Fyre Festival. It was supposed to be the cultural and musical event of the century. In reality, though, it was more like Lord of the Flies: thousands of moneyed millennials ended up stranded on an island with limited food, nowhere to sleep, and no music. What happens when a few planet-sized egos get together to create a music festival without the resources, common sense, or time to pull it off? The Fyre Festival is what happens. Get ready for a hearty dose of schadenfreude as we count down 42 of the most insane facts about the first—and, God willing, the only—Fyre Festival.
1. Discovering Fyre
Before there was ever a festival, Fyre was an app that people could use to book high-end talent for their events. In fact, the festival was initially proposed as a way to promote the app. Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc., met Ja Rule through his work in the industry, and enlisted the rapper as a celebrity partner.
2. All Aboard the Hype Train
Fyre’s marketing campaign centered around two frighteningly effective steps: Various celebrities, “influencers,” and models posting a plain orange tile on Instagram at the same time, followed by the sharing of a glitzy promotional video they shot in the Bahamas, which featured more models frolicking on a beach.
3. The Jenner Effect
Kendall Jenner was hired by McFarland to promote Fyre and announce some of the lineup on Instagram . Once she did, almost every social media influencer out there wanted to be involved. She was supposedly paid a clean $250,000 for her post.
4. Conflict of Interest
The reason Fyre has become such a cultural talking point again is largely because of two separate, competing documentaries, released on two separate streaming services, and dropping within four days of each other: Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud. The Netflix documentary has been criticized for its dubious ethics and conflict of interest, since it was produced in part by Jerry Media and Matte Projects—two of the companies behind the promotion of the actual festival.
5. Don’t Feed the Fraudster
Hulu’s Fyre Fraud wasn’t immune to criticism of its ethics either, mind you. Chris Smith, director of the Netflix film, lambasted Fyre Fraud‘s makers for paying McFarland for an exclusive interview, when the last thing the guy needs is more people giving him money. The Hulu team didn’t deny this, but claimed that the reported $250,000 fee was completely false.
6. An Early Start
McFarland’s scamming days started at a very young age, apparently. As he claims in an interview in Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, he started a shifty operation in second grade, whereby he told his classmates that he’d repair their broken crayons for a dollar each.
7. Magnises Pieces
McFarland’s venture before all this was Magnises, a fancy credit card that supposedly gave its millennial users exclusive access to swanky events, parties, and networking opportunities. McFarland made a lot of false claims about the card, many of its promises were not delivered (surprise surprise), and the company fell on hard times.
8. Doomed From the Start
Norman’s Cay was the picturesque private island where the viral Fyre promotional video was shot. However, the real Fyre Festival took place on the less-impressive Roker Point, on Great Exuma.
9. An Unlikely Voice of Reason
Even so, it’s likely that the event still would have been an unmitigated disaster had it actually taken place at Norman’s Cay. Keith van der Linde, an original planner for the festival, claimed that the island couldn’t feasibly host a fraction of the attendees.
10. Cruise Refusal
After recognizing the many logistical issues, van der Linde suggested a cruise ship to accommodate people. This would have solved a lot of infrastructural problems like toilets, lodgings, and transport. Unfortunately (because think about who van der Linde was dealing with), his cruise ship suggestion was shot down, and he was eventually dismissed from the team.
11. Keep Escobar out of It
Norman’s Cay, was said to have once been owned by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Because the locals wanted to distance themselves from the Escobar association, one of the conditions for using the island was that they could not use his name to market the festival. So of course, Escobar’s name appears in the initial promo video within seconds. As a result, the Fyre crew was kicked off the island and left scrambling to find a new location mere months before the festival was due to kick off.
12. Location, Location, Location
The final Roker’s Point destination was actually right next to a Sandals Resort in Great Exuma. Great Exuma wasn’t a private island, but the team deceptively photoshopped and cropped the site map they released in order to make Roker’s Point look like its own solo oasis.
13. Terrible Timing
In his infinite wisdom, the dates McFarland selected for the festival happened to coincide with Great Exuma’s annual national Family Islands regatta, a huge event that happens to be one of the busiest weekends of the year on the island. This meant that transport options would be limited and accommodation would be remarkably scarce.
14. Candid Camera
McFarland wanted everything filmed in the lead-up to the festival, which meant some of his most incriminating and least flattering moments were captured and immortalized on camera at his behest. At one point during a conversation, he says that his aim with the festival is to “sell a pipe dream to your average loser.” Real classy.
15. Not a Good Look, Ja
While discussing Fyre Festival on stage together at a conference, when the impending disaster was but a small blip on the radar, Ja Rule refers to Billy McFarland as his “partner in crime.” Accurate? Oh, most definitely. But an exceptionally poor choice of words in retrospect.
16. Exorbitantly-Priced Chaos
When you look at the prices some of these people were willing to shell out for Fyre tickets, their judgment seems, well, suspect. Day tickets were sold from $500 to $1,500, and VIP packages—which included airfare and luxury tent accommodations—were sold for up to $12,000.
17. Disaster Strikes
Upon arriving at the campsite, one attendee took to Twitter to describe what he saw as a “disaster tent city.” Instead of the well-appointed luxury lodgings promised to ticket holders, the accommodation was literally just a mass of white disaster relief tents.
18. A Big, Bad Crowd
It will surprise no one to learn that many of Fyre’s attendees weren’t exactly model citizens. After they were told to go and pick out their tents, one social media “influencer” who was there described how he and his buddies ransacked the tents around theirs so that they wouldn’t have any neighbors—poking holes in the walls, flipping mattresses, and urinating on them. Really stand-up guy, that one.
19. All the Not-So-Small Things
None of the acts slated to perform actually showed up once word of the disastrous reality got out, but Blink-182 were one of the only ones to officially announce that they had canceled their appearance. They claimed they didn’t think the festival could provide what they needed to give the fans a proper show, which was probably the understatement of the century.
20. Taking One for the Team
The most talked-about section in Netflix’s Fyre documentary is easily one of the most jaw-dropping. Just before the festival was due to begin, Bahamian customs seized trucks full of water in lieu of a $175,000 import fee. McFarland apparently called up event producer Andy King and asked him to head down to customs and offer to perform intimate acts in exchange for the water. King then made his way over there, fully intending to do the deed and save the day, but said the officer “couldn’t have been nicer,” let him have the water sans “favor,” and simply told him that they just wanted to be paid first whenever the money came in.
Far from laying low after the fallout, Jerry Media went and ticked off another bunch of people with their shady marketing practices. In early 2019, it was discovered that one of the company’s Instagram accounts was posting comedians’ jokes with captions advertising the company’s own products. They were doing this without the comedians’ permission, and without paying them. Comedians weren’t happy, naturally, and a widespread anti-Jerry Media effort picked up steam online.
22. La La La, I Can’t Hear You
As confusion and skepticism started to mount and people began expressing major concerns on Fyre’s social media channels, Fyre staff did what they do best: closed their eyes, jammed their fingers into their ears, and ran away from their very, very real problems. Figuratively speaking, that is. They actually started deleting complaints, queries, and disparaging comments en masse, removing negative words and phrases. They even started blocking the word “festival.”
23. Reality Bites
It wasn’t until the guests started to arrive that the disastrous reality of the situation seemed to fully dawn on McFarland. Constantly smiling and unwaveringly positive in the lead-up to the festival, once it actually began, he just couldn’t pretend anymore. He was hard to find most of the time, and rumors floated among the staff that he was in jail, or he was on a yacht somewhere, that they’d never see him again, and so on. Some claimed to have seen him pacing back and forth on the phone with tears in his eyes.
24. The Key to Failure
Most of the luxury villas that VIP guests had been promised didn’t actually exist on Exuma. According to McFarland, at least 250 of them did exist, but he and his team actually lost the keys. Seriously.
25. The Terrible Sound of Music
Instead of musical performances, there was, as one attendee described, “a gravel parking lot and what sounded like somebody’s iPod Shuffle plugged into the main stage.”
26. Official Condemnation
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism was left tidying up one heck of a mess, with masses of angry festival-goers left stranded on Exuma and festival organizers fleeing all over the place. The Ministry was quick to issue a statement condemning the “total disorganization and chaos” wrought by the festival’s organizers, and made it clear that they were not an official sponsor of the event.
Even after failing spectacularly and facing lawsuits left, right, and center, the Fyre folks actually threatened legal action against the attendees. Why? For tweeting negative things about the festival.
28. No Hotline Bling
McFarland was investigated by the FBI for fraudulently convincing investors to put millions into the festival. According to one of Fyre’s employees, McFarland told one investor that he had booked Drake—a complete lie.
29. Fake News?
The famous photo of a cheese sandwich from the festival that was posted on Twitter may not have been entirely genuine, sadly. While it was definitely food served on the island during the festival, it was actually the food that the Fyre staff were eating, while the attendees got slightly better food. But, does this really change things?
30. The Real Victims
Unsurprisingly, local laborers claim they were not paid for their work on the site.
31. Feeling the Heat
Supposedly fearing for their safety, the organizers claim they fled the island to avoid violent (if rightful) retribution from these unpaid locals. Andy King described having to hide behind a urinal and then duck into a car to make his escape.
32. World’s Worst Boss
In the immediate aftermath of the festival’s epic failure, McFarland informed his staff that they were not going to be paid in the short term and were welcome to quit. This would leave them unable to apply for unemployment benefits, and when this was pointed out to McFarland, he simply stated, “I’m not aware of how this impacts the employment benefits.”
33. Bills, Bills, and More Bills
With payroll frozen, many Fyre employees were left in serious debt. Creative director MDavid Low was left with $250,000 in Fyre-related credit card bills.
34. The Mind Boggles
McFarland was named in a $100 million class action suit after the festival, and while out on bail he claimed to have been staying humble and living in his parents’ house for the time being. But because he insisted on keeping the cameras rolling to record his post-festival activities, Netflix’s Fyre documentary reveals that he was actually staying in a lush New York City penthouse while awaiting trial.
Not only that, but he wasted no time getting back in the scamming saddle, selling off tickets to exclusive, invite-only events to which no buyer could possibly get access. According to the FBI, 15 people gave him over $100,000 for these non-existent tickets.
35. You Reap What You Sow
Following the unsurprising failure of this newest ticketing scam, McFarland was once again charged with fraud. He pled guilty to defrauding investors and ticket sellers of over $26 million. On June 12, 2018, he was sentenced to six years in jail.
36. False Advertisers
Kendall Jenner and company are facing possible subpoenas for financial information and demands to return the money they were paid for promoting this big fat mess. More than $5.2 million was paid out to multiple recipients.
37. Don’t Blame Me
McFarland definitely bore the brunt of the blame in the fallout from the festival, and while Ja Rule didn’t exactly emerge unscathed—he faced multiple lawsuits in the aftermath—it does seem as though he got off a little easy. He apologized to everyone on Instagram shortly after the festival ended, though he also made sure to point out that what happened was not his fault. He later tweeted that he, too, had been scammed by McFarland.
38. Out of Pocket
The most heartbreaking portion of Netflix’s Fyre documentary shines a light on the real victims in this mess: the exploited locals. MaryAnn Rolle, the owner of a restaurant on the island, ended up paying her staff $50,000 out of her own pocket, and the organizers shamefully never reimbursed her.
39. Silver Lining
MaryAnn Rolle’s story gets better, however, as the kindness of internet strangers came through to save the day. She took to GoFundMe after the documentary dropped in an attempt to raise the funds she had lost, and has managed to raise over $200,000. At least, finally, someone who deserved it got their happy ending.
40. Unlikely Star
Andy King became the unlikely breakout star of the Netflix documentary, and along with countless jokes and memes came a flood of job offers. He claims he has been offered at least three TV shows, and three different water companies have been in touch with him in an attempt to strike a deal.
41. Down the Toilet
Plumbing was an obvious cause for concern from the beginning, and like so many others it was a problem that never really got solved. In one bizarre internal email addressing concerns that the festival infrastructure wouldn’t be able to handle the necessary plumbing requirements, an employee claimed “no one is eating, so therefore no one’s pooping.” Flawless logic, there.
42. Stop Those Millennials
When the festival-goers flocked to the airport in an attempt to fly home and put an end to their nightmare, they were contained in a holding area (read: literally locked in from the outside with a chain and padlock) while the airport staff tried to sort everything out.
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