Burning Man sells out

The 2009 Burning Man, looming large.

The 2009 Burning Man, looming large.

For more information, visit www.burningman.com.

Burning Man is all about inclusion. Whether hippie or lawyer, all were welcome at the gates of the Black Rock City as long as they had a ticket. In past years, that was no problem, they could have even been purchased at the gate. But with the surprisingly fast sell-out of all 50,000 tickets, one question has been echoing across the Burning Man universe: “Dude, do you know where I can get a ticket to Burning Man?”

Just a three-hour drive northeast of Reno lies the Black Rock Desert, site of the week-long mega rave/art show/undefinable cultural event, always held the week before Labor Day.

Though Black Rock City (BRC), the temporary tent city that comprises the event, has had a 50,000 participant limit set by Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the city has been skirting its population limit for the past few years, but never have tickets sold out in mid-July, as it did this year.

Some may wonder why there is a population limit at all. BRC only takes up a fraction of the playa. The desert is a national conservation area, so there are environmental concerns, said Lisa Ross, a BLM spokeswomen. She added the event does a great job of cleaning up after itself.

Another concern is if BRC population were to go unchecked, the city may not be able to provide enough services, like waste and emergency medical attention, for an exploding population. Also, the two-lane highway that leads into the playa can only safely hold so many people.

Andie Grace, Burning Man spokeswoman, said that no one expected tickets to sell out this fast.

“We didn’t think, ‘In two years we are going to hit that point, let’s think about it,’” Grace said. “It’s been a moving target.”

She said Burning Man has never been too concerned with growing itself too quickly, so it has never advertised tickets, relying on word of mouth. This year might have been the word-of-mouth, critical-mass tipping-point, Grace speculated.

Though some Burners feel they have been left out in the cold, there have been signs of a sellout from day one. When online ticket sales went live mid-January, the traffic almost crashed the site. Walk-in ticket outlets, like The Melting Pot World Emporium, were given a limited amount of tickets to sell, something that has never happened before. And there have been hints in Burning Man’s newsletter “Jack Rabbit Speaks” that tickets might run out.

The trick was trying to let Burners know tickets might run out without signaling to scalpers that Burning Man tickets will be a hot item, which has become a huge problem and goes against the core values of Burning Man. Some tickets are being sold for around $5,000 on eBay or Craigslist. Originally, the highest a ticket could cost is $320 from the event itself. Burning Man is encouraging tickets seekers to only pay face value for tickets.

That policy puts people like Scott Lambert, a 10-year Burner, in the dilemma of paying a high ticket price or not going at all. However, Lambert, who gave his usual ticket to his daughter, isn’t particularity worried.

“I have a sort of faith, I guess you could say, that I’m meant to be there this year so I’m not really panicked about it,” Lambert said. “I think networking is a good [way] to get things done, you know just word of mouth, so I’ve just been talking to people.”

Grace said the best way to avoid a fake ticket and to get one at a reasonable price is to, like Lambert, network through the local Burning Man community.

As for the future of Burning Man, Grace doesn’t think the sellout will effect the ethos of Burning Man much, just the way tickets are handled, which still need to be reevaluated. The BRC LCC is currently in contract renegotiation with the BLM for the next five years. Burning Man has proposed a small increase in population over the next few years to 70,000 people by 2016.