Nineteen years ago I went to the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, 120 miles north of Reno, for my very first time for a week of camping, exploring art, music and culture to cover it for a (now defunct) website and TV show called Wild Wild Web.
At Burning Man 1999 I interviewed the event's founder, Larry Harvey (who passed away at 70 earlier this year), exploring the interactive art and events, and I was so impressed by what I saw that I went back for five years in a row (1999-2003), and then ten more times in the past twelve years (2005, 2006, 2008, 2011-2017). I’m aiming to get there this year as well to experience my sixteenth year out there in the desert under the stars.
What compels me to spend 16 weeks of precious vacation time in the desert? And why is Burning Man something that I think almost everyone should consider attending at least once? Aren't there other experiences in the world that surpass Burning Man?
As a seasoned traveler who's been to festivals, events and galleries everywhere from Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the Maldives, Vietnam and many other places, there’s nothing that I've encountered anywhere in the world that comes close to rivaling the art, music, culture and overall experience of Burning Man.
Didn’t Burning Man Jump The Shark or “Sell Out”?
But you may be asking yourself, “Hasn't Burning Man jumped the shark?” Isn’t it filled with tech billionaires who are “ruining the event for everyone,” as proclaimed by Nick Bilton in The New York Times in 2014?
As a wise friend of mine said: “If you’re so concerned about how other people are experiencing Burning Man, then you’re definitely not doing Burning Man right,” meaning most people are out there doing their own things and seeing and participating in so many incredible experiences that they aren’t concerned with how anyone else is experiencing the event.
And consider this: When I first attended Burning Man in the late 1990s, I had heard about it from Wired magazine. Wired had featured Burning Man as a cover story in the November 1996 issue (see photo above). Notice the other stories about “Chip Stocks Worth Buying” and “Marimba: The Next Netscape?”
Tech people were reading and buying that magazine and no doubt — like me — also inspired to attend Burning Man way back then. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went to Burning Man in 1998. They didn’t ruin the place, and it’s not being ruined by rich people now.
People who attend Burning Man have been saying, and many of them jokingly, (though some seriously) that the event has “jumped the shark” for years. Check out the photo above that I took at Burning Man 2005 showing someone’s stenciled graffiti of “The Man” jumping the shark. Most years there is also a snarky sign posted on the entrance road for the event that said “Burning Man Was WAY Better Last Year.”
As another friend of mine who has been attending Burning Man since 1998 wrote on Facebook, “It’s the same as it ever was …the debate/drama about how Burning Man’s art, people, weather used to be better the year(s) before has been going on since the late 1990s.”
So, what is it that (still) makes Burning Man so great? I’ll try my best to explain. Here are 16 reasons to consider going to Burning Man: