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'Burning Man' debauchery: Five things festival's new czar should know

Arts and CultureLabor DayWoodstock Festival (1969)

LAS VEGAS -- So the Burning Man festival, that summertime celebration of counterculture debauchery and rock 'n' roll music, is getting a full-time event czar to oversee the zaniness that takes place each August in the middle of Nevada’s nowhere.

The federal Bureau of Land Management has announced that the new overseer of the week-long party in the state’s Black Rock Desert 100 miles north of Reno will handle contracts, law enforcement and safety concerns.

The manager has not yet been hired. Last year's festival leading up to Labor Day attracted 70,000 participants, many of them booze and drug-addled, many more of them nude, most out for a crazy time.

“Well, certainly they have to have a sense of humor,” Mark Pirtle, BLM's interim project manager, told the Los Angeles Times about potential applicants.

Here’s a short list of must-have information -- factoids, do’s and don’ts and never-again -- for the Mr. or Ms. Burning Man applicants:

Feel free to add to the list.

1) Prepare for public nudity

This is not your grandmother’s music festival. People come here to express themselves in a way that’s verboten in, say, Pasadena. People drop their clothes. They paint their bodies. Everyone is expected to be different. The new hire should not expect to see a lot of T-shirts and blue jeans.

2) You are not the morality police

There’s a saying on the desert sands of Burning Man: “What happens on the playa, stays on the playa.” Pirtle, who has worked the festival for nearly two decades, says concert-goers behavior was wilder before the BLM began supervising. “There used a be a lot of performance art, most of it X-rated,” he said.

But now extreme exhibitionism has been moved inside tents called theme camps. No underage attendees are admitted. “You have to have an open mind,” said Pirtle. “Some employees have had a hard time accepting what goes on out there. But this is a legitimate use of public land. We’re not the moral police.”

3) Facilities are, um, primitive

This is the middle of nowhere. Do not expect amenities like toilet paper, if you can even find a portable bathroom. Heavy.com explains the venue this way: “There are no stores, restaurants, gas stations, parking lots, hotels, motels, rest areas — no nothing."

4) Know your workplace history: Burning Man traces its roots to...?

San Francisco, of course. The Bay Area is the cradle of the present day Burning Man party. The first event was held in 1986 on clothing-optional Baker Beach. After the National Park police ended the partying in 1990, the Burning Men and Women moved out into the Nevada desert, where it’s still considered the “Woodstock of the West.”

5) Know what the wild days were like

Pirtle has had a front seat to the mayhem. “You just see a lot of weirdness out there,” he said. “My first year was 1996. It was pretty wild back in those days before the BLM took over. I remember they used to have shooting contests from moving cars. People brought all kinds of guns and fired them off. I was in law enforcement back then and I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is scary stuff.’ "

Now guns are forbidden.

But madness still rules.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Arts and CultureLabor DayWoodstock Festival (1969)
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