Burning Man, the annual weeklong arts and culture event in the Black Rock desert of Nevada, prides itself on the principle of “radical inclusion.” But that may no longer apply to exclusive camps for wealthy attendees that offer luxury amenities while fouling up the environment.
In a blog post this weekend titled “Cultural Course Correcting,” Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell revealed a number of changes to ticket sales and camp placement for Burning Man 2019, to be held in August, that were widely praised by attendees. And for the first time in the event’s history, she publicly disinvited an entire camp.
That camp’s name was Humano the Tribe, one of the so-called “turnkey” or “plug and play” camps that caters to high-rolling attendees with prefab pads and personal “sherpas.” Some attendees have compared Humano’s presence to the Fyre Festival — both in terms of its audacious pricing and its incompetence.
A price list for Humano’s camp at Burning Man 2018, obtained by Mashable, shows accommodation starting at $25,000 for a 160 sq. ft. “Single Bedouin Tent” with minibar and AC. Prices go all the way up to $100,000 for a “Moon Village” with two bedrooms, a private bathroom, and “super-powerful AC.” That’s on top of a “tribal fee” of $2,000, the cost of “initiation.”
To put that in perspective, the price of a Burning Man ticket starts at $190 for low-income attendees and tops out at $1,200, a voluntary price for those who can afford it. “Main sale” tickets are $425. Median personal income for attendees in 2017, the latest year for which census data are available, was $60,000.
Still, there has been an uptick in wealthy attendees in recent years, particularly those from Silicon Valley. Debate has raged for years about whether turnkey camps should be allowed, and the extent to which the rich are “participating” rather than “spectating” (spectators are a big Burning Man no-no).
Humano, with its Facebook and Instagram pages full of models in basic Burner attire, and a camp layout that does not appear inviting to neighbors, would seem to be the poster child for everything that old-school Burners say has gone wrong with the event.
Humano did not respond to requests for comment. Reportedly the camp’s founders have claimed to the Burning Man organization that the price list is the work of a third-party concierge that added its own exorbitant fees. However, the price list document appears to have been created in the name of Humano co-founder and restaurant investor Santiago Gomez.
In any case, it was not the outrageous price list that was responsible for Humano’s de-invitation. It was the camp’s ignorance of the most sacred Burning Man tenet: Leave No Trace.
Goodell described the camp as a “strain on resources” with multiple environmental citations from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), which owns the land on which Burning Man is held, and multiple complaints from neighboring camps at the 2018 event.
What she didn’t mention, however, is that the camp was literally leaking toilet water.
Those private toilets were supposed to save $100,000-tier guests from the indignity of using the event’s many public Porta Potties. However, Burning Man sources say Humano arrived with PVC piping that did not properly connect to its toilets. Instead of fixing the problem with proper plumbing available 90 miles away in Reno, Humano simply duct-taped the piping.
That led to what is euphemistically termed black water leaking onto the playa, which is about as much of a health hazard as you can get. Ironically, Humano’s brochure had promised a “green theme camp” with a workshop devoted to waste.
The camp also had problems containing its post-washing grey water, and neglected to clean its dance floor of trash for several days after the organization inspected and requested it. Only a return visit with BLM rangers, who had local county sheriffs in tow, persuaded Humano to spring into action.
Burning Man takes trash so seriously that it produces a “MOOP [matter out of place] map” every year, designed to shame camps that leave so much as a bottle cap. It is no spoiler for the as-yet-unreleased 2018 map to say that Humano’s location is deepest red.
The hits keep coming. Humano’s brochure claimed that its private chefs would focus on “raw and organic ingredients” from “local farms,” despite the fact that there are no farms local to the Black Rock Desert. Its art car vehicle, the “Tribe Car,” was said to be returning from a “one-year hibernation.” Left unsaid: that was because Burning Man’s own DMV (“Department of Mutant Vehicles) had banned it the previous year for various infractions.
A lengthy Reddit thread devoted to Humano features various camp neighbors accusing them of “ruining multiple blocks” with MOOP and leaving trailers in areas zoned for other camps. There are also allegations that Humano’s packages were priced to include the companionship of multiple female models.
Mashable was also shown unmet requests for refunds from Humano attendees who paid upwards of $130,000 for a stay in a luxury RV and didn’t get what they bargained for.
And all this may be just the tip of the iceberg of bad camps. “There are a dozen other camps that have been sent warnings,” Goodell wrote. Those include one concierge-led group called China Village, and another called Pathogen Trackers.
What remains to be seen is whether the organization can hold the worst excesses of such groups at bay before they destroy the host organism.