High cost (and profit) of Burning Man

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal

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Many high-end tickets to Burning Man, the annual naked drug festival where no money changes hands (or so they say), is going to cost more than $1,000. Wealthy festival organizers recently told a Reno newspaper they had to raise ticket prices in order to cover increasing expenses, including a 9 percent state entertainment tax.

What are called “main sale tickets” will cost $424 this year, including state tax, go on sale March 23. Pre-sale tickets, which went on sale Feb. 17, cost $1,079. New “Leonardo da Vinci” tickets cost $1,308, and vehicle pass prices are up from $50 to $80 per vehicle. My guess is festival organizers are going to be able to cover expenses, even after their co-conspirator, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) collects its multi-million-dollar share of the proceeds.

Organizers said 70,000 tickets will go on sale. If two-thirds of those tickets go for $424 and one-third cost $1,000, well-paid Burner officials will gross more than $40 million. That should cover expenses.

Burner spokeswoman Megan Miller told journalists increasing attendance over the past 20 years raised the festival’s production costs. “Nearly everything about producing it gets a little more expensive every year,” she said. She singled out the new state tax, which is levied on events that include entertainment like Burning Man and the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. It was about time the Nevada Tax Commission required these huge events to pay their fair share of state taxes. After all, Burning Man reported $2.4 million in net revenue last year.

Burner accountants estimate Nevada is going to collect $2.8 in entertainment taxes this year. That sounds about right especially since BLM rakes in between $4 and $5 million for allowing the Burners to conduct their annual bacchanal on public lands in a National Conservation Area. Nice work if you can get it.

Last year’s festival drew more than 60,000 “free spirits” to the Black Rock Desert playa near Gerlach 90 miles north of Reno. Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen, who vowed to crack down on crime at Burning Man, said 42 people were arrested last year on charges including kidnapping, failing to register as a sex offender, assault with a deadly weapon and battery on a police officer. He didn’t mention hundreds of drug overdoses classified as “heat prostration.” My congratulations to the sheriff for attempting to enforce our state laws in that remote location.

The sex offender charge is particularly worrisome because some irresponsible participants bring their kids to Burning Man and my readers remember I encountered a naked, middle-aged man cavorting on the playa near “Kidsville” when I visited the festival a few years ago. Once again, I urge Burners to leave their kids home and suggest Sheriff Allen and Pershing County authorities look into the question of kids in attendance at an x-rated event featuring drugs and widespread nudity.

One of the more entertaining aspects of last year’s festival was a request for luxury accommodations by high-ranking BLM officials. Those self-important federal bureaucrats wanted the Burners to build them a separate compound with amenities like flush toilets, washers and dryers, and 24-hour ice cream service.

BLM Director Neil Kornze, a Harry Reid protege, called the extravagant request “outlandish” and transferred the responsible parties out of Nevada. Now everyone is playing nice and BLM will collect its multi-million-dollar fees without being provided 24-hour ice cream service. Boo hoo.

In a tender 2015 moment, actress Susan Sarandon burned ashes of the late LSD guru Timothy Leary in the “Totem of Confessions” after a colorful procession — a little something for the kids. I can hardly wait for this year’s festival.

Guy W. Farmer is the Burners’ favorite (?) critic.


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