All Fyred up: A snapshot of the Fyre festival and its repercussions

Julie Spierer, Special Features Editor

Promising a luxurious adventure to the tropical island of Great Exuma in the Bahamian islands by luxury-level travel and villa-housing, some of the hottest musical artists, and exquisite food, Fyre Festival appeared to be one of the most alluring music festivals ever marketed.


A disastrous experience on an ill-prepared island with inadequate housing provisions, insufficient water, wilted cheese sandwiches, and general mass chaos, Fyre Festival turned out to be the greatest music festival that never happened.


The main man in charge


Now 27-year-old Billy McFarland studied computer engineering at the University for a brief nine months preceding his founding of online ad platform, Spling, of which he served as CEO. Following his first entrepreneurial venture, McFarland started a seeded payments company, Magnises, and developed an exclusive black card, advertised to come with a myriad of perks that appealed to millennials living within cities, including access to exclusive clubs and venues.


Subsequently, McFarland launched Fyre Media Incorporated, an on-demand service that allowed users to supposedly seamlessly book influential celebrities, artists, athletes, entertainers, and media icons. Fyre Media also acted as the parent company of Fyre Festival. Unfortunately, many customers reported that they did not receive the breadth of amenities they were promised when they signed up for the black card. These light glimmers of fraudulent business practice proved to foreshadow the ultimate scam that came to be the Fyre Festival.


The festival


McFarland teamed up with rapper Ja Rule to plan what McFarland deemed would be an experience to rival other famed festivals such as Coachella and Burning Man. Fyre Festival was primarily founded to promote the Fyre music booking application.


The promotional campaign began in December 2016 when several influencers, including Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Bella Hadid all posted an image of an orange square to their Instagram accounts, which subsequently led to a lavish promotional video that showed various well-known models running around a tropical beach. The video aspired to entice individuals to purchase festival tickets, where prices ranged from $500-$1,500, with VIP packages sold at $12,000. Event-goers were promised luxury accommodations and meals cooked by celebrity chefs. The event was scheduled to take place April 28-30 and May 5-7, 2017.


In March 2017, Fyre hired seasoned event producer Yaron Lavi who declared that the event McFarland and Ja Rule had originally anticipated would be virtually impossible to compile in the remaining time allotted. The temporary villas that McFarland promised patrons would need to be replaced by erecting tents; however, this information was not shared with individuals who spent money anticipating to stay in luxury villas.


Without adequate funding, Fyre required ticket-holders to put large amounts of money on a digital Fyre Band, declaring that the festival would be cardless and cashless. A total of $800,000 was loaded by festival attendees onto the Fyre Bands. A criminal investigation of Fyre later reported that 40 percent of this money was used to pay off the short-term loan taken out by organizers in an effort to put on the festival.


Unfortunately, the event turned out to be an absolute mess. The day before the event brought a tumultuous tropical rainstorm, leaving all of the tents, already ill-prepared for inclement weather, ramshackled and mattresses drenched. Flights were delayed, and individuals were left stranded after the government ordered that no more planes could land on the island. Those who made it onto the island had their baggage mishandled, items stolen, limited cell phone and internet service, no running water, and poor quality food.


Even with the limited internet, communication of the festival’s disarray quickly circulated around social media. A now-infamous photo of a cheese sandwich and salad in a styrofoam container was the breakthrough tweet that brought down the over-hyped allusion that the social influencers previously built up.


The repercussions


McFarland was hit with several lawsuits, which ranged from breach of contracts to negligent misrepresentations to fraud. McFarland falsely reported funds throughout the process of festival planning and left many of his business partners in the dark regarding the event’s economic well-being.


There are now two documentaries that have been released illustrating the mess of the failed music festival. Netflix’s documentary is titled “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” and Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud.”


“At first I thought that maybe the music festival just got out of hand and things fell apart. I wanted to give Billy the benefit of the doubt throughout the film, especially since he attended Bucknell. However, it was clear by the end when he was attempting to sell people fake tickets to concerts and events that he was scheming to scam people outright. It was honestly a bit mind-blowing that someone would do something like that with seemingly no remorse,” Julia Leisenring ’21 said.


Notably, there are also some discrepancies between the two documentaries.


“I thought it was funny that during the Hulu documentary, the guy who used to work for [social media account] ‘FuckJerry’ knew that the festival was going poorly because he was instructed to specifically block and flag comments and users with negative comments or even with flight information. However, in the Netflix film, the ‘FuckJerry’ CEO said something like they had no idea about the logistics of the festival; they only knew about the social media aspect and were blind to the failing festival,” Lauren Chwatt ’21 said.


“I only saw the Netflix one but thought it was interesting how little people knew about the entire process before the documentaries came out. It was a huge social media debacle for two days, but barely anyone heard about it before or after the event. It’s interesting how little information the guests were provided before coming to the event and booking tickets to go to a deserted island without knowing what to expect. It kind of shows the high level of faith we put into advertising and marketing to deliver on the promises that are made. Also, how much people are willing to spend to have an experience similar to celebrities’ is mind-blowing,” Abby Neugeboren ’20 said.


Hulu focuses on the power of the culture of social media and the fact that the extreme social media hype, led by McFarland, was largely responsible for the festival’s collapse. The promotional video, postings by social influencers, romanticized and distorted the festival–leading to a mass of underwhelmed and disappointed attendees.


“It just goes to show that social media can be used to manipulate reality. People bought tickets expecting an experience like they saw on social media when in reality it was nothing like that at all,” Seth Botos ’19 said.


If there are any takeaways we can learn from the disaster, they would be the power of social media and its capacity to so strongly influence behavior and misconstrue reality.

(Visited 202 times, 1 visits today)