We didn't even know this was possible: Burning Man, great Black Rock Desert gathering of all people freaky and junk funky, sold out of tickets today for the first time since tickets started selling in 1995.
Burning Man spokeswoman Andie Grace says the festival's maxed-out popularity is most likely a product of online social networking -- "making the world a little smaller" in terms of "people's awareness of if their friends are going," stoking each other on art projects, coordinating rides, etc.
Tickets started at $280 in January, then topped at $360 yesterday, at which point the Burning Man blog announced it was downright sold out.
By this evening, the scalper scene has turned apocalyptic: Multiple pairs of tickets on eBay have already sold for $10,000, and some lunatic on StubHub is trying to charge $25,000 for a single -- completely disregarding the entire "gift currency" system that the mini city was built on. (Not that, uh, we care.) Perhaps most absurdly, one eBayer is offering a 10-pack of tickets and a helicopter ride in from Reno for $95,000.
[Update: We watched various tickets reach $5,000 on eBay yesterday. But many burners are claiming they've been placing "fake bids" to purposefully drive up ticket sales, or, as one commenter wrote, "creating fake eBay accounts to sabotage those that are trying to profit from this new scarcity." We have not been able to confirm either way. Bidding is still in the thousands on many tickets today.]
Robert Cordtz, a friend of ours who's attended the Burn for the last five years, says that "in the past, it's been said that it's an honor-system type thing" where no one is supposed to sell their ticket for more than they bought it.
"Now," he says, "I'm not sure if that was out of respect for Burning Man, or just because there was never a lack of tickets."
Recent murmurs that Burning Man has been drifting toward the Coachella/EDC mainstream have turned to angry screams today -- though Grace insists that nothing has changed within the confines of the festival itself.
"We haven't wanted to attract anyone who just wants to buy pizza at the pizza stand," she says.
But Black Rock City LLC, a company that's grown from a group of San Francisco hippies rubbing sticks together on a beach to a bigtime event promoter (if not by choice), has no control over message boards and Facebook threads, where theme camps now announce their increasingly star-powered lineups in advance.
In this way, what started as a dusty, otherworldly Disneyland for acid trippers has come to simultaneously advertise itself as a two-week-long concert for the insatiable raver crowd.
Online newspaper the Shroom -- an unfunny Onion for hippies -- tried to riff on the Burning Man news today (slash make some kind of commentary on the sold-outness of it all?) via what appears to be a satire piece on this being Burning Man's final year. Grace says that is not the case.
She won't reveal exactly how many tickets were sold, but says the 2011 event will be bigger than last year, when 51,454 people showed up. "People should not leave for Burning Man if they're not holding tickets in their hands," she says.
Cordtz, a burner, is thinking this year might be his last, if the panicky V.I.P. mentality he's observed today continues to overpower the festival's core values. We've heard similar sentiments around the LA Weekly office.
On the other hand, for every new asshole, there'll be a new badass, and making fun of the assholes with the badasses can be half the experience, anyway.
Nick Goebel, another friend and burner, says that since the early 2000s, he's noticed the music scene at the festival shift from small "trance and house" booths to "bigger bass systems" for dubstep and hip-hop. The rumor that Dr. Dre started Burning Man is probably hoaxy, but it speaks to the growing sense of glamour shrouding the thing:
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Since as far back as 2007, burners have been complaining about "Superstar DJs" like Paul Oakenfold, Christopher Lawrence, Tiesto, Infected Mushroom, etc. overtaking the indie, hokey vibe of old.
Looks like it finally reached a tipping point in 2011.
Of course, like all things awesome, Burning Man was bound to implode at some point, and it'll go through whatever evolution it needs to carry on the spirit of its diehards -- whether that be through smaller offshoot events or a complete overhaul of the Burn. Until then, try not to trip too hard, y'all; kind of defeats the purpose.