles in action.

A big farce. It provides laughs for more than a decade, while they slowly introduce it into our society and sell $17,000 hotel rooms to the A-List – then laugh at us when we protest. “Oh, those Burners! They’re always the same. Blah blah blah, people have been saying that for 20 years and we keep raising prices and they keep buying tickets. Go make an amusing street theater protest to entertain us with, rubes!”

The Occidental Oasis "ironic" timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire's Row

The Occidental Oasis “ironic” timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire’s Row

Black Rock Acres p3

Chaos in Manhattan: Reverend Billy Free!

Photo by Kim Fraczek

Photo by Kim Fraczek

New York performance artist Reverend Billy Talen is an institution at Burning Man. He also takes his show on the road, throwing Cacophony Society-style protests all around the US with his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir.

Recently Chaos Chase Manhattan did not like Reverend Billy one bit, his toad-masked singers accused of making people cry and starting a riot

From the Village Voice:

In September, longtime New York activist Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, led by choir director Nehemiah Luckett, went into a Chase Bank in Midtown and made a little music. The two led a group of eight choir members in a musical protest against mountaintop removal, a controversial form of coal-mining that Chase helps to finance. The choir sang a song, then Reverend Billy preached a sermon on Chase’s fondness for fossil fuel investments. The whole thing lasted about fifteen minutes, according to the choir, who had on fetching yellow toad hats during the performance. 

reverend billyFor their trouble, as we told you at the time, Luckett and Reverend Billy (real name William Talen) were charged with riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly, and two counts of disorderly conduct. The rioting and the menacing both carried a possible punishment of one year in prison. But in a hearing in Manhattan Criminal Court Monday morning, those charges were greatly reduced. According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the prosecution reviewed the footage and decided that the whole thing looked more like a musical protest than a riot.

After we reported on the charges against Reverend Billy and Luckett, the story got picked up by a whole lot of other places, including WNYC, The Guardian, Vice, Democracy Now!, and Forbes (yes, that Forbes). The Worldwide Hippies were also very upset, declaring, “You fuck with Reverend Billy, you fuck with the Worldwide Hippies!” (Noted.) A petition calling for the charges to be dropped garnered 13,900 signatures so far, and a legal defense fund for the two men has raised $15,720, or 105 percent of its goal.

photo by Daniel Tovrov

photo by Daniel Tovrov

That petition was handed to the judge at this morning’s hearing. At the same time, the prosecution announced that after talking with eyewitnesses and reviewing security footage, they were amending their complaint against the two men. The new charges are criminal trespassing in the third degree, unlawful assembly, trespassing, and two counts of disorderly conduct.

In the previous complaint, the Chase branch manager, Robert Bongiorno, told David Bornstein, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case, that because of the people with frog hats jumping and singing and whatnot all over his bank, he “believed that the bank was being robbed, felt in fear for his physical safety, and observed at least one customer or employee inside of the bank break into tears.”

In the new complaint, Bongiorno no longer reports that he feared he was being robbed by a gang of frog-headed menaces. Instead, the complaint says, Bongiorno reports that he “observed many of the above individuals handing out yellow pieces of paper to the customers and employees in the bank.” (Those were leaflets on mountaintop removal.) At the time, he adds, “the bank was open for business and multiple customers were present inside of the bank in order to conduct business, but that Mr. Bongiorno observed that the defendants’ actions disrupted the bank’s ability to conduct business.”

The prosecution, led by ADA Bornstein, also have a new sentencing recommendation: they’d like Reverend Billy to plead guilty to disorderly conduct and perform one day of community service. For Luckett, they’ve recommended an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). An ACD means that if Luckett stayed out of trouble for six months — no menacing of fainthearted bank managers — the case would be dismissed and sealed. The next court date for both men is February 27th.

The choir began a run of shows at Joe’s Pub earlier this month. Reverend Billy, who has a pretty robust sense of humor, told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that the charges, upsetting though they were, hadn’t been bad for attendance.

“Well, Jesus taught us — I mean there are lots of things about Jesus that we can’t listen to, right?” he told Goodman. “But, one thing he did teach us is, if you can’t afford a press person, get arrested quickly.”

Fortunately, Reverend Billy seems to have got the charges knocked down to a day’s raking. Thanks to Burner Kevin for bringing this latest update from the Rev earlier today to our attention:

SO THE PROSECUTOR IS NOW A MUSIC CRITIC? They tell the judge that by examining the surveillance tapes they determined that our action of Sept 12 did not constitute “Riot” and “Menace” and “Unlawful Assembly” but rather a “Musical Presentation,” and so the penalty they request for the plaintiffs Nehemiah and myself zooms from one year in jail down to a single day raking leaves in front of City Hall. Goes from 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanors and criminal record down to a couple violations and community service. So, I’m sitting in a local cafe with Savi feeling much relief. We presented the 13,500 petitions to the judge and refused to accept even the much reduced charges… It was over in ten minutes. We thank our community of singing anti-consumerists and we are very grateful to our supporters from far and wide, and our neighbors and fellow activists here in NY, and also the press people who rallied to our cause. Something obviously happened in the last several weeks over at the District Atty’s office. At a minimum – the surveillance tapes the prosecutors looked at (finally) don’t have us hopping on desks, don’t record us threatening people. The riot and the menace didn’t show up there. Who knows, maybe earth-lovers in the DA’s office, people with kids who know that the banks have to stop the fossil fuel investments… maybe they hummed along with our toad-song. Earthalujah!

The Indypendent, billed as a Free Paper for Free People, interviewed Reverend Billy at Burning Man in 2009:

He paced back and forth, blond hair bobbing as he ducked and weaved and shouted his sermon. His white suit blazed in the sunlight, a black microphone coiled around his arm as he exhorted the audience.


I watched them bask in his fervor, quiet but curious. “Children…” he rolled his voice into a preacher’s rhythm. “We know the wonders of Burning Man. Here we see things seen nowhere else. Here the sun and moon set at the same time.” Voices whoop as the Reverend leans forward, “I know you want to take this fire into the world of big box stores. But children, without social change, we support, every day we support the statement of the American military culture. And that statement is, ‘If you threaten me I will kill you.’ And we support this statement with our taxes. We do most of our shopping, as Americans, not at Wal-Mart but at the Pentagon!”

People nod as if his words were weights tipping scales in their minds. His hands jumped around the air, “We need to be radical Americans like we’ve been before in the Labor Movement, in the Civil Rights Movement, in the Women’s Movement.” He dabbed his face with a sweat rag. “Children the earth is sending us messages. We see it in the typhoons that rip our coastal cities. We see it in the floods that sweep away towns and the earth is saying, we must be like the typhoons, we must be like the flood.”

Eyes lit up. His mythic words opened a door into a world of primal forces that could wash away our numbness. “All the life that is not human is calling us to join it in a duet of activism,” he crooned. “Children…” his voice darkened as he stopped and held out his hand as if gently parting a veil. “Some of us are going to have to die. In every great movement our freedom was earned by those died and there is life in death…”

A strange light glowed on their faces. He made visible a terrible truth that promised us a reality more powerful than our lives. I’ve heard preachers my whole life and many have said the same thing but I read about Reverend Billy and know that his campaign for mayor has taken a toll on his body. Recently his heart skipped and jumped. He missed campaign events until medicine thinned his blood, now he’s back on-stage, inviting the silent anxiety of people to shake him again until prophetic words cascade out and the audience can see the dream they buried inside themselves.

“Gradualism has taken over the world of social activism, there isn’t a 60’s movement that hasn’t become a Starbucks flavor. The earth is saying join in, join in your survival by participating in the survival of the earth. Change-a-lujah!”

Reverend Billy was brought to Burning Man in 2003 with a $6000 grant from BRAF, and was a big hit, according to the Chronicle:

Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Starbucks are frequent sites of the Rev. Billy’s sermons.

The Rev. Billy, who lived in San Francisco for many years, is a disciple of Burning Manwho received $6,000 last year from the Black Rock Arts Foundation, the nonprofit arts funding arm, for an evangelical anti- consumerism tour of California. He is among a handful of artists to be sponsored by the organization.

He was a big hit at Burning Man in 2003, with his nightly shows denouncing consumerism and the Bush administration. He was among the first artists to be openly political in the desert.

He has used art to force people to think about their consumer choices for more than a decade.

If you’re in New York you can catch his shows at 2:30pm at Joe’s Pub on December 22, and January 12. The December 15 show is sold out.

No-One Makes it to Burning Man

It might be 10 years old now, but this is still one of the most classic stories from The Onion ever. Rings very true to my BM preparations, what about you? Thanks to works-too-hard-to-be-a-Burner Geoff for bringing this one back to our attention:

GERLACH, NV—The Burning Man festival, a prominent artistic and countercultural event that draws tens of thousands of people to the Nevada desert annually, is in danger of cancellation this week because “no one had their shit together enough to even make it,” organizers said Tuesday.

“Jesus Christ, this is pathetic,” said event coordinator Ethan Moon as he angrily gestured toward the empty Black Rock Desert basin expanse, known as the playa. “We’ve been promoting this thing all year. You can’t start panhandling quarters for gas the week before the festival and expect to make it here in time, man.”

Moon listed some of the most common no-show excuses, among them oversleeping, forgetting to request time off work, faulty van-borrowing arrangements, a shortage of ochre body-paint, and the last-minute realization that transportation to the Burning Man festival requires money.

“As of a few weeks ago, or even a few days ago, there were 30,000 people who honestly planned on coming,” Moon said. “In every case, however, there were, well, you know—shit happened.”

Although Burning Man festivals have had no-shows in the past, Moon said he’s never witnessed absenteeism on this level.

“You have to figure out a way to get here, stock up on water and extra clothing for the cold nights, and make sure you have adequate shelter,” Moon said. “Apparently, the advance planning it takes to arrange those three basic things was more than anyone could handle. Sorry to be on this uptight trip, but check out the playa. Not a single nude dude in a homemade papier-mâché tribal mask as far as the eye can see.”

Although Burning Man is billed on its web site as a “temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance,” it became evident that the no-shows were more capable of the former than they were of the latter.

Los Angeles silkscreen artist Goldi Trewartha was among the tens of thousands of Burning Man devotees who stayed home this year.

“Yeah, I was supposed to go with Ari and Shel, but they couldn’t score [Ecstasy] in time for the trip, and I forgot my bartering beads at my friend Marnie’s place in Los Feliz,” Trewartha said. “Oh, and I forgot to get a dog sitter.”

Added Trewartha: “Shel made this great suit out of old stuffed-monkey pelts and duct tape, and he was going to hop up and down on this old trampoline he found from But his ex, Nikki, made him babysit [their daughter] Gaia while she headed out to Big Sur for a few days. I love Nikki, but sometimes she can be real flaky.”

Chaz Bullard, a University of Vermont undergraduate and veteran mud person, had multiple excuses for his failure to attend the Burning Man festival.

“I totally spaced that August is 8, and I wrote down 9 in my sketchbook,” Bullard said. “Oh, and I got evicted. Yeah, fuckin’ Dyl up and ditches me, right, and I’m stuck owing $700, because he wasn’t on the lease.”

Bullard added that he contracted hepatitis from his ex-roommate’s tacos.

Boulder resident Paul Sandley, who was halfway to Burning Man when his truck “totally konked.”

Moon said he has received apologetic phone calls from a squadron of recumbent bicyclists lost somewhere in southern Nebraska, a Kentucky artist whose pet python was too carsick to continue the journey, and a group of Germans who uncovered a fatal structural flaw in their “Freak Harnesses” art installation at the last minute.

Hippies were not the only counterculture group to miss the Burning Man festival. Portland-area Linux user and self-described cyber-conceptualist “Free” Lance Kaegle explained his absence in an instant message from his studio.

human mandala“I was organizing this boss techno-art project called ‘Off The Grid,'” Kaegle wrote. “We were going to set up computer terminals in various parts of the playa and have people use them. Then we’d feed the binary data from those terminals into this fractals program that [Silver Lake, CA software designer] Ricky [Thomas-Slater] wrote. Those fractals would be sent, on the fly, to a group of exiled Buddhist monks I befriended online. The monks would transform the fractals into a temporal sand painting, the making of which we would webcast live to everyone on the playa.”

Added Kaegle: “But I had to stop working on the monk thing to finish up this Pam’s Country Crafts web site I’m working on. I really need the money.”

While most absences were accidental, a few were not. Doug “Crazyroot” Pycroft, a former smoothie-stand employee, has a history of missing countercultural events.

“I thought about going, but then I decided I don’t need some dudes pushing their rules down my throat,” Pycroft said. “That’s the problem with these things. If they’re so nonconformist, how come you gotta obey some fascist wearing a lanyard just to use the Port-A-John? Same reason I refused to go to [The Church Of The Subgenius’] X-Day back in ’98. Hell, I ditched the very first Lollapalooza one hour in.”

As a cloud of sand whipped across the desolate playa, Moon could only shake his head. Although the weeklong festival traditionally culminates in the igniting of the Burning Man, a 50-foot-tall wooden structure strapped with fireworks and other incendiaries, Moon wondered aloud whether he and the handful of other staffers should even bother.

“I guess we could burn what we’ve built, but it would just feel anticlimactic with no one around to watch,” Moon said. “You gotta look at the bigger picture here, folks. You shouldn’t think of Burning Man as a burden. Burning Man is about being part of a community. Unfortunately, it’s a community of people who can’t get up before 1 p.m.