WINNEMUCCA, NV – Citing record high temperatures, nearby wildfires, and an infestation of millions of biting, foul-smelling insects, organizers of the annual Burning Man festival have announced an unprecedented last-minute change in venue for the weeklong event, set to be attended by a who’s who of artists, creatives, entertainers, and Silicon Valley wunderkinds starting Monday.
“Leaving the Playa in Black Rock Desert was not an easy decision for any of us,” Burning Man founder and organizer Larry Harvey said in a statement earlier today. “However, the safety and comfort of Burners is our primary concern, which is why we’re excited to announce that the 2015 Burning Man festival will be held in the Sagebrush Ballroom at the Best Western Airport Plaza Hotel in Winnemucca!”
“The Sagebrush Ballroom is to the LEFT of the reception desk, first door on the right past the Silver Rush Cafe.” Harvey clarified in a subsequent statement.
The decision to relocate the outdoor festival from 1.5 square miles of open desert to a 3300 square foot hotel ballroom has generated considerable controversy among Burning Man ticket holders, some 70,000 of whom are expected to begin arriving at the Best Western this weekend.
“I’m definitely bummed,” said four-time attendee Chad Durcey, 31, a self-described social media consultant from Los Angeles. “Burning Man is all about building and sharing art spaces that create contrasting psychological paradigms. This year I was going to make a tent shaped like a three-headed dragon where each head is an entrance leading to a separate chamber with a different elemental theme – fire, water, wind, you get the picture. But I just got an email from [Best Western facilities manager] Carol Watkins telling me that the only building materials allowed in the ballroom are vinyl chairs. It’s a challenge.”
“It’ll be nice having A/C, though.” Durcey added.
Oakland-based social media specialist Brad DeLuca, 29, also had mixed feelings. “Doing MDMA with thousands of people in the desert is a rare exercise in achieving a sort of group gestalt, resulting in a shared sense of unity and purpose that defies explanation. Doing MDMA in a hotel ballroom is a Tame Impala concert. I mean, I’ll still have a great time, but it’s going to be a lot harder to sell that as a life changing experience when I talk about it on Facebook for the next three weeks.”
27-year-old social media manager Jordyn Santos, who made the drive down from Seattle, said she felt bad for first-time attendees. “Seeing The Man burn last year, I felt a profound sense of absolute peace and unity with nature, the environment, and Earth itself. Now I hear The Man is only going to be like two feet tall, and they’re building him out of popsicle sticks, and that bitch Carol [Watkins] won’t even let us set him on fire. On the other hand, those bugs on the Playa sounded really gross, so I guess it’s for the best.”
In response to multiple requests for comment, Ms. Watkins forwarded us a copy of the Best Western facilities rules and regulations, which state that “…no cigarettes, e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, pipes, or other open flames shall be allowed on the premises. Any failure to comply will result in immediate termination of event permits and forfeiture of deposit.”
By Sunday evening, a steady stream of early arrivals in camper vans and heavily modified art cars had begun to pour into this sleepy desert town from all directions, converging on the Best Western. At the Silver Rush Café, a table full of Burners in Steampunk pirate garb could be seen attempting to exchange several hand-carved pieces of rhinestone encrusted driftwood for two Denver omelets. Another group gathered at the ballroom door to poke their heads inside and scope out potential campsites.
“As soon as they open up tomorrow, my friends and I are going to run and try and grab that back corner,” said Megan Billings, 33, a social media advisor from Colorado who will be going by the 'ballroom name' Muskrat Susie for the week. “It’s next to that pillar, so there’s some privacy, and there’s two outlets we can charge off of.”
“And it’s close enough to the café that we can steal their free Wi-Fi,” added her boyfriend, part-time social media counselor Mark Shin, who was clad in a pink thong and Viking helmet.
“There’s free Wi-Fi?! God, why don’t they do Burning Man here every year?”
The Sagebrush Ballroom has a posted occupancy limit of 275 persons. At press time, county fire marshal Jim Martinez had announced that supervised groups of 260 Burners will be allowed into the ballroom at regular intervals to have transcendent, life-altering experiences for up to ten minutes at a time.