The People of Black Rock City… Who Goes to Burning Man?

I chose this man to kick off my blog on the people of Burning Man partially because of the character shown in his face and partially because he is a veteran Burner who works with the Department of Public Works that helps build Black Rock City.

I chose this man to kick off my blog on the people of Burning Man partially because of the character shown in his face and partially because he is a veteran Burner who works with the Department of Public Works that builds Black Rock City.

When I first travelled out to Burning Man in 2004 the perception was that Burners were a group of modern-day hippies who travelled out into the desert, got naked, and smoked a lot of pot. I was okay with that. I like new experiences and adventures. Besides, I could go out into the desert, not get naked, and not smoke a lot of pot. What I quickly discovered, and have since advocated over and over however, is that Burning Man is much more than a hippie party in the desert; it is a hot-bed of creativity and a huge outdoor gallery of world-class art. Many of the costumes shown in this post are another aspect of that creativity.

Bright, colorful costumes have been a tradition at Burning Man since the event started. They are a way that individuals contribute to the overall atmosphere.

Bright, colorful costumes have been a tradition at Burning Man since the event started. They are a way that individuals contribute to the overall atmosphere. (Photo by Don Green.)

Naturally I was curious about who my fellow Burners were. As it turns out, so was Burning Man. BMO (the Burning Man Organization) began carrying out an annual census or survey in 2002 of who participated. What I discovered, as I reviewed the results of the annual surveys, was that the everyday average Burner looked a lot like me.

Burners come in all ages and many come well-costumed. I've always been a bit suspicious that them of them are also aliens.

Burners come in all ages and many come well-costumed. I’ve always been a bit suspicious that some of them are also aliens. I like the eyes staring out from behind. There is a good chance that Susan Sarandon tacked them up. (Photo by Don Green.)

Here are a few results from the 2014 census (the last date for which complete details are published) that I pulled out to share with you:

  • 58.2% of the participants are male and 40.6% are female. (Some don’t respond.) Of these people, 64.9% had been more than once and 35.1% first-timers (virgins in Burner speak). Only 5.5% fit my category of having been to the event 11 times or more.
  • People are older than you may think. 33.9% are 40 and older and 35.2% fit the category of 30-39, leaving only 30% for the under 30 crowd. My esteemed age (grin) puts me in the one percent category.
  • Income-wise, the majority of Burners are well above the poverty line. 2.7% actually make over $350k a year. Over 50% make between $50k and $299k per year.
  • 27% of Burners have advanced college degrees and 42.6% have bachelor degrees meaning that almost 70% of the people at Burning Man have graduated from college.
  • Not too surprising, 87% of the participants are white, a fact for which BMO has come under some criticism. 84.8% of Burners come from the US and 15.1% from other countries. (And yes, I realize that leaves 0.1% hanging out there. My theory is that these people are aliens from outer space. Who would ever know?)
  • The political view of Burners is somewhat left of center, especially on environmental and social issues. Only 4.8% registered as Republican. 34.6% registered Democrat and 34.3% Independent. Other parties got the rest. In the last election 72% voted. Of these, 75% voted Democratic.
  • Two final results: 69.4% of Burners consider themselves heterosexual. 71.8 % do not belong to an organized religion.

So now, to put a face to these numbers, here are some photos of Burners from 2015. I owe a special thanks to my friend Don Green for many of these pictures. Don is much less shy than I am about going up and asking people if he can take their photo.

It's not all youngsters at Burning Man. As the woman's glasses suggest, the majority of Burners are of a more liberal persuasion.

It’s not all youngsters at Burning Man. As the glasses suggest, the majority of Burners are of a more liberal persuasion. Most would go along with the old saying: Make love, not war.

Burning Man has a rule about not wearing feathers. They tend to escape onto the Playa and have to be cleaned up. That never stops people from wearing feathers. I thought they looked good on this woman. (Photo by Don Green.)

Burning Man has a rule about not wearing feathers. They tend to escape onto the Playa and have to be cleaned up. That never stops Burners from wearing them. I thought they looked good on this woman. (Photo by Don Green.)

This woman has been coming to Burning Man as long as I have and never looks a day older. I want her secret.

This woman has been coming to Burning Man as long as I have and never looks a day older. I want her secret.

Burning Man People 6

I captured this man twirling fire. While 87% of the participants at Burning Man are white, my sense over the past several years has been that the ethnic make up of the event is changing, be it ever so gradual.

I identified with this woman as she sat alone and worked on her journal, capturing her experience at Burning Man. It could have easily been me.

I identified with this woman as she sat alone and worked on her journal, capturing her experience at Burning Man. It could have easily been me.

This young couple stood next to me as we watched a burning piano be tossed 50 or so yards up the Playa. Glasses form an important part of Burner's costumes.

This young couple stood next to me as we watched a burning piano be tossed 50 or so yards up the Playa. Glasses form an important part of Burner’s costumes. He had a large fork as a staff. Why not…

Great eyelashes. (Photo by Don Green.)

Great eyelashes. (Photo by Don Green.)

Some Burners are abnormally tall.

Some Burners are abnormally tall with surprisingly small feet.

And some have wings, large wings.

And some have wings, large wings. (Photo by Don Green.)

I really liked these "wings."

I really liked these “wings” caught in the early morning sunlight. Is she ready to fly?

This woman had learned how. (Photo by Don Green.)

This woman had learned how. (Photo by Don Green.)

Our next door neighbors had a huge orange outside there RV and boxes of oranges that they were giving away. They told mer they had an orange tree in Southern California that bore fruit right about Burning Man time every year. They would pick the fruit, bring it to Burning Man and give it away.

Our next door neighbors had a huge orange outside their RV. They told me they had an orange tree in Southern California that bore fruit right about Burning Man time every year. They would pick the fruit, bring it to Burning Man, and give it away. They had been doing so for several years.

The hat and unique look guaranteed that this man would make it onto my blog. He really liked like someone I would like to know.

The hat and unique look guaranteed that this man would make it onto my blog. He really looked like someone I would like to know.

Here is how I like police people to tell me no. This woman was a member of the Black Rock Rangers, BMO's group of volunteers who help maintain order in Black Rock City. She was telling me I had gone about as far as I could go.

Here is how I like police people to tell me no. This woman was a member of the Black Rock Rangers, BMO’s group of volunteers who help maintain order in Black Rock City. She was telling me I had gone about as far as I could go.

Every party needs a pirate, right. Could it possibly be... (Photo by Don Green.)

Every party needs a pirate, right. Could it possibly be… (Photo by Don Green.)

37 comments on “The People of Black Rock City… Who Goes to Burning Man?

  1. “When I first travelled out to Burning Man in 2004 the perception was that Burners were a group of modern-day hippies who travelled out into the desert, got naked, and smoked a lot of pot.”
    No what on earth is wrong with any of this? This sounds like a description of Californians for the past 40 years, except of course for the Trump supporters, but they shouldn’t be living in California anyway. 😉 😉 😉
    This has to be your best series of photos yet on the festival yet, because the people are truly fascinating! Well done Curt.

    • Not a thing, Cindy, not a thing. I am almost giggling at your response. My umpteen years in California taught me, however, that people of every possible stripe live there, including, I am sure, a whole boatload of Trump supporters. 🙂 As for the people of Burning Man, you are absolutely right. They are fascinating. Thanks. –Curt

  2. Much to my surprise (since the art is always my favorite…and the dragons…and the walk abouts…), this is one of my favorite blogs on BM! What an extraordinary way to describe the people who attend BM….and, yes, I will encourage Curt to post a photo of our costumes…grin.

  3. Marvelously entertaining photos, Curt. As always, thanks for sharing your experiences with those of us not luck enough to get there.

  4. Truly fascinating people, Curt … and I’m sure that you and Peggy take the “fascinating quotient” to new highs! 🙂 In addition to your (and Don’s) excellent shots, I was particularly intrigued by the statistics you shared. Is it your impression that the bulk of the US participants hail from the West Coast? ~Terri

  5. You really captured the fun and festiveness of this event. Some of the statistics you shared surprised me. I’m not too surprised that attendees have money and education. So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the average ages, either, since they all seem to go hand-in-hand. How wonderful that these demographics which could so easily be misconstrued as boring conformists are spending their time and money on self-expression and artistic experience. Sounds fun!

    • Thanks. And you are right. There is nothing boring about the people who attend Burning Man. Most are adventuresome, creative types. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t folks who show up to simply party. And that’s okay. Some of the top DJs in the world show up to help them along. One of my objectives in writing about Burning Man is to help people get beyond some of the stereotypes that have developed about the event. And I guarantee it’s fun or at least unique! –Curt

  6. What a bunch of characters. I agree with your choice to start off the post. Those statistics are very interesting and somewhat surprising. But it does make sense that the place can’t be filled with only poor people, because getting there, staying there, creating the costumes and the art, all costs money.

    I often find the photos of people at festivals compelling, when the camera is in the right hands. It appears that you and Don have the right hands. The people really come alive for your readers in these photos. Thank you.

  7. I, too, thought that Burning Man was one big hippie party, and I, too, am good with that. But the more I read your blogs and study the costumes, I’m convinced these folks are seriously creative souls. And then there the issue of bringing all this garb to the event. It takes a lot of thought, planning, and creativity just to get it all together. Have any movies been made of BM?

  8. Lots of happy faces! I sure wish, though, I could’ve been smiling there alongside that beautiful young lady sitting by herself – teaching her Japanese, of course.

    But one thing I’ve wondered the past couple of years in reading your Burning Man stories… Where do all these couples bathe? What about waste water and ahem, other stuff?

    • Bathe? They used to run naked along behind the water trucks. Quite the site. BMO called that to a stop because of the ‘recycled’ water. Most people who bathe use an outdoor shower with a system to catch and evaporate the grey water. They may be private or open. And then there are baby wipes. Millions of them… –Curt

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