Behind every great music festival, you will often find one of the great musical origin stories.
Why, Perry Farrell kicked off the great Lollapalooza as a way for his band Jane’s Addiction to say farewell in the early ’90s. Meanwhile, Australia’s iconic Sunbury Pop Festival supposedly began over a coffee at the Channel Nine canteen in the early ’70s.
Despite their odd beginnings, these festivals have become icons, remembered by millions for decades while their very name conjures up images that can’t be matched.
Similarly, the famous American festival Burning Man also evokes such memories, despite its wildly different nature.
First held back in 1986, the Burning Man festival is a mixed-media celebration held in the Nevada desert, and promotes peace, self-expression, community, and all variety of wholesome values.
Of course, the festival’s biggest drawcard is undoubtedly that of the iconic wooded effigy of a man that attendees burn on the festival’s Saturday evening.
Starting as a bonfire between friends in San Francisco, Burning Man didn’t really kick off until the ’90s, at which point it had started to attract larger and larger crowds every year.
However, there’s a theory out there that Burning Man as we know it was actually founded by a man named Andre Young, better known as Dr. Dre.
Back to the start
Okay, this is a lot to take in, so let’s go back to the start for a second. The origins of Burning Man centre around Larry Harvey, a Californian man who found himself on a beach back in 1986.
While having a bonfire with friends, Harvey claims he got the urge to burn an effigy of an eight foot tall wooden man as a spontaneous display of “radical self-expression”.
Soon, this became an annual tradition, and by 1988 the name Burning Man was formally adopted. After the event was banned from its original location in 1990 due to a lack of permits, Kevin Evans and John Law took over, moving it to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
Over the next few years, the event grew from its modest attendance of 350 to over 8,000 in 1996, the first year that it was open to the public. However, it is around this period of time where conspiracy theorists believe that Dr. Dre enters the picture.
Enter Dr. Dre
Back in 2011, a blog appeared online that featured the rather apt name of ‘Dr. Dre Started Burning Man’. The theory uses a letter written by Dre as the primary evidence for this claim, in which the artist claims he stumbled upon the iconic festival in early 1995 while scouting for a location for 2Pac’s ‘California Love’ video.
In his hand-written letter to future wife Nicole Threatt, Dr. Dre claims that he was planning to look into Burning Man as a way to make “easy money” from its attendees.
“I’m in Nevada with Hype [Williams] lookin [sic] at spots for this new video we are shooting for that single I told you Pac is going to be on once he is out, called ‘California Love’,” Dr. Dre began. “We met a bunch of crazy, naked motherf***ers in the desert today, they were putting up some type of giant wood man.”
“I guess they have a big party out here for a bunch of days. I asked them how much they pay, they said ‘nothing’, I was like ‘no money?’ Someone should get behind this sh*t and make some loot of [sic] these fools cause they said there will at least be 5,000 people.”
“I think I will have my office look into it, just to see if there is easy money to be had here.”
The letter ostensibly written by Dr. Dre to his future wife
This makes perfect sense, right? After all, Dr. Dre is worth well over $750 million these days and Burning Man is a culturural phenomenon.
In fact, the theory states that during Dre’s interactions with festival-goers back in 1995, he was informed that their permit with the Nevada Bureau of Land Management was set to expire that year.
Thinking as a dedicated businessman, Dr. Dre reportedly fronted the cash for a new permit, stipulating that the event would be open to the public from that point on, and that a modest entry fee would be charged.
The theory also notes that the original entrance fee for Burning Man back in the mid ’90s was a modest $35. These days, tickets can be bought from between $190 and $1,200; hardly the sort of prices that scream “radical self-expression”, eh?
Exploring the truth
So the question remains, did Dr. Dre actually start the Burning Man festival? Well, let’s take a closer look at the details we know.
Firstly, the letter supposedly written by Dr. Dre claims that in February of 1995, he was out scouting for locations for 2Pac’s ‘California Love’ video.
While Tupac Shakur was indeed in prison at the time, as the letter states, the person who submitted this theory claims that this letter was taken from a Nevada hotel during their scouting trip.
This indicates that Dr. Dre stumbled upon the 1995 edition of Burning Man during the second month of the year. According to the Burning Man archives, the 1994 edition of the festival took place between August and September of that year, while the 1995 edition ran from a similar schedule.
Maybe Dr. Dre did find some “crazy, naked” people out in the Nevada desert that year, but it doesn’t look like it was part of Burning Man.
The video for 2Pac’s ‘California Love’ inadvertently gave birth to a true musical enigma
Notably, the company behind the festival also don’t list an Andre Young on their business license, meaning that if Dr. Dre was ever involved, he isn’t any more, and this isn’t the sort of “easy money” he would walk away from, right?
However, the most damning evidence against Dr. Dre’s involvement came to light in 2015 when The Daily Beast actually contacted the rapper’s people to confirm the legitimacy of the letter.
In addition to being told that the missive was a fraud, it turns out that the hip-hop icon only learnt about the festival in 2014, with a representative confirming that “Dr. Dre had no idea what Burning Man was.”
Sadly, it seems as though Dr. Dre’s involvement in Burning Man is nothing more than a story to be told amongst friends who love a good tale of rock and roll. But let’s be fair, it’s one of the most plausible, and intriguing, ones out there. It deserves a cheers with a cold beverage.