Burning Man Rumors: Fact or Fiction?
A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its dust mask and goggles. This is particularly true at Burning Man, where news gets around by word of mouth and pranksters love to play practical jokes. As Burning Man 2018 tickets get ready to go on sale, let’s play mythbusters to determine which Burning Man legends are actually true and which ones are just shirtcock-and-bull stories.
Daft Punk Is Playing at the Trash Fence: FALSE
The Daft Punk rumor has been a recurring gag for nearly ten years, presumably intended to make gullible newbies shlep all the way out to the trash fence. The hoax may have its origins at a camp called Club Verboten holding a 2009 “Daft Punk/Kraftwerk dance night” that people misinterpreted as the real thing, though these are message board accounts which cannot be verified. There is no evidence Daft Punk ever played at Burning Man.
But something magical has happened with the Daft Punk trash fence rumor in recent years, as seen in this video. In 2015, a few jokers printed up trash-fence orange wristbands to hand out as prank VIP invites. Having second thoughts that this might be “the world’s biggest dick move,” these jokers procured replica Daft Punk helmets and successfully put on a fake Daft Punk show. That tradition continued in 2016 and 2017, when the Festival Guy, who we know as Tucker Gumber, arranged mock Daft Punk concerts at the trash fence complete with rides back and forth and free drinks.
Gumber has even offered Daft Punk free Burning Man tickets if they agree to come play. They have yet to take him up on the offer.
Someone Burned the Man Early One Year: TRUE
Back in 2007, a controversial prankster did indeed ignite the Man at 3 am the Tuesday morning before the Burn. Brad Templeton’s on the scene photos show that the Man was consumed by the rogue blaze, though firefighters extinguished the flames within 30 minutes and the structure was rebuilt for Saturday’s Burn.
Within hours of the caper, police arrested longtime Burner Paul Addis on charges of arson and possession of fireworks. Addis smiled widely for a face-painted mugshot that went viral. “The Burning Man organization doesn't have any sense of humor anymore and that streams and trickles down to the participants themselves,” Addis told Wired just after posting bail.
Troublingly, Addis was arrested for attempted arson again two months later at a San Francisco cathedral. He would end up being sentenced to up to four years in prison for the Burning Man stunt (he served two years), and committed suicide in 2012.
Skrillex and Diplo Got Booed Offstage: POSSIBLY TRUE
What happened to Diplo and Skrillex on the discotheque art car Robot Heart in 2014 depends on your definition of “booed offstage.” We know with certainty the duo played that year under the name Jack Ü. (They spin for free almost every year!)
Both have publicly denied that any booing happened the night in question, though many alleged eyewitnesses say they saw Jack Ü booed. We have not found any recordings to verify this. But Diplo has offered the public explanation that “We were just killing time while the next DJ was setting up” and “Jus wrapped our set up with an inside joke,” which seems a semi-admission of negative crowd reaction.
It’s plausible Skrillex and Diplo received a smattering of boos that night, but unlikely they were forced offstage. The two have played free sets at Burning Man every night going back for years. As any Burner knows, sometimes your project just has a bad night.
Marijuana is Legal at Burning Man: FALSE
Recreational marijuana is now legal to buy for anyone 21 and up in Nevada! Burning Man is in Nevada! So now we can take our weed to Burning Man, right? WRONG.
Marijuana is still federally illegal. Burning Man is held on federally owned land called the Black Rock Desert. Federal law supersedes state law on federally owned lands, so your legally purchased marijuana becomes illegal the instant you arrive at Burning Man.
Wink wink, nudge nudge.
There Are Feds and Undercover Police at Burning Man: TRUE
Of course there are undercover police at Burning Man. We recommend you don’t do anything stupid!
Pershing County, Washoe County, state, and federal law enforcement personnel all have jurisdiction over the Black Rock Desert. They do arrest people. Take a good look at the Burning Man Survival Guide law enforcement recommendations if there’s there teeniest, tiniest chance you might break a state or federal law while at Burning Man.
Burning Man is a Corporation: NO LONGER TRUE
There was a time when Black Rock City, LLC, a corporation-styled limited liability company, was the owner and operator of Burning Man. This was between 1997 and 2013, when the event faced existential crises from tightening state regulations and significant tax increases.
Dr. Dre Discovered Burning Man: FALSE
A 2011 internet rumor claims legendary producer Dr. Dre is the secret financial kingpin behind Burning Man. The rumor cites a supposedly handwritten Dr. Dre letter from 1995 saying, “We met a bunch of crazy, naked motherf*ckers out in the desert today, they were putting up some giant, wood man.”
“I guess they have a big party out here for a bunch of days,” Dre allegedly continues. “I asked them how much they pay, they said ‘nothing.’ I was like no money? Someone should get behind this sh*t and make some loot off these fools cause they said there will be at least 5,000 people.”
There is zero proof this letter was written by Dr. Dre, though the rumor has been picked up by national media. Dre was shooting the Burning Man/Mad Max-inspired “California Love” video that summer. But there is no other corroborating evidence to add to this random 2011 Tumblr post, and the rumor has No Diggnity.
Susan Sarandon Took Timothy Leary's Ashes to Burning Man: TRUE
Actress Susan Sarandon took someone’s ashes to Burning Man 2015, and there’s no reason to doubt her claim that they were acid guru Dr. Timothy Leary’s ashes. Leary had most of his ashes shot into space after his 1996 death, but he also bequeathed small amounts of the ashes to friends. Some of those ashes went to Sarandon — she describes them as “just a little hors d'oeuvre-y portion” — and as seen in this video, she deposited those ashes at Michael Garlington’s Totem of Confessions (which Sarandon helped build) before that structure was burned.
Guns Used to be Allowed at Burning Man: TRUE
Firearms were indeed allowed at Burning Man up until the mid-1990s, when the event had more of an "anything goes" philosophy. “That time has passed and growth of Black Rock City and concern for everyone’s safety led organizers to ban weapons from the event,” according to the Burning Man Journal.
Each year, Burning Man negotiates something called a Closure Order with the Bureau of Land Management, a document which contains all manner of restrictions on what attendees can and can’t do. (You can read last year’s version.) The ban includes “Firearms of any kind including BB guns, air rifles and paintball guns.”
Burning Man has also banned dogs, hand-held lasers, and two-ply toilet paper. Drones are only allowed if you've registered them (and they only permit 30 total). And the ban on feathers was lifted in 2014, when the Burning Man Journal declared, “If you want to wear feathers, that’s fine … but make sure they’re attached in ways that won’t fail.”
“Boas still suck, don’t bring ’em,” the Journal also noted. They meant feather boas, though boa constrictors would also not be allowed.