Another year of Burning Man has been cancelled due to the pandemic but for the die-hard festivalgoers with money to spend, they have decided to create their own unofficial event.
Officials at the Bureau of Land Management, which controls the desert where the festival usually takes place, estimate the non-ticketed event will attract up to 20,000 people over Labor Day weekend. The last official ticketed Burning Man, which took place in 2019, drew nearly 80,000 Burners to the desert.
Thousands of festivalgoers have already begun to descend on Nevada‘s Black Rock Desert – dubbed ‘the Playa’ – including Michael Goetzman, 38, of Wisconsin, who flew first class to the event on a semi-private jet.
‘It’s amazing, it feels like the 90s,’ Goetzman, who works in cyber security, said of the renegade event, where he’s camped out at the Bureau Of Misinformation site with ‘lots of highly intelligent successful friends from the Bay Area,’ including ‘notable celebrities and executives,’ although he would not disclose who was on the star-studded campsite.
‘Out here, this is the real America, the freedom. It’s public land. This is the real Silicon Valley of inspiration and emerging ideas. Bonds upon friends that spark innovations.’
He also said there were ‘lots of six-figure FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) workers’ in attendance, who could afford luxuries such as Porta Potties and private performances during a year where the official Burning Man organization wasn’t providing food, water, toilets and a weekend full of live music like they usually do.
Another year of Burning Man has been cancelled due to the pandemic but for some Burners, this year’s virtual rendition isn’t cutting it. Thousands have decided to continue the tradition for a week-long unofficial Burning Man and have dubbed it ‘Free Burn’ and ‘Renegade Burn’
The statement from land management means that this year’s foe-live event will look much different than past iterations of the festival, which are known for its incredible series of performances that showcase flaming structures and lasers alongside popular DJs
A video posted to Instagram shows festivalgoers dancing as DJ Guy Gerber performs
Thousands more Burners are expected to join the crowd over the course of the weekend with rumored performances from Diplo, who is no stranger to the festival
Goetzman, who works in cyber security, is a Burning Man veteran. In 2019 he took his children to the last ticketed Burning Man (pictured before leaving for the festival), which drew nearly 80,000 Burners. In 2020 he attended the first virtual iteration of the event and said: ‘I had a grand time without the dust covering me’
Yet the unofficial Burning Man was free to attend. ‘I know some that come out here and barely spend anything beyond gas,’ Goetzman said, who added that he might spend upwards of $10,000 over the course of the weekend.
‘Hard to calculate as I’m not quite done yet. Could be more,’ he said.
Goetzman, who makes upwards of $250,000 himself, said he and his friends enjoy ‘this one time of year to disconnect’ because of their stressful jobs. But he also said the festival is a great time to ‘visit with friends I only see once a year, safely’.
Burners are referring to the unofficial event as ‘Free Burn’ and ‘Renegade Burn’ and posted a livestream on Twitch titled ‘Feeling FOMO? Pack your s*** and just go’ has already documented nearly nine hours of live music, partying and a growing crowd.
Michael Goetzman (pictured), 38, of Wisconsin, flew first class to the event on a semi-private jet to the unofficial Burning Man festival where he’s camped out with ‘lots of highly intelligent successful friends from the Bay Area’
The Playa is available to the public year-round with a 14-day limit on recreational and camping use. But the land management has already issued temporary restrictions effective August 18 to October 31, 2021, including bans on igniting fires other than campfires, the burning of structures, aircraft landings, possession of alcohol and use of lasers.
It also warned people that ‘there are no medical and emergency resources close to the playa and multiple emergencies may result in extended response times’.
The statement means that this year’s foe-live event will look much different than past iterations of the festival, which are known for its incredible series of performances that showcase flaming structures and lasers alongside popular DJs.
Burning Man also usually has an airstrip for luxe on-site arrivals.
However, the restrictions – including the threat of historic heat strokes and smoke from the California wildfires – are not stopping die-hard Burner fans and groups such as Black Rock Plan B, Playa Poop Protocol, Unity 2021 Free Burn, RenegadeBurn, Renegade Man, and Rogue Burn from trekking into the desert anyways.
At the Bureau Of Misinformation campsite where Goetzman is staying, all guests are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated Burners were kicked out, according to Goetzman.
He said that overall, people are being ‘very respectful’ of Covid guidelines by setting up campsites farther apart than usual, wearing masks and asking others if it’s okay to approach. ‘There is a risk of Covid anywhere but we wear masks,’ he added.
Art cars are expected to make a showing this year in place of the Burning Man’s infamous larger-than-life art structures, not to mention about 500 unofficial Burning Man camps on the Playa, according to Forbes, which has festivalgoers excited to experience what the festival may have been like in the early 90s.
Officials at the Bureau of Land Management, which controls the desert where the festival usually takes place, estimate the non-ticketed event will attract up to 20,000 people over Labor Day Weekend
Nothing has stopped die-hard Burner fans and groups such as Black Rock Plan B, Playa Poop Protocol, Unity 2021 Free Burn, RenegadeBurn, Renegade Man, and Rogue Burn from trekking into the desert
A livestream on Twitch titled ‘Feeling FOMO? Pack your s*** and just go’ has already documented nearly nine hours of live music, partying and a growing crowd
Art cars are expected to make a showing this year in place of the Burning Man’s infamous larger-than-life art structures, not to mention about 500 unofficial Burning Man camps on the Playa
The Playa is available to the public year-round with a 14-day limit on recreational and camping use. But the land management has already issued temporary restrictions effective August 18 to October 31, 2021
Temporary restrictions include bans on igniting fires other than campfires, the burning of structures, aircraft landings, possession of alcohol and use of lasers
For Burners who can’t make it to the renegade version of the event, Burning Man organizers have kicked off Virtual Burn Week. The virtual experience is free with a requested donation – a price that’s a little less steep than the $500 per person asked to attend the in-person festival.
Goetzman, a Burning Man veteran, is also attending the virtual iteration of the week-long festival while he’s in the desert thanks to his $1,000 Internet uplink and SpaceX’s Starlink backup service.
He said the virtual festival was a good alternative and described it as ‘innovative’ for ‘breaking into new ideas of art’.
‘I had a grand time without the dust covering me,’ he added.
‘And virtual reality (VR) there is actually the art and temple,’ Goetzman said after noting that he missed the staples of the usual event.
An extended VR experience pass is allowing the half a million expected guests to visit the broadcast over and over again for up to 30 days after the virtual festival ends.
It’s designed to replicate as much of the annual festival known for its music, art, nudity and sex as possible, complete with the hours-long traffic jam to get in.
VR developers from six different companies have spent a year trying to reproduce that scene as they also took advantage of the new technology to give festival-goers, known as Burners, an experience they only would have had in past years if they were high on hallucinogens – with flying and teleporting avatars and Porta Potties that lead into a world of art.
They aimed to build a city out of thin air where participants can live in a utopian society that follows the principles of ‘decommodification’ (not needing money to obtain goods and services) and ‘radical inclusion’.
Virtual camps would allow longtime Burners to revisit their old haunts as DJs play virtual sets.
The virtual experience cannot, however, replicate the free-flowing drinks the festival is known for or the constant hugs participants get at the live experience that draws tens of thousands of people each year.
The users would create their own avatars who could fly and teleport throughout the virtual world and experience the sites the annual festival is known for
A scene of the playa as night descends on the city, with lights lighting up the sculptures
The virtual festival will run from August 29 through September 7 and is free with a requested donation, as compared to the in-person festival which costs $500 per person
The virtual playa includes many different features, like a virtual Ferris Wheel
The festival began on Sunday, as thousands of people encountered a glitch trying to get into the system – not knowing that the developers programmed a rain storm to replicate one a few years prior.
The idea, according to Andrew Barrett, a creator of some of the virtual worlds, was to get the Burners to ‘hang around and rely on each other to figure it out,’ calling the approach ‘radical self-reliance’.
Half a million people are expected to show up virtually for the event over the next few days, as they did for the first Virtual Burn last year – which was pulled together in a month, with several participants experiencing glitches as they could not figure out how to enter its multiple digital worlds.
This year, though, developers said the experience will be better.
‘We’ve improved on the technology because we’ve had a year and a half,’ Colette Crespin, director of Virtual Experiences for Burning Man Project, a nonprofit that organizes the event, told the Wall Street Journal.
The first Virtual Burn was built on Microsoft’s social platform, Altspace, and included over 200 worlds to explore, with more than 1,500 hours of live events.
It drew an estimated half million attendees, the Journal reports, more than five times the 80,000 who were there physically in 2019.
After winning the PGA Innovation Award last year, and further publicizing Altspace, Microsoft threw more resources behind the Virtual Burn this year and fast-tracked a 2D version compatible with Macs and PCs so anyone with a computer can create an Altspace account and teleport to the festival, according to IndieWire.
‘We brought his whole community with us, and now Microsoft is pouring money into Altspace to turn it into a premiere events platform,’ said BRCvr co-founder Athena Demos, adding for her ‘it’s a labor of love.’
Participants can create their own avatars to peruse the virtual festival grounds and dress them up as they want
While the annual in-person Burning Man festival was canceled this year over COVID concerns, those who would like to experience the festival could participate in a free Virtual Burn Week using virtual reality (VR) headsets or their computer screens
Burning Man is known for its sculptures – which will be on display in the virtual world
One of the worlds users can explore at the virtual Burning Man is the Infinite Playa
Organizers said there will be no Orgy Dome this year, but participants can create their own adults-only events
The virtual desert is created to be three-dimensional, though a two-dimensional version is also available