Everything you've been wanting to know about Burning Man, the wild 9-day arts event in the Nevada desert frequented by celebs and tech moguls

  • Burning Man is an annual, nine-day gathering in the Nevada desert.
  • It’s held the week prior to and including Labour Day weekend each year. It includes artistic performances, installations, music, and a lot of partying.
  • No money is exchanged at Burning Man, so participants are expected to bring food, supplies, shelter, and anything else they might need.
  • The cost of tickets in 2018 ranged from $US425 to $US1,200.

In order to truly understand Burning Man, the annual summer event held in the middle of the Nevada desert, you probably just have to go.

The nine-day gathering of 70,000 people includes wild costumes, art installations, spontaneous musical performances, and lots of partying.

Burning Man closed with the burning of the Temple Galaxia, a 65-foot wooden structure that symbolises how the fabric of the universe connects all living beings. For the burning of the temple, people created memorials for deceased loved ones and past relationships, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

With 2018’s Burning Man event having ended on September 3, Business Insider has compiled answers to some of your most burning questions about Burning Man.


What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is an annual, nine-day gathering in the desert that includes artistic performances, installations, and music – but don’t call it a festival.

“Burning Man is not a festival. Burning Man is a community. A temporary city. A global cultural movement based on 10 practical principles,” the official website reads.

A few of these principles include radical inclusion (“Anyone may be a part of Burning Man”), gifting, decommodification (no money passes hands at the festival), radical self-reliance and self-expression, leaving no trace (” We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather”), and participation.

Burning Man is organised by a non-profit organisation called the Burning Man Project.


When is Burning Man?

The end-of-summer event takes place each year during the week leading up to and including Labour Day weekend, according to the official website.

The 2018 dates are August 26 through September 3.


Where does Burning Man take place?

The event is held at a temporary metropolis called Black Rock City in the remote Black Rock Desert – called “the playa” – in Nevada.

Black Rock City is made up of tents and RVs brought by participants.


What happens at Burning Man?

Burning Man does not book any entertainment for the event, but instead encourages participants to perform for the community free of charge.

People wander around the camps on foot, bicycles, and scooters, cook together, dance, drink, make art, and generally just party, according to INSIDER reporter Aly Weisman, who attended the event in 2013 and 2016.

Because no money changes hands, you can participate in activities such as wine tastings, zip lining, and massages – all given out by various attendees for free.

“While drugs are technically illegal, they are easier to find than candy on Halloween,” Nick Bilton wrote of Burning Man in The New York Times.

Many people even get married at Burning Man, Weisman reported.

The name “Burning Man” comes from the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden sculpture (“the Man”) that usually takes place on the Saturday evening of the event.


How many people attend Burning Man?

Nearly 70,000 people went to Burning Man in 2017, according to the Black Rock City census project.

Those who attend Burning Man, called “Burners,” include celebrities and wealthy tech CEOs.

First-time participants reportedly have to roll around in the dust upon arrival.

If you want to go, you shouldn’t wait to get a ticket, as the event typically sells out quickly. This year, 26,000 tickets sold in the first half hour, according to USA Today.


Who goes to Burning Man?

Burning Man might have a reputation for being full of “hippies,” but some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley have reportedly attended the event.

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, went on more than one occasion, Business Insider previously reported.

“If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it,” Musk said of the event, according to The New York Times.

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook reportedly dropped in to Black Rock City by helicopter for just one day to serve grilled cheese sandwiches to participants, and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went disguised in full spandex body suits.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has also been a Burner, according to The Times.


What is ‘Billionaires Row’ at Burning Man?

The wealthiest Burning Man attendees set up exclusive luxury camps with staffs of bodyguards and cooks, Recode reported in 2014, calling the area “Billionaire’s Row.”

One man who attended Burning Man with a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs told The New York Times that they used to come with “R.V.s and precooked meals.”

“Now, we have the craziest chefs in the world and people who build yurts for us that have beds and air-conditioning,” he said. “Yes, air-conditioning in the middle of the desert!”

Some have complained that these camps are destroying the spirit of the event and breaking the rule of no commodification, Recode reported.

“We’re not going to judge people in terms of the amount of wealth they bring to the event,” Burning Man founder Larry Harvey told The Guardian in 2015 in response to such complaints.

He did admit that these luxury campers were violating Burning Man’s community spirit by isolating themselves from their neighbours on the playa.


How much does it cost to go?

Although you won’t need to spend any money once you get there, Burning Man definitely isn’t free – or cheap.

The majority of tickets sold for $US425 in 2018, according to the event’s official website, and you’ll also have to purchase an $US80 vehicle pass for each car you drive in. Approximately 5,000 pre-sale tickets also came available at the end of each January, at two prices: $US990 and $US1,200.

In 2016, CNBC estimated that the total cost of attending could range from $US1,300 to $US20,000, including transportation, food, camp fees, costumes, and gifts.


What do you need to bring to Burning Man?

Burning Man participants bring everything they need with them – and then pack it out with them afterward.

The only things you can buy there are coffee and ice.

That means attendees must bring their own shelter, food, water, sunscreen, and whatever else you might want or need. The website suggests participants bring a bicycle to get around and “toys or costumes with which you can express your creative spirit.”


What kind of outfits do people wear?

Getty Images

Burners go all-out in “expressing their creative spirits” with their costumes.

People often wear extravagant, creative outfits with plenty of colour and embellishments such as feathers, glitter, and beads. Many wear fancy hats or headpieces.

You might see Burners wearing long golden capes, giant wings, unicorn horns, feathered mohawks, or stilts.

Basically, the wilder the outfit, the better.


How long does it take to drive there?

Shutterstock/Gualtiero Boffi

The nearest large city to Black Rock City is Reno, about a 2.5 hour drive away, according to Google Maps.

From San Jose, it’s about 6.5 to 7 hours, and between 6 and 7.5 hours from San Francisco, depending on the route. If you’re coming from Los Angeles, the drive will take you at least 9.5 hours.

You can find detailed driving instructions on Burning Man’s website.


What’s the theme of Burning Man?

Getty Images

Each year’s festival is given a theme. The 2018 theme was deemed “I, Robot,” based on author Isaac Asimov’s collection of short science fiction stories.

“This year’s art theme will focus on the many forms of artificial intelligence that permeate our lives; from the humble algorithm and its subroutines that sift us, sort us and surveil us, to automated forms of labour that supplant us,” Burning Man’s website reads. “Are we entering a Golden Age that frees us all from mindless labour? … In a world increasingly controlled by smart machines, who will be master and who will be the slave?”

The theme of 2017 was “Radical Ritual,” and other recent past themes include “Da Vinci’s Workshop,” “Carnival of Mirrors,” and “Caravansary.”

NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.