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Walter Armstrong Walter Armstrong

Billionaires at Burning Man Harsh Many a Burner’s Buzz

Silicon Valley moguls like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon's Jeff Besos are now bringing their billionaire lifestyles to the legendary drug-fueled counterculture festival. Some say the spirit of Burning Man has gone up in smoke.

3 Substance

Techno Burning Man in 2013 Photo via

Techno Burning Man in 2013 Photo via

Burning Man, the annual drug-fueled gathering of artists, hippies, ravers, punks, all-around free spirits and wannabes in the northern Nevada desert, begins today and runs till Labor Day. Started in 1986, the hard-to-classify event is described by the media in such phrases as “an experimental Mecca…of dancing and interactive art,” an “artsy Nevada desert bacchanal,” “a weeklong art party in a handmade city…in a Mad Max environment” and a “kaleidoscopic pageant of art, music and play.”

Be that as it may, much of the coverage in advance of the event rehashes a New York Times piece about how Burning Man has become “the annual getaway for a new crop of millionaire and billionaire technology moguls, many of whom are one-upping one another in a secret game of I-can-spend-more-money-than-you-can and, some say, ruining it for everyone else.”

The spoilers are familiar names from Silicon Valley: Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, PayPal’s Elon Musk and other digital industry Twitteratis.

Here’s how the Times reporter, a Burning Man alum, describes the unspoiled event that he experienced:

You bring your own place to sleep (often a tent), food to eat (often ramen noodles) and the strangest clothing possible for the week (often not much). There is no Internet or cell reception. While drugs are technically illegal, they are easier to find than candy on Halloween. And as for money, with the exception of coffee and ice, you cannot buy anything at the festival. Selling things to people is also a strict no-no. Instead, Burners (as they are called) simply give things away. What’s yours is mine. And that often means everything from a meal to saliva.

For the tech world grandees, not only drugs but every other luxury of the high life is easier to find than candy on Halloween in the brutal desert environment of Burning Man. “Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” a guy who worked as a Sherpa for one mogul told the Times. Here’s a list of features that that make the experience very different for Silicon Valley spoiler and their hundreds of best friends:

  • A $25,000-per camping fee
  • A $2 million weekend accommodations bill
  • Lavish RVs parked a private forted area
  • Yurts with beds and air-conditioning
  • Luxury restroom trailers
  • Menus of sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare prepared by professional chefs
  • 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees
  • Female models flown in from New York

Has the spirit of Burning Man gone up in smoke? Yes, according to the disillusioned former Sherpa. “The tech start-ups now go to Burning Man and eat drugs in search of the next greatest app,” he told the Times. “Burning Man is no longer a counterculture revolution. It’s become a mirror of society.”