Monthly Archives: August 2014

A history of deaths at Burning Man

Compiled by Mitch, Rockstar and Brandon

Before this year, there were at least six deaths in Black Rock City. An additional number of Burners passed away after being evacuated.

The known deaths, reported by the Black Rock Beacon and other media or the Burning Man organization:

  • 2011 – Erika Kupfersberger, cerebral hemorrhage.
  • 2007 – Jermaine “Jerm” Barley, suicide by hanging.
  • 2006 – Adam Goldstone, a DJ with a known heart condition, died in RV after fainting.
  • 2005 – Sam Rich, a member of the fire-dancing group Controlled Burn, heart attack. Rich had sustained a head injury for which he was given stitches on Wednesday, the day before he died.
  • 2003 – Katherine Lampman, run over by art car she was exiting.
  • 2001 – A participant chose to run into a fire, according to the Afterburn probably the burning of Amazing Larry’s Lucky Seven Ages, the casino built into two large dice in the Deep Playa.

Among other event-related fatalities, an unidentified 52-year-old female Burner died in a Reno hospital after being transported from the Playa in 2010 because of an “unknown” medical condition, according to the Afterburn.

In 2005, a second Burner suffered cardiac arrest on the Playa and died that October after slipping into a coma in the hospital.

One fatality occurred from one of the two aircraft crashes in 2003. Barry Jacobs, the pilot of one of the planes, died after being hospitalized.

Two additional deaths in 2001 associated with the event included a Department of Public Works volunteer who died in a motor vehicle accident on the highway before the event and a second traffic fatality on Highway 447 during Exodus.

Michael Furey died in a motorcycle accident as the event was being set up in 1996.

Canadian Burners Ride Hippo on Elk Farm

By Ren

Photo by Ren. 500 burners celebrated the solstice at this year’s Freezer Burn, the regional event for Alberta, Canada.
Photo by Ren. 500 burners celebrated the solstice at this year’s Freezer Burn, the regional event for Alberta, Canada.

Freezer Burn, the regional event for Alberta, Canada, has been going on for seven years now and takes place at the end of June on the summer solstice. Though it started at a modest group campsite, for the last four years the event has been held an hour from the provincial capital Edmonton, on private land – a beautiful elk farm in the rural hill country with a river running through the property.

This year’s theme was “Down The Rabbit Hole.” With 500 participants in attendance (around 200 of them volunteers), the event featured twenty theme camps, six sound stages, a Kidsville, and three mutant vehicles (you might see one of them, Hippo Love, on Playa ). Of course there was also fire, a variety of art installations, a beautiful temple, and a 43-foot tall effigy “Unity Man” which included lights, an interactive element, and hidden bunny ears.

Who’s On Playa? Yes.

by Rod Allen

Illustration by Ren
Illustration by Ren

British burners in their camp Quixote’s Cabaret Club and Bar are mounting a Dr. Who-themed exhibit for 2014 – just as the BBC is starting to air the new season of the show starring Peter Capaldi as the latest incarnation of the venerable Lord of Time.

The Brits are making an art car in the shape of Dr. Who’s cyber-dog “K9.” A campaign on Indiegogo was the means of funding the art car. Paul Pickup from Quixote’s says that t-shirts from the project will be the t-shirt of Burning Man 2014, over which people will be fighting in years to come.

The Euroburners’s meet’n’greet will take place on Tuesday at 2-4 p.m.; the Tea Dance will be on Wednesday at 3-5pm; and there will be cabaret on Tuesday, Thurday and Friday evenings. It is not necessary to be a European to attend these events.

You can find Quixote’s Cabaret Club this year at 7:30 & Ephesus. Look for the Tardis and giant K9. You can ask for a time trip in the Tardis, but you might not get one.

Burners We Once Knew: Paul Addis

by Mrs. Lucky

The Man burned twice that year.
The Man burned twice that year.

Even before he died in late 2012, it was a safe bet Paul Addis was never coming back to Burning Man. He set fire to the Man in 2007 in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, during a lunar eclipse. His conviction for felony destruction of property landed him in a Nevada prison.

Paul was studying for his bar exams when he came to Black Rock for the first time in 1996. A last minute addition to the CYBERBUSS crew, C y b e r sAM remembers him as a real trooper, a key supporter of their mission to bring images from the Playa to burners bound to their cubicles back home. With a demoed satellite phone, a borrowed laptop, and a pong-pinging dial-up modem, the team uploaded the first-ever images direct from the desert.

It changed the direction of Paul’s life. “He got in touch with his inner-village idiot,” says sAM. A short, intense, intelligent man, Paul became a passionate advocate of the prankster ethos. “Basically, if it wasn’t stupid or dangerous we weren’t interested,” says sAM. Paul enlisted sAM as lookout when he hung a pair of beach-ball cojones from the Man’s crotch. As Burning Man expanded its rules, Paul became rabid critic of what he saw as a sellout to the tourist mentality.

After his incarceration Paul’s life nosed-dived. Stripped of his license and unable to return to practicing law, he turned his attention to performing on-stage manifestos. While touring with a Hunter S. Thompson tribute he added a rap for terroristic threats when he went Gonzo on a hotel clerk.

Paul threw himself off of the Embarcadero platform in front of a BART train, ironically creating one last sad spectacle for the very tourists he disdained.

Burning Man Closes Down: Longest Closure in BRC History


Mud SculptureMother Nature, ticketless but bent on Radical Self-Expression, sailed into Black Rock City Monday morning, hurling showers of hail and lightning bolts and crackling the City with her megavolt loud-ass sound cloud. In the deluge, Ancient Lake Lahontan raised her Pleistocene head and, once again, became a shallow lake of standing water and then a mud bath like no other, shutting down roads and killing infrastructural power.

At 6:27 a.m. the Burning Man organization, Bmorg, sent out an “All Comm” Level 0 alert to limit driving and, by 6:47 a.m., upgraded it to Level 1 and closing Gate, all BRC roads (except to emer-gency vehicles), and issuing an order for citizens to shelter in place. County sheriffs coordinated safe u-turns from Highway 447 and set up road stops from every major route to redirect the 500-600 cars per hour ingress at this busiest of entry times. Burners were sent to Reno and surrounding communities until Tuesday.

Jim Graham, Bmorg’s Senior Advisor for Special Projects within the Communications team, said they blasted tweets and posts on social media, as well as announcements on BMIR via the I-Heart-radio app to alert burners not to drive in. “Some thought it was a joke,” he told the Beacon, “until they saw the Highway Patrol [turning people back] .”

The City was remarkably quiet, as everyone battened down hatches, bailed out tents, and stayed the hell out of the lightning. No staff or service vehicles, no art cars, and most important: no sanitation trucks. The portas grew rich as the day wore on. Black Rock City Airport was shut down as well, and will have to repack its two runways.

By afternoon, cheers went up as the sun finally came out, after a seemingly endless set of thunder and showers rolled through. By early evening many of the City streets were drying into a hard, bumpy cobble. The only open ice station, Arctica in Center Camp, had a line running all the way out the Esplanade.

An unknown number of Burners were stranded in their vehicles on Gate Road, unable to traverse the quagmire for the entire muddy, muddy Monday. “We hung them there or they would have gotten stuck,” Graham said. By 5:00 p.m. the BLM headed out with bullhorns inviting burners to pack up their lawn chairs and get ready to move in, after the 12-hour standstill.

Graham said Bmorg’s Unified Command Unit with the BLM prepares for such rain events. It had posted sanitation trucks (anticipating impossible travel on sludgy playa surface) at major porta potty stations and fuel trucks at key power infrastructural posts. Ranger station power was slated first to go online. By early evening the driving ban would be partially lifted for service vehicles, staff, and some art cars, provided roads were deemed safe.

As late as Sunday night Bmorg was on the phone with the National Weather Service, Graham said. The forecast for Monday was a 15% chance of showers, with a possibility of only 0.1 inches of rain. “Not enough for us to get people excited,” he said. The Bureau of Land Management, which often sees rain threats evaporate as soon as they appear in this region, left the call up to Bmorg. With that slightly elevated risk, Bmorg alerted relevant authorities but did not move to a Level alert.

Come the wee hours, it was a surprising and calamitous hit. Teksage, a Black Rock Ranger stationed at the Berlin Ranger Outpost in the 3:00 Plaza, noted “it was a lot of water in little time,” but that there were no major reports of damage in the City. “From a Ranger standpoint, [the storm] was a blessing,” he said, laughing. “Everyone mellowed out and stayed in place and it gave us room to breathe for a change.”

Ben Smith, Public Information Officer with Rampart Medical (5:15 & Esplanade) and the Emergency Services Department, was grateful for BMIR public safety announcements (stay inside, don’t stand near metal objects or carry umbrellas with metal points) in spite of the radio station tower getting zapped a couple times by lightning. Rampart saw only one victim of lightning strike. “He got a jolt and stayed with us for a few hours, but he was treated for mild injury and released,” Smith said.

A crew with the Man Watch, sheltering in place in the Souk beneath the Man, which was closed, told the Beacon, “I don’t know if the Man got hit, but it did conduct. My hair stood on end. Trust me, I wasn’t looking up.”

By 10:00 p.m. Monday night Bmorg reopened Gate, earlier than anticipated, after finalizing road surveys and reinforcing the playa surface at entry with decomposed granite.

The weather outlook for the rest of the week “looks good through the weekend,” Bmorg’s Graham said. “But there’s a possibility of rain by the end of the week.” We know what that means.

Burning Man Budget Brouhaha

By Mitch

Once upon a time, when many Black Rock City legends were still true, the Burning Man Organization decided to come clean about where your ticket money went. So it placed a financial table on the website that showed annual expenses — not telling you where the cash came from — but then, back when the millennium was young, it could only have come from ticket sales and the odd T-shirt.

As Burning Man has grown, so has its budget. But while Black Rock City’s expansion has been mostly symmetrical, its spending seems to have bled into other dimensions.

This year’s budget shows astronomical rises in two categories.

Usage fees paid to the Bureau of Land Management rose 142 percent to $4.5 million, while tax and licenses increased more than sixfold to $1 million. For the severalth year in a row, the Bmorg hasn’t had time to explain its accounts, though the Beacon asked on July 23.

On Aug. 11, the Bmorg posted on Facebook a link to a page on its own website called “Where Does My Ticket Money Go?” The page is placed in the “What Is Burning Man?” part of the website, but there’s nothing that seems to lead you to it other than the Facebook post. (And now: this link.)

The page doesn’t add much to the printed budget — certainly not in the way of explaining the outsized increases in the two categories above — though it offers an apologia for the $380 that most Burners paid for tickets this year by comparing it to some other festivals, which cost about the same but run for fewer days. Big deal.

There are no reductions large enough to counterbalance the mystery increases, though you may be happy to learn that water for dust abatement fell by almost half, to $262,693. Some of the numbers may show one-time effects of costs shouldered while Bmorg and Pershing County battled over the event’s future in court, a case that has now been settled. Details were vague.

The base fee paid to the BLM for use of government land is 3 percent of adjusted gross income, which includes tickets and whatever else the Bmorg charges for, possibly including fees for media projects like fashion-magazine shoots and joint-venture films. Given what the Bmorg told us about 2013 ticket sales, the $26.8 million of expenditures would have resulted in a $3.6 million loss, and at least the seventh straight unprofitable year, so there must be other revenue streams aside from tickets.

Incidentally, the Bmorg had been paying $15,000 to $18,000 a year in interest from 2010 to 2012, but nothing in 2013. This could indicate a potential source of income from possible sale of a property.

For several years, Burning Man has been moving toward nonprofit status, a process too convoluted and opaque to discuss in a newspaper this thin. Strictly as a matter of speculation, what might be buried in the numbers is a siphoning of money to an entity called Decommodification LLC, which controls the Burning Man trademark and is owned by six long-serving Black Rock City overlords. The not-for-profit event essentially pays the former directors of the for-profit company for the privilege of putting on the event. In the reader’s comments section of a March 3 Burning Blog post, Founder Larry Harvey said it would take at least three more years before the intellectual property is contributed to the Burning Man Project, making Black Rock City not for anyone’s profit.

It is possible that these Bmorg grandees are funding their retirements after years of living on the once-modest income you could derive from working for the Man. For six people of a certain age, the sum that would make a financial adviser happy would be somewhere in the $10 million range. Put another way, you can withdraw $40,000 to $50,000 a year from a $1 million retirement fund and be fairly confident of not outliving your assets. So if they’re pulling an annual $2 million out of event, that means four to six years of that level of drain.

One last bit of numerology: The cost per person of producing Burning Man was roughly $250 a year from 2004 to 2009 and then it jumped to about $380 from 2010 to 2013. Since budget planners would logically work backwards from their expected revenue, you might suppose that when they started planning the not-for-profit status seriously, they decided to boost ticket prices and the size of the event to feather their nests.

This also fits with a population jump to 51,525 in 2010 from 43,558 the previous year and a subsequent march toward 70,000. It also came as the Bmorg payroll climbed to more than $7 million from less than $3 million.Usually, when an event expands, the cost per person should go down rather than up, since some costs are more or less fixed and others benefit from economies of scale.

None of this seems especially shocking or distasteful. Larry & Co. have created something unique and profound. But if you’re going to post your budget for the world to see, it ought to make sense – or it looks like you are hiding something.

This article is an extended version of the story that ran in the Gate Edition of the Black Rock Beacon.

Welcome to NowHere

By Smash

Each year Black Rock City arises anew on the playa, like an oasis glimpsed through the haze by a bedraggled and dehydrated caravansary. What better way to discover a new city than by scavenger hunt? Put down your rebar, go for a stroll, and see if you can find the following:

Bad Advice
Photo by Clarity. Can you find Zero, a member of the Gate, Perimeter and Exodus Department?
  • A middle-aged naked man riding a Segway.
  • Something wrapped in bacon.
  • Someone falling off art.
  • A mewling kitten hiding in the engine compartment of a rental truck. (True story. It was rescued by a kindly Ranger, a veterinarian in the default world, who protected it in her tent from the prying and petsick eyes of a certain Beacon reporter.)
  • A woman who invites you to suck booze from a tube attached to her tit.
  • Cosmiquarium Village (“where the mysteries of the deep intermingle with the wonder of the stars.”).
  • Camp Magic Pancakes.
  • A young man wearing a flower pot on his head. (We met him last year when we offered a prize to the first burner bringing a Devo-related item to Camp Beacon. When he appeared, we asked if he was excited to win the contest. “What contest?” he replied.)
  • Grover Norquist.
  • A pirate ship, or someone dressed as a pirate.
  • Alien Siege Machine (where “crews are enslaved and driven by a mysterious rancor to pilot the machine into battle”).
  • Someone dispensing advice. (Last year I talked to God in a phone booth on the Esplanade. I told him I was thinking about giving up bacon because I love animals. But I was torn, as eating bacon makes me feel at one with the universe. God said, “You have answered your own question.”)
  • A caravan of giant teapots.
  • Genital Portrait Studio. (“Your session may include a number of props and positions, and you can walk away with your very own Genital ID card.”)
  • Camp Russian Roulette. (“We will turn people into Russians and Russians into people.”)
  • A 24-foot tall genie bottle.
  • A shirtcocker. (Urban Dictionary: “A guy at the Burning Man Festival who walks around with a shirt on and no pants, with genitalia exposed.”)
  • Someone taking a photo of someone taking a photo.
  • Your soul.

Proceed to Beacon HQ (1:30 @ Center Camp, near Playa Info) and tell us what you found. Prize: A copy of Tuesday’s issue, and a big dusty hug.

(Camp and art descriptions are from the Burning Man website.)