A Burning Man devotee who's been 21 times says even though it's becoming a place of 'million dollar vehicles' the desert party still 'gets better every year'
Burning Man 2019 is getting underway this weekend in the Nevada desert. The party in the desert that started as a small gathering on a San Francisco beach in 1986 has blossomed into a nine-day event, and a temporary home to roughly 80,000 people, where the only things available to buy are coffee and ice. Burning Man veteran Ezra Croft, who is working at the event's ticket office, says in recent years there has been an influx of rich "whiz kids" from Silicon Valley at the event. Croft still maintains the event "gets better every year." Visit INSIDER's homepage for more stories.
Tonight, the party starts. Burning Man 2019 is officially getting underway in the Nevada desert this weekend, and Ezra Croft is already there, waiting for the gates to open at midnight, kicking off nine days of art, costumes, potential dust storms, and other forms of what locals in the temporary metropolis called Black Rock City have named "radical self-expression." "It gets better every year,"Croft told Insider, as he was working the Burning Man box office Saturday morning, staring down a line of cars and RVs waiting for the party in the desert to begin. "There's people anxious to get in, get unpacked, get set up, and really just get the art moving and just make Burning Man awesome."
Croft says things have changed quite a bit since he first started coming to Burning Man, "on a whim" in the late 1990s, but he's been back every single year since then, except in 2007 "when our kid was born." In recent years, there has been plenty of criticism lobbed at Burning Man, that perhaps the event is losing its edge and is becoming nothing more than a photo-frenzied haven for Instagram influencers, a playtown for Silicon Valley tech moguls, and their babies too. But Croft doesn't see it that way. Silicon Valley is changing Burning Man, but even "tech bros" can "get loose," Croft said "I've seen million dollar vehicles out here," he said, acknowledging there is noticeably more money in the crowd now than their used to be, a strange truth at a place where nothing is for sale (except the life essentials coffee and ice), and instead the concepts of gifting, radical inclusion, and participation reign. Read more: 13 unbelievable facts that show just how much people are willing to spend on Burning Man, from $425 tickets to $14,000 private planes Still, he says, the event can't be beat. "It's only getting more fun and more creative and just tapping more diversity," he said, acknowledging that the diversity in the crowd now extends to a fair number of "San Francisco tech bros," too. "A lot of these guys are 28-year-old whiz kids fresh out of computer science master's degree programs working in Silicon Valley, and they haven't really gotten like a gritty slice of life yet," Croft said. "They have a lot of fun. They dance, they wear their costumes, and they get loose with it, you know?"
Burning Man didn't start out here in the desert, though. What began as a much smaller beach party in San Francisco in 1986, has since moved to this desert "playa" (circa 1990) and blossomed into a temporary metropolis, an international community that is near 80,000 strong. "It changed my perspective on different ways you can interact with people and have fun," Croft said. One thing that's stayed the same: every year there's a "Man" to burn down, a wooden sculpture that is set ablaze. Croft remembers fondly the first time he watched "The Man" burn to the ground.
"I don't ever think I'd seen a fire that big," he said. "There were like little fire tornadoes coming out of it, and you know, seeing something like that for the first time was pretty exciting." He says it's not super common for kids to come to Burning Man, but some do: his 12-year-old daughter has been four times already. "We always try to encourage her to like, make art and be weird and goofy and don't let inhibitions hinder the creative process," Croft said. Though he says he does try to shield his youngster from some of the "adult-oriented" camps (and drugs), Croft maintains there's a lot of "kid-friendly" aspects of the event. "It's just like art that appeals to every person," he said. "I remember the first time she saw her very first naked person, an older guy walked by with no clothes on, and she just kind of went 'blegh!'"
Read more: 12 of the most extraordinary, never-before-seen photos from the past 10 years of Burning Man "People think it's just a wild, hedonistic party, and you know, there might be elements of that, but there's people from all walks of life, there's lawyers and doctors and people that are homeless half of the year," Croft said.
"But I think to pigeonhole any one thing about Burning Man, you're always going to get it wrong, because it's different for everybody."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: A giant puppet stole the show at Burning Man
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