Whatever else history might say of the Burning Man Ticket Fiasco of 2012, it offers the community that puts on the festival one more brute lesson in market economics. For attendees at the longtime countercultural arts festival held annually in the desert near Reno, news that four-fifths of the tickets to this year's festival have already been sold is only worsened by reports that three-quarters of the personnel at the festival-defining theme camps and art projects didn't get tickets in last week's long-dreaded, much-abused lottery sale. Last year's record attendance numbers prompted the Burning Man Organization (BMORG) to ration attendance at a capacity set by the Bureau of Land Management, a figure that just now tends to rest just above the 50,000 mark.
By last Friday, Marian Goodall, BMORG's business director, was acknowledging all is not well in Burnerdom. "Not everyone who wants a ticket this year will get one, that is clear." By yesterday, Ms. Goodall was on NPR worrying aloud about "gutting the social infrastructure of the event" and worse. Later that night, a statement by Andie Grace, the festival's communications czar, was profuse in apologies, appealing for patience from a sorely tried subculture as the org works out this latest kink in the Burner credo of "radical inclusion." "[W]hatever is to blame," pleaded Ms. Grace, "now that we've reached this point, we absolutely know we have to get this next moment right."
The long and languid debate over whether the 25-year-old happening may one day reach its aesthetic or physical limits now yields to a save-who-may scramble to keep camps from disintegrating. Whether the tickets went to scalpers or merely thousands of fantastically lucky newbies won't be apparent until the actual gaudy bits of Admit One paper are mailed out in June.
Whatever other effects such an inadvertent venture into bubble economics might have, this unwanted situation could well cripple the big sound camps that draw both ravers and police in hordes. Last year's music was highlighted by Beats Antique; next year's may well be whatever Dave Dudley or Red Sovine CDs are still for sale in Reno truckstop bins. Such a Year of the iPod would fiercely delight many oldtimers, if only they could be there to enjoy it.
So, for Burners feeling burned by anxiety, here are nine possible solutions to your troubles:
1. Try to be among the Final Fifth: Come Hell or crashed servers, over ten thousand tickets are slated go on sale the old fashioned way over the Burning Man website on March 28. Good luck!
2. Kick it until STEP: Once all tickets are mailed out, BMORG is rolling out the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) to buy back a hoped-for influx of surplus tickets from Burners who decide not to attend. Registration begins Feb. 22, and optimists hope it puts at least one Willie Wonka ticket in their mitts.
3. Volunteer!: Find a camp that needs your participation, make yourself indispensable to it, and hope for the best. The very worst that can happen is you make a lot of really cool friends who wind up not going, too.
4. Sell your art installation idea to BMORG: A bonus is you get to camp out on the open playa near your Fifty Foot Cast Iron Inevitable or Flame Belching Goshwow while Black Rock City surges with beered-up fratboys and accountants on acid. Apply here.
5. Attend an Alt-Burn: Nothing is confirmed yet, as the ticket fiasco is but a few days old and the shock still palpable. Since the people *are* the event and it appears as many as thee-fourths of the people won't be going, it's not unreasonable to expect something like the Anti-Burn of All Time to come off the week before Labor Day at some desert locale TBD. Every Burner knows an ultrahip sister or brother or some other mother who went soaking at Harbin Hot Springs with a dozen other hedonists instead of dragging ass to the main event. This year, you'll join this too-cool-for-school elite. Admittedly, such sang-froid attitudinizing comes much easier to those who don't have to rely on the lottery for tickets, but this could change.
6. Parachute naked into Black Rock City: One occasionally hears of some wisenheimer threatening to do this. Perhaps thoughts of a very long and bareassed walk back to Gerlach -- the nearest town and itself no international hub -- are what keeps this old Burner's folktale in the realm of the hypothetical. The risk of being flung sans even Utilikilt into the county jail in nearby Lovelock might also figure into any hesitancy.
7. Mail yourself to Burning Man: Yes, Black Rock City has a post office. Anyone trying this faces daunting certainties of boredom and discomfiture, along with a very real possibility of being cut out of the box starved and gibbering by the cleanup crew a week after Labor Day.
8. Rent a room in Gerlach and start digging: This Ladykillers solution to the high cost of Burning would be a truly Gonzo feat at least on par with the flaming piano catapult or the full-size Dance-Dance Immolation.
9. The C.W. McCall option: It's like some acidhead's dream of the old lawless days of the Burn -- a thousand screaming RVs loaded with all manner of freaks hell-bent on Taking Back the Festival. Occupying the playa might seem a perfectly Burnerly option to some, but others might view dusty, heat-seared, cold-wracked playa as a perfectly dreadful place to be left ziptied by Feds for twelve hours.
The Man burns in 204 days, and those can't pass quickly enough for the Burning Man community to go back to complaining how better it all was last year.