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.
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.
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.
37 thoughts on “The People of Black Rock City… Who Goes to Burning Man?”
This is awesome!
I’m Ray from London originally from Hong Kong.
New to blogging about cultures and travel
This month is all about Asia!
would be really lovely if you lovely people can check it out !
Hi Ray. Thanks for coming by. I’ll drop by your blog. –Curt
Fantastic photos! 😊
Thank you Rachel. Glad you enjoyed them. –Curt
“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
I live in California, Cindy! Blahaha! (Couldn’t resist.)
Very nice series.
Thank you Timothy. And thanks for visiting. –Curt
Curt, you’re welcome.
Now, HOW does she look so good with the yellow bird hair and heart glasses? And where is the shot of you and Peggy in leather bikinis?
Laughing D. You would not want to see me in a leather bikini, trust me. –Curt
Great photos. Where ARE you two?
As in where is Burning Man? It’s off in the center of the Northern Nevada desert, Kayti. The event takes place at the end of August through Labor Day weekend. –Curt
Well the attendees are as wonderful as all of the art! 11 times you say? That should make you an expert I would say. Hey you could be a Burning Man guide for first timers!
That I could, Sue. 🙂
Glad the people didn’t let the art down.
🙂 I think some people spend as much time on their costumes as others spend on art or Mutant Vehicles, AC. In fact many of them are works of art. –Curt
I figured the people would be as interesting as their creations.
A very good observation, GP! –Curt
I appreciate that, but it was kind of hard to miss! 🙄
Oh I do love the happy faces of this essay on who attends the Burning Man. THank you.
I tend to wander around with a grin on my face as well. And thank you. –Curt
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.
Peggy is much better at costumes than I am. (grin) But I keep promising myself, I’ll improve… –Curt
Marvelously entertaining photos, Curt. As always, thanks for sharing your experiences with those of us not luck enough to get there.
Glad you enjoyed them, Melissa. And it is always fun for me to post the photos. –Curt
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
Thanks Terri. 🙂 As for where the majority of Burners come from, you are correct. The majority come from the West Coast with California providing the bulk. –Curt
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
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.
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?
Tons of videos on u-tube and a documentary or two. But no movies I know of per-se. It would be tough to beat Burning Man in terms of overall creativity devoted to one event. –Curt
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
Wipes?? Really? Can’t believe it! ☺