In April 2017 roughly five thousand people spent hundreds to thousands of dollars for tickets to what they thought would be the experience of a lifetime. A luxury music festival in a beautiful tropical setting on a private island in the Bahamas. However, what they ended up getting was actually the complete opposite. This is the story of the “Fyre Music festival,” a story based on fraud, deception, manipulation and a scheme in which its founder Billy McFarland, now 29 years old, thought would be masterstroke that would change his life forever. Spoiler Alert, it did change his life forever.
Fyre Music festival was a fraudulent luxury Music Festival which was founded by Billy MacFarlane, who was the CEO of Fyre Media and rapper Ja Rule. It was created with the intent of promoting the company’s Fyre app for booking music talent. The festival was scheduled to take place in late April on the Bahamian island of “Great Exuma.” This wasn’t your average summer festival. This event was organized through massive celebrity personalities such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Emily Ratajkowski. Many of whom did not initially disclose that they had paid to do so which was probably the reason why a lot of their fans trusted them that this event would be a once-in-a-life time opportunity. Little did they know what they were getting themselves into.
During the Fyre festival’s initial weekend, the event experienced problems related to security, food accommodation, medical services and artist relations resulting in the festival being postponed indefinitely. Instead of the luxury villas and gourmet meals for which the festival attendees paid thousands of dollars, they received pre-packaged sandwiches and refugee tents as their accommodation. The disastrous festival was all planned and organized by two men, Billy McFarland and Ja Rule.
In 2013, Billy found Ja Rule through his regular visits to events which Billy hosted at his previous venture “Magnises.” The pair would have a regular private plane journey to the Bahamas where they wanted to set up the Fyre festival. Billy later launched Fyre media which was the parent company of the Fyre festival.
The lies and the manipulation started originally when Billy had told investors that the company was worth 90 million dollars where in fact the company had only done $60,000 in business. They later landed on an island called Norman’s Cay. The reason why MacFarlane chose this particular Island was because he wanted to specifically include in the promotional video for the festival that it was once a private island owned by Pablo Escobar. Giving this false image the owners of the island cancelled the event as it was part of the agreement to not mention false claims. After several small islands that seemed likely the venues were turned down and with only two months to go before the Fyre festival the Bahamian government gave MacFarlane a permit to use a site set aside for development at Roker point on Great Exuma just north of the Sandals resort. Despite the previous owners asking MacFarlane to not use false claims, materials released on social media continued to promote that the festival was being hosted on Pablo Escobar’s private island. This was a tactic of giving a false image in order to acquire as many visitors to the event.
On December 12, 2016 Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski and other influencers paid by Fyre simultaneously posted to their Instagram and the event became a talking point reaching millions of people online. Trying to get this self-claim luxurious event together Billy McFarland began approaching companies that did event management. He was reportedly held back when informed that the event would cost at least fifty million dollars to stage in the time available as he had promised. Furthermore, the more experienced consultants told him that in addition to the cost an event of this magnitude would have needed an extra year to plan. Thinking he knows better he and his associates at Fyre believed it would cost far less and continued with their plans under that assumption. The organizers tried to do things themselves were possible. McFarland supposedly learned how to rent a stage by doing a google search. This event was surely leading to a disaster.
The event was scheduled for two weekends in April and May 2017. The event sold day tickets which ranged from $500 to $1500 and VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodation for a staggering $12,000. In exchange for these high fees the customers were promised accommodation and what the company had described as a modern eco-friendly environment, and that the meals would be made from celebrity chefs. However, what they actually ended up getting was completely the opposite. The visitors were promised a line-up of music artists from all around the world. However due to the catastrophe of the event, they all pulled out of arriving with some of the advertised line-up such as Major Lazer never confirming their attendance.
Despite there only being about 500 people there were not enough tents and beds for the guests, so they ended up stealing from each other. A few hours later, bags arrive on a shipping container. It was getting dark, and there was no lighting. Plenty of people had their luggage stolen. But don’t worry, if you had any valuables, the festival advertised top-notch security. But no one told guests that they had to provide their own lock.
The attendees were unable to leave the festival for the nearby Sandals Resorts as it was peak season with almost every Hotel on Great Exuma already fully booked for the “Annual Exuma Regatta”. This was a total disaster. A lot of the attendees were reportedly stranded as flights to and from the island were cancelled after the Bahamian government issued an order that barred any planes from landing at the airport. Staff didn’t have any uniforms or walkie-talkies, so no one knew who was in charge. The event was promoted as cashless, so all people had were these useless Fyre-Bucks on their Fyre-bands. Which meant that they couldn’t buy anything or catch a cab if they wished to.
The shitstorm on social media was just ramping up. The reddit /r/FyreFestival was created and it started documenting everything that went wrong at the event. People were circulating a fake tweet by Ja Rule the whole thing was a “Social experiment”.
Billy was on full damage control, he claimed that a storm came in the night before and changed all of the marketing into lies. “We got to a point that we were very excited about, on Wednesday night… with how the two sides looked and we got hit by a big storm.” said Billy McFarland. But the apologies weren’t enough, a few days later, and the first lawsuit was served. Following Fyre’s collapse, Billy was convicted of fraud and jailed for six years in October 2018 leaving a lot of people claiming, that was not enough. In May of 2017 a 100-million-dollar class-action lawsuit filed by ticket holders against the rapper Ja Rule and Fyre media’s chief marketing officer Grant Margolin was dismissed in July 2019 by a federal judge who said the lawsuit did not produce enough evidence to prove these two organizers knew the event would be a disaster. At least one separate lawsuit however netted a multi-million-dollar judgment for two attendees against McFarland while others still remain on going. Rapper Ja Rule went on social media claiming that he too was misled this whole time despite being involved in the planning of the event.
Overall, the story of Billy McFarland and the Fyre disaster is one which totally illustrates us as a modern society that has been extremely influenced by social media personalities as we continue to look up to them and trust them with everything they say. And as for Billy’s case it overall comes back to this obsession of trying to look successful even if that means a total disregard for your customers, workers and investors.