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<nettime> Burning Man: 'people with money do not wish to stay in a tent'
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 6 Sep 2011 12:05:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Burning Man: 'people with money do not wish to stay in a tent' (Wall Street Journal)

Another great quote: 'Burning Man is like any other community, with "a 
lower class, a midle class, an upper class". Shall we say (another 
quote, Latin this time) "Sic transiit gloria mundi" ... ?

original to:
(with pics)

At Burning Man, Air-Conditioning, RVs Make Inroads
(Paper edition: 'Opting Not to Rough It At Burning Man Festival')


BLACK ROCK CITY, Nev.âThe giant Burning Man art festival, in its 
official manifesto, calls on attendees to exhibit "radical 
self-reliance" as they camp and frolic on the dry lakebed here for a 
week every year.

"Radical self-reliance" are the bywords of the Burning Man art festival. 
But this year, some wealthy attendees are outsourcing the hard stuff -- 
like driving in the RVs. WSJ's Stu Woo reports.

Burning Man's mantra is so compelling that some 50,000 participants have 
gathered in this rustic setting for the 25th annual rite. But some 
bourgeois Burners are calling upon more than spiritual vibes to tap 
their inner self. They've got hired help.

Elon Musk, chief executive of electric-car maker Tesla Motors and 
co-founder of eBay Inc.'s PayPal unit, is among those eschewing the tent 
life. He is paying for an elaborate compound consisting of eight 
recreational vehicles and trailers stocked with food, linens, groceries 
and other essentials for himself and his friends and family, say 
employees of the outfitter, Classic Adventures RV.

Burning Man is like any other community, with "a lower class, a middle 
class, an upper class," says Dane Johnson, a Classic manager, standing 
outside the Musk compound. "We cater to the upper. People with money do 
not wish to stay in a tent."

Elsewhere on the desert grounds, Burners wear bikini tops, leather 
chaps, stilts, gogglesâand sometimes nothing at all. They rely on canned 
food for meals, sleep in the open field under the stars and use portable 
toilets. Limbs flail at dance-till-dawn parties. People are expected to 
share and to give gifts to one another. Money is banned. Sort of.

Classic is one of the festival's few approved vendors. It charges $5,500 
to $10,000 per RV for its Camp Classic Concierge packages like Mr. 
Musk's. At Mr. Musk's RV enclave, the help empties septic tanks, brings 
water and makes sure the vehicles' electricity, refrigeration, air 
conditioning, televisions, DVD players and other systems are ship shape. 
The staff also stocked the campers with Diet Coke, Gatorade and Cruzan 

Mr. Musk, through his assistant, confirms he hired an RV service but 
declines to give details or say how much he is paying.

Burning Man used to be a desert tent city with a do-it-yourself ethos. 
But its growthâand the increasing wealth of many of its attendeesâhas 
seen an influx of cash. "Commerce around Burning Man has evolved and 
it's a complicated dance," says Steven T. Jones, author of "The Tribes 
of Burning Man."

San Francisco caterer Gastronaut is one of many marketers targeting the 
Burning haute crowd. "People have less and less time to be radically 
self-reliant," says head chef Nathan Keller, whose gourmet feasts-to-go 
include beef bourguignon and posole. The tab: $20 to $50 per meal, which 
feeds five.

For those who bristle at making the long pilgrimage to the desert by 
car, there is flytoburningman.com. Run by Centurion Flight Services, it 
picks up travelers in the San Francisco area and deposits them on a 
makeshift air strip here. The cost to avoid dusty roads: $825 per seat 
in a five-person Cessna, or $4,325 for the whole plane.

Hairdressers are cashing in, too. Stylist Tiffani Harper of Vallejo, 
Calif., said three customers responded to her online braids-for-Burning 
Man ad. She charged $70 to $140.

Even in this anything-goes atmosphere, some Burners chafe at the seeming 
excess. Several volunteers, who said festival rules prohibited them from 
giving their names, disdain the full-service RV crowd and say that Black 
Rock Desert was chosen in part to encourage people to weather harsh 

"They're not being self-reliant when they're paying someone," says Eli 
Meyer, a 36-year-old longtime Burner from North Lake Tahoe, Calif., who 
is sleeping in a tent. Mr. Meyer, who is part of a Burning Man 
environmental group called Earth Guardians, said the RVs are also the 
worst way to attend an event that prides itself on being eco-friendly.

Burning Man started in 1986 when founder Larry Harvey torched a wooden 
stick figure one night on a San Francisco beach before a few people. 
Four years later, the crowd grew so big that organizers moved the event 
to Nevada's Black Rock Desert, about two hours' drive north of Reno.

The earliest event grounds resembled more of a frontier than a city, 
with campsites loosely organized. Now "architects" build a circular grid 
for the temporary metropolis, dubbed Black Rock City, which also has a 
weeklong post office and de facto police force.

The festival remains famous for elaborate art projectsâperformances, 
sculptures and "mutant vehicles." This year, automobiles in the form of 
cupcakes and yellow submarines roved the desert hard pan, braving the 
wind storms that force attendees to carry goggles and dust masks.

Not all of the art adheres to the festival's DIY philosophy.

Chris Bently, a San Franciscan whose real-estate holdings include an 
apartment building on posh Nob Hill, this year paid a team of artists 
and metalworkers to build a car modeled after the "Nautilus" submarine 
from Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," said two 
people familiar with the project. Mr. Bently's assistant said he was 
unavailable to comment.

Mr. Harvey, now chairman of the organization that runs Burning Man, says 
he has no problems with participants who pay for services. One of the 10 
principles is "radical inclusion," meaning everyone is welcome to 
attend, he says. He says he is spending this week in a camper, with food 
cooked for him, because he is 63 years old and it allows him to do his 
job more easily.

Some of Mr. Musk's luxury-RV-dwelling camp neighbors say critics 
shouldn't judge. Adam Stephenson, a 40-year-old marketing director for 
Symantec Corp., says that even though he is paying a premium for RV 
service, he put a lot of work into building a shade tent and buying 
costumes and supplies. And the RV isn't the Ritz. "It's not super easy," 
he says. "The air conditioner is not on all the time."

Write to Stu Woo at Stu.Woo {AT} wsj.com and Justin Scheck at 
justin.scheck {AT} wsj.com 

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