Burning Man sells out; hopeful attendees scramble for tickets

Tickets for Burning Man sold out this weekend for the first time in the counterculture festival’s 25-year history and now burners are scrambling to find a way into the festival as scalpers capitalize on the dwindling supply.

The San Francisco-based organizers, Black Rock City LLC, made the official announcement on Monday but would not say how many tickets have so far been sold. The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the Nevada desert where the festival is held every year around Labor Day, prohibits excessive growth and the organization decided to stop ticket sales in an effort to keep the population under control, according to Andie Grace, a spokeswoman for the event.

In 2010, the festival hosted 51,454 people, a far cry from the 20 people who showed up to the first festival at Baker Beach in 1986. Tickets for this year’s event went on sale in January, starting at $210 and increasing to $360.

Because tickets had been going so fast, the organization had repeatedly warned people to buy early, Grace said.

But now that the tickets are gone, entrepreneurs are already hawking the tickets at more than three times their face value. On eBay, the winning bid for one ticket was $860. On StubHub, tickets were selling for as much as $1,195.

As part of the unique philosophy of Burning Man, participants are encouraged to shun money and instead use barter or a “gift economy” to procure goods. After news of the sellout and the ensuing barrage of scalped tickets, organizers put out word to sell tickets at face value and to avoid paying more for tickets.

“There’s a strong ethic in the community to sell them at face value or give them away,” Grace said.

Melissa Fudor, 25, hopes that is the case. She and her boyfriend made travel arrangements from New York City to Reno for their trip to Burning Man. But they didn’t buy tickets into the event, counting on ticket sales at the gate.

Now, Fudor is combing through ticket offers that are more than $1,000.

“This is definitely not the Burning Man way; the whole festival is supposed to be an experiment on a society that doesn’t function around monetary greed,” Fudor said.

But Troy Dayton, a San Francisco-based investor who has been to Burning Man for the last 10 years, found tickets right away.

Through his network of friends, he found a ticket at face value, $290.

“It’s sad that there is now a limit on how many people can experience this unique event,” Dayton said. “Imagine if there was a limit on the number of people who were allowed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. That’s kind of like this is for freaks like me.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

Burning Man grows up

1986: 20 people: Larry Harvey holds the first Burning Man at Baker Beach.
1991: 250 people: The festival moves from Baker Beach to the Nevada desert.
1997: 10,000 people: Permitting restrictions prompt organizers to hold the festival on private land.
2000: 25,400 people: The human body is the theme for the first Burning Man of the millennium.
2007: 47,097 people: The early burning of the man by pyromaniac Paul Addis doesn’t put a stop to the festivities.
2008: 49,599 people: The American Dream theme draws the largest gathering up to that point.
2009: 43,558 people: Organizers see a major drop in participants and artwork because of the global recession.
2010: 51,454 people: Burning Man breaks 50,000 for its largest crowd ever.

Source: Black Rock City LLC

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