Fraud, fiasco, failure: these are the words that describe the dreaded 2017 Fyre Festival. This event goes down in history as one that defrauded thousands of ticketholders and investors. Aimed to dupe millennials, Fyre Festival also wounded the integrity of festival promotions and influencers. Fyre Founder Billy McFarland‘s promise of a unique and rare festival experience reeked of financial failure. Fortunately, a hearing to approve the settlement for class action attendees is scheduled for May 13.
If you skipped the documentaries (yes, there are multiple) detailing this disastrous event, don’t worry—CELEB‘s got you covered. A man named Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc. conned virtually any partygoing millennial with a laptop or a phone. Initially a plot to promote Fyre’s booking talent app, the festival ended up being a lot of people’s worst nightmare (and favorite meme of 2018).
Fyre Festival: What Was Promised?
Set up in a similar two-weekend-set like Coachella, the festival venue was in Great Exuma—a secluded island in the Bahamas. Fyre paid whopping promotion fees on Instagram, with the help of certain social media influencers. Of course we’re talking about Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner. This is top tier marketing: hiring intriguing models to advertise a luxury island concert getaway. These celebrities built the Fyre brand hype by posting a mysterious orange logo on their Instagram.
Simplicity is key and mystery is alluring, so this promotion tactic worked like a charm. Fyre promotors booked artists such as Disclosure, Blink-182, Tyga and Major Lazer. They also promised world-renown chefs and gourmet food. Additionally, they guaranteed luxury accommodations to anticipating fans. Not to mention eccentric activities such as swimming in the ocean with wild pigs.
Throw in an element of danger to the mystery factor, and you’re reeling in even more people. Fyre organizers promoted the festival’s venue as Pablo Escobar’s previously owned island. Narcos hype was still in full effect, so the organizers enticed their potential attendees with a ‘trappin like a Narco‘ ambience. Fyre promoters knew how to romanticize the luxurious allure of the Colombian drug lord.
Fyre Fraud, The Flop of Festivals
As expected, tickets sold out instantaneously. With the tickets being from $500 to $1500, and VIP packages going up to $12,000, millennials were ready for the time of their lives. But little did they know that it’d be the worst time of their lives.
On the first day of the festival—April 27—an unforgiving rainfall soaked up the tents and mattresses (luxury accommodations). Guests arrived from their flights to a joke of a sleeping arrangement. In addition to this, Blink-182 announced their withdrawal from the festival. They tweeted, “We’re not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans.”
Festival preparations continued to fail in mayhem. Later attendees were escorted on a school bus, only to meet their disaster-relief tents on dirty floors. And how about the promised chef-made gourmet meals? Well, they were served cheese sandwiches in foam containers. In addition to all of this, accommodations were scarce, so people stole mattresses and personal belongings from each other. A group of local musicians were the only ones performing. And the cherry on top? Fyre promoters announced a postponement the event, forcing travelers back to Miami.
Stranded, terrified and confused, attendees dealt with the most extreme conditions. These include item theft, low light, no medical personnel OR event staff, no internet or data, and no running water. The disaster-turned-nightmare intensified when rescue aircrafts were sent to get attendees off the island. It was like an episode of Survivor.
McFarland Pays The Price, Ja Rule Plays The Victim
McFarland pleaded guilty to one account of wire fraud in March 2018, for defrauding ticketholders and investors. While out on bail, a second count followed him regarding defrauding a ticket vendor. In October 2018, McFarland was slapped with a six-year sentence in prison and was forced to cough up $26 million. In total, Fyre organizers dealt with eight lawsuits and a couple class action lawsuits, of which one is seeking over $100 million in damages.
Like a page ripped out of Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies, the aftermath of the failed festival made headlines. Ja Rule, who partnered on the festival, tweeted “it was NOT A SCAM” and “this was NOT MY FAULT.” Recently, he started profiting off of NFTs made from Fyre Fest merchandise.
McFarland’s history of defrauding investors and ticketholders is comparable to that of Bernie Madoff, a disgraced former Wall Street financer. Madoff manipulated investors through a Ponzi scheme that stole $65 billion, and he was exposed shortly after the 2008 recession. Like McFarland, other millennial Madoffs include Zach Avery, Elizabeth Holmes and Adam Neumann.
Entertainment lawyer Mark Geragos filed a $100 million lawsuit against McFarland and Ja Rule in the state of California. Geragos fought for class action status for 150 plaintiffs. But the lawsuit faded out after Fyre Fest sent cease and desist letters to their whistleblowers.
What’s Happening Now? The Latest Class Action Lawsuit
After a tiresome four years post-festival, only a fraction of the festival attendees are getting their money’s worth. Billboard reports that the settlement allows each of the victims (277) of the class action lawsuit $7,200. This number, however, is unstable as it could drop due to McFarland’s rocky bankruptcy case. Fyre Fest is truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Ben Meisalas, leading lawyer of the class action lawsuit representing the ticket holders shares his statement with Billboard. “It’s a small but significant step for ticket holders who were defrauded and had their lives ended up as a result of the fraudulent conduct by [Fyre Founder Billy] McFarland.”
On Tuesday April 13, the US Bankruptcy Court in New York filed the settlement. However, it still needs a vote of approval to take place on May 13.