In just a few weeks, approximately 75,000 people will descend on a little patch of land north of Reno for Burning Man 2019. 

From August 25th to September 2nd, that patch of land will be known as Black Rock City, and it will be home to a microcosm of humanity. Among Burning Man's many inhabitants will be management consultants, nurses, parents, tech CEOs, cancer survivors, millionaire actors, electricians, solopreneurs, writers, teachers, fire-dancers, and chiropractors. 

There are also no small number of celebrities who attend. Here are a few famous people you might not know like to get down on the playa at Burning Man:

1. Susan Sarandon

In 2015, Susan Sarandon attended Burning Man in part to spread the ashes of Timothy Leary at the Totem of Confessions, a temple she and friends built in part for this purpose.

On Burning Man overall, she had this to say in an interview: "You'll find fantastical stuff like four-story women, and when the light comes up, a half-naked woman with a parasol." 

2. Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Asana and Facebook)

Dustin Moskovitz did a good job of outlining both the joys and challenges of Burning Man in a Medium piece he wrote after five years of attending the festival.

"My first year, I felt totally clueless," he said. "I didn't know how to help out with the chores that needed to be done every day and made far more messes than I fixed."

He also shared his vulnerability around being new to Burning Man at that point: "I was sure the 'real' burners wanted nothing to do with me. That was probably true of some of them, but years later I understand that the experience only becomes amplified when you get to see it through a virgin's eyes. Never build a camp without one, trust me."

Moskovitz was also one of the co-founders of Facebook, and in one of those interesting twists of fate that tend to take place at Burning Man, Moskovitz came across the Winklevoss twins at the festival:

3. The Winklevoss twins

Yep, those two guys who sued Zuckerberg et al over Facebook have gone to Burning Man. When Moskovitz ran into them on the playa, he had this to say:

"In spite of our tangled history, I had never actually met them; we only communicated through lawyers. These guys are among the only people on earth I might describe as real antagonists in my life or even enemies, but on playa my first instinct was that I quite obviously needed to introduce myself and start with hugs." 

The three ultimately had a touching exchange. 

4. Katy Perry

Among some of Katy Perry's adventures at Burning Man was an entertaining video she posted on Instagram of her attempt to ride a Segway-type vehicle in the face of a dust storm. The attempt didn't go well, and ended with her losing control and chasing after the machine while it ran away from her (and eventually toppled over).

Her caption: "Obvious first time burner alert."

5. Larry Page & Sergey Brin

The two Google founders have attended Burning Man several times over the years. They actively encourage other Google team members to attend, and facilitate this by running a free shuttle bus for employees to Burning Man.

Brin and Page have purportedly worn full-body spandex suits to hide their identities while at the festival, and have even made hiring decisions out of things that have happened on the playa:

6. Eric Schmidt 

Schmidt is one of those hires. He, Brin, and Page have been open about the fact that that their conversations and connection on the playa was directly responsible for his coming on as Google's CEO. Brin and Page said it was in large part due to Schmidt's love of Burning Man that they felt he would be a good fit in Google's culture.

7. Diddy (Sean Combs)

Diddy's golden glove burner attire is worth checking out. On the experience overall, he had this to say: 

"Words cannot explain! I'll never be the same."

8. Elon Musk

Musk is always the first famous person to come to mind when I think of Burning Man, and not because of his well-documented love of the festival. No, it's because when I first moved to LA, I worked at a startup called Tesloop, and our CEO was semi-obsessed with Elon Musk. In fact, posted on the wall of our workspace was a gigantic poster that had a picture of Elon's face. Why? Because our CEO, Rahul Sonnad, had put it on an art car at Burning Man the year before, as he drove around the playa trying to locate Musk. 

Perhaps Elon Musk sums up both my thoughts and his own on Burning Man when he says: "If you haven't been, you just don't get it."

9. Paris Hilton 

The fact that Elon Musk and Paris Hilton are both drawn to Burning Man (and coexist there in full expression) says more about the unique quality of the festival than perhaps anything else could.

10. Will Smith 

The playa is conducive to celebrities in part due to the prevalence of face masks; they can party with everyone without getting mobbed. Will Smith posted a shot of himself preparing for Burning Man, complete with face mask to protect against both dust and overzealous fans.

11. Mark Zuckerberg 

According to Moskovitz, Zuckerberg did, as rumors had it, attend Burning Man and serve grilled cheese sandwiches to fellow burners. But he didn't do the whole air-conditioned-yurt-with-a-private-chef thing that has now become a staple of a billionaire's potential experience at the festival.

No, according to Moskovitz, "Along with its other inhabitants, [Zuckerberg] helped pitch his own tent. I wanted him to experience the city and to experience gifting because I thought it would make him grow as a person and the world better off as a result; I believe that's exactly what happened, however marginally (he was already a pretty great person)."

But it is not the interaction with Zuckerberg that really captures the spirit of Burning Man. It's the continuation of Moskovitz's story about running into the Winklevoss twins, and Tyler Winklevoss in particular:

"Almost immediately when I got back [to my tent]," Moskovitz said, "I had a Facebook friend request from Tyler and we started a thread mutually extolling the virtues of the festival ... I had created all kinds of dark fantasies about how meeting them would go (Tyler assures me it would have been cordial regardless), but on playa it was laughably clear. There, we were all part of the same community. We were always part of the same community."

If there's anything I learned out there at Burning Man myself, it was a variation of that same thing:

We are all part of the same community.

Published on: Aug 8, 2019
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