Fyre Festival, the Coachella for the Super Rich, Ends in Disaster

(Bloomberg) -- What ticket holders thought would be a weekend in paradise turned into a nightmare when a super exclusive music festival in the Bahamas became a disorganized mess, stranding attendees who in some cases paid tens of thousands of dollars.

Hyped by glossy ads featuring such supermodels as Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski, the Fyre Festival promised “the culture experience of the decade” in a tropical wonderland of yachts, villas, and gourmet cuisine. Ticket prices went into five figures for special VIP treatment, though general admission packages were available starting at $1,200.

Fyre Festival, the Coachella for the Super Rich, Ends in Disaster
Source: Dylan Caccamesi

The food tent at the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas.

When they arrived at the festival site on Great Exuma, guests said they found a dreary, half-finished campsite. They described their “luxury” accommodations as disaster relief tents, many still unbuilt. Baggage arrived in a shipping container. For dinner, they were served bread, cold cuts, cheese slices, and a side salad in a styrofoam box.

Marquee names such as Pusha T, Major Lazer, Disclosure, and Migos were scheduled to play. Blink 182 canceled just before the event, citing concerns the band wouldn’t “have what we need” to give a quality performance. In the weeks leading up to the festival date, organizers allegedly missed payment deadlines to artists and were scrambling to pay the acts in full, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The event was organized by rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, who is also the founder and chief executive officer of Magnises, a social club for “elite” millennials. According to a report by Business Insider, some members of that enterprise claimed last-minute trip cancellations, scheduling failures, and unwanted charges on their cards. McFarland didn’t immediately return a call and text seeking comment.

Rule, a musician whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, said in a message posted on Twitter that the Fyer Festival “was not a scam” and that he didn’t know how “everything went so left.”

The festival’s namesake is Fyre Media, a talent booking startup founded by Rule and McFarland in 2015. “We didn’t just want to be a tech company that was a pure enterprise with no consumer awareness,” McFarland said in a recent Vanity Fair interview. “So a festival was a great way to go and do that and beyond people who are attending.”

Fyre Festival, the Coachella for the Super Rich, Ends in Disaster
Source: Dylan Caccamesi

The first aid area at the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas.

Things apparently didn’t turn out as planned. Festival organizers said Friday they are “working tirelessly” to get attendees home safely.

“Due to circumstances out of our control, the physical infrastructure was not in place on time and we are unable to fulfill on that vision safely and enjoyably for our guests,” the organizers said in a statement. “The festival is being postponed until we can further assess if and when we are able to create the high-quality experience we envisioned.”

The event’s implosion was so calamitous it prompted a Bahamian government agency to issue a statement on the matter. “We are extremely disappointed in the way the events unfolded yesterday with the Fyre Festival. We offer a heartfelt apology to all who traveled to our country for this event,” the Ministry of Tourism said Friday. The U.S. embassy in the Bahamas didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The lack of catered food was an especially sore point among festival goers. Food was included in the cost of the ticket, according to a Medium post by the festival’s organizers, and attendees were under the impression Starr Catering Group, a provider for Carnegie Hall, the New York Botanical Garden, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, would supply exquisite eats. However, the caterer said Friday that its agreement with Fyre Festival was terminated earlier this month.

As a result, the offerings were somewhat more pedestrian. One attendee tweeted a photograph of two slices of bread with what appeared to be prepackaged cheese.

“After careful consideration, Starr Catering Group realized that there were significant business issues that could not be resolved and would not allow them to deliver a premium food and beverage experience that met Starr’s exceedingly high demands,” a spokeswoman for the company said.  

Then there was the travel experience. Fyre Festival chartered planes from Swift Air to fly from Miami to Great Exuma island. The airline didn’t reply to a request for comment, but an attendee said it was the carrier which prevented more event goers from heading to the Bahamas after it realized the situation was not as advertised.

The official policy stated on the Fyre Festival’s website said no refunds would be issued, but following an outcry on social media, the company said it would provide refund information. This is probably a smart move, given what could follow. “It sounds like a clear breach of contract case,” said Randall Kessler, an attorney in Georgia. “They didn’t deliver what they promised.”

According to Dylan Caccamesi, who paid about $1,200 to attend, organizers asked those seeking refunds to write their names, email addresses, and phone numbers on pieces of computer paper. He signed the paper in the hope that it would help guarantee a refund. “I’m not sure what the intent was,” the 22-year-old from New Jersey said in a phone interview from the Bahamas. “We still have to get a hold of them.”

Caccamesi said an email was also sent by the festival promising a refund, citing unforeseen circumstances, but detailed information has yet to be provided. 

Fyre Festival, the Coachella for the Super Rich, Ends in Disaster
Source: Dylan Caccamesi

Attendees sign up for refunds at the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas.

“I haven’t been on a vacation in a while. I was like, ‘I’ll be living luxurious.’ It was supposed to be good for, like, high-class youth. A higher-expectations festival,” he said. 

If he doesn’t receive a refund, Caccamesi doesn’t anticipate he’ll go the legal route. Instead, he plans to lobby his banking provider to issue a chargeback. He added, however, that among the well-heeled festival attendees, “there has been talk of a class action.”

In the meantime, Caccamesi is trying to make the best of a bad situation. “We have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “We’re just sitting on the beach getting wasted.”

To contact the authors of this story: Polly Mosendz in New York at pmosendz@bloomberg.net, Kim Bhasin in New York at kbhasin4@bloomberg.net.