Wasteland vs. Burning Man (Updated)

Despite what you see in online clickbait headlines over the years (which we have no control over) the management and staff of Wasteland Weekend has no desire to compare ourselves to Burning Man, or put ourselves forward as some kind of “cooler, more badass alternative” to that legendary party in the desert. In fact, from the beginning, some of the founders of our community were longtime burners and many members of our Wasteland community still attend and enjoy both events.

Still, it’s worth answering the more basic, and less inflammatory question – is Wasteland Weekend like Burning Man?

Well, comparing our event to Burning Man is an easy way to tell people that it’s a fun desert camping event with costumes, music and themed campsites. Despite the fact that Wasteland Weekend may look similar on the surface, or has been described by some as reminiscent of Burning Man in certain respects, the two events are not related and actually differ on many fundamental levels.

The major differences between Burning Man and Wasteland Weekend could be categorized into 3 factors: identity, goals, and rules.

Burning Man emerged from the art and counter-culture communities of San Francisco and is known for breaking the envelope of societal norms – whether that be riding your bicycle naked, wearing a colorful, funky costume, or driving a vehicle shaped like a banana. Because of this, Burning Man tends to attract folks like avant-garde artists, spiritual seekers, progressives, as well as a lot of trance music enthusiasts.

Wasteland Weekend, on the other hand, was started by fans of cult-classic pop-culture films like The Road Warrior. It attracts folks from the punk, metal and industrial scenes, gear heads, survivalists, reenactors, and geeks. While the event could be categorized as an outdoor science-fiction convention, it is actually more accurate to say that it’s like a post-apocalyptic Renaissance Fair. As such, Wasteland Weekend operates more like a traditional festival, providing official scheduled entertainment, in addition to its participant-created city-like atmosphere.

Burning Man, for the most part, is focused less on providing entertainment, and more on providing a venue – so that attendees can make their own parties and share their own art as they wish. As they say on their homepage,

“Burning Man isn’t your usual festival, with big acts booked to play on massive stages. In fact, it’s more of a city than a festival, wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the event.”

Burning Man and Wasteland Weekend operate differently and attract different crowds because they are trying to achieve different things with their events.

Burning Man wants to make a difference, whether that includes building community, making provocative statements through art, or simply, “making a positive spiritual change in the world.”

Wasteland Weekend’s goal is having light-hearted fun and providing entertainment in a fully-immersive post-apocalyptic environment. It’s an adults-only theme party that’s all about the costumes, the vehicles and the sets. Community is a bi-product of what happens when post-apocalypse fans come out and share in the experience. New Wasteland Weekend attendees are always surprised by how friendly and interesting their fellow attendees end up being.

The rules of an event are guided by its goals, local laws, as well as by the agencies that have jurisdiction over the area. Burning Man is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, a federal agency, and falls under the laws of Nevada. Wasteland Weekend is a California-based event and is under the jurisdiction of the city of California City. These and other factors lead to two different sets of rules at the two events. Some things will be stricter, and some will be more lenient.

The fact that Wasteland Weekend is trying to create a themed, immersive environment means it has to be stricter in controlling the atmosphere – the music people hear, the physical environment, etc. This means all costumes need be in theme, and unapproved sound systems (ie large DJ set-ups) will not be allowed.

Wasteland Weekend is a costumes-required event (so there are no gawkers, only participants in the theme) and we’re laser-focused on only one theme: post-apocalyptic. At Burning Man, a random assortment of vehicles, costumes, camps and art installations scatter the landscape, sometimes within a very broad theme but often not (the “Mad Max”-themed stuff makes up a very small percentage). Wasteland Weekend is an event where everyone collectively contributes to one specific unifying theme, creating a powerful movie-like setting.

Entertainment wise, there are also some similarities and differences. Like Burning Man, we’ll have a lot of fire performers, pyrotechnics, DJs and live drumming.  But unlike Burning Man, our entertainment isn’t a kind of free-flowing, user-created jam session. Ours is a set list of performers appearing at specific stage areas. Think of it more as a night club in the desert. (Performers interested in being part of the entertainment must get in touch with us ahead of time.)

Wasteland Weekend is more lenient than Burning Man as far as allowing vendors, allowing unlimited re-entry, and not requiring registration for special vehicles. Participants can come and go as they like and are free to buy and sell (vendors need to register).

Wasteland Weekend has a lot it can learn from a highly-planned, successful annual event that has been in the desert for over 20 years. However, the two events are fundamentally different in essence and what they are trying to achieve.

Another difference of course is that Wasteland Weekend is much closer to Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas than Burning Man, and a lot less expensive!
Burning Man ticket price range : $190 – $650
Wasteland Weekend price range: $55 – $100

Departure City Distance to WW
Distance to BM
Los Angeles 2 hours 15 minutes 10 hours 30 minutes
San Diego 3 hours 12 hours
Las Vegas 3 hours 15 minutes 9 hours