Fyre Festival Employees Reveal Details Behind the Disaster: ‘It Was Incompetence on an Inconceivable Scale’

Fyre Festival
Screenshot/Twitter

The Fyre Festival has achieved such notoriety in such a short time that it hardly seems possible that just a week ago, the first panicked tweets began to emerge from the Bahamas about the disorganized mess the heavily hyped event had become. A splashy video ad filled with models luxuriating on yachts and sun-kissed beaches had promised a designer music festival featuring Blink-182, Migos, Major Lazer, Disclosure and others on an island purportedly formerly owned by Pablo Escobar (who actually never owned an island in the Bahamas). Instead, attendees who had been promised luxury accommodation and meals prepared by celebrity chefs found flimsy tents, boxed lunches and near-total disorganization — and long waits for flights to return to the mainland after airlines began refusing to fly would-be concertgoers to the overcrowded island of Exumas.

It was, said one production professional briefly associated with the festival, “incompetence on an almost inconceivable scale.”

While much of the blame initially fell on festival producer Ja Rule — along with celebrity cosigners like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, who were reportedly paid thousands of dollars to promote the festival on their socials — in recent days the focus has fallen more on his partner, 26-year-old Billy McFarland, a tech entrepreneur best known for Magnises (a credit card aimed at millennials) and Fyre, the app from which the festival took its name.

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While McFarland has claimed that his staff was “naïve” and “overwhelmed,” two production professionals who worked with the festival during the month of March told Variety that the mogul and his team were warned “over and over” that it would be impossible for the event to come off in the necessary time frame.

“They did know,” one said. “It’s so gross to me that [McFarland] says they were naïve — they had been told at every point that it was impossible and they ignored it.”

“The infrastructure just wasn’t there,” the former staffer continued. “It had to be built. [Fyre] hired a bunch of professionals and the professionals told them it was impossible — and they couldn’t handle that, so they fired everyone. I think the statement they released is a slap in the face to the people on the island and the production company that did end up working with them. They just didn’t want to hear it.”

Reps for McFarland, Ja Rule and Fyre did not respond to Variety’s detailed requests for comment.

The two production professionals became concerned as soon as they came on board. “They had fired a [previous production company], so we took a look at how much had been done — and there were so many red flags,” one said. “Things like water [supply], bathrooms and other everyday structures that should have been in place six months before — none of that had been done. We all said to them, ‘It takes at least eight months to a year to produce a festival, you have to push the date’ — we stressed that and said that over and over. And they were like ‘It’ll be fine, it’s not that big of a deal.’ They kept making it seem like we were exaggerating. It was like they didn’t care.”Even appealing to the young entrepreneurs’ reputations among the rich-millennial set they coveted had little effect.

“We said, ‘What you’ve promised [in statements and advertising promoting the festival] as opposed to what we’re even maybe capable of delivering in this amount of time is not the same. You’re going to destroy your brand if you try to have it on this date and don’t deliver what you promised. If you push the date a year, people will be upset. But once you deliver what you promised, they’ll get over it.’ But it was like they didn’t care: They literally kept saying, ‘We’re gonna be legends.'”

And therein lies what may be the most baffling element of the entire Fyre fiasco. Being “legends” and catering to rich VIPs seems to have been the main motivation in establishing the festival.

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“I actually don’t think it was about money,” the second professional said. “I think they were just rich guys who had always been able to pay their way through things and pull them off somehow, and they just didn’t understand that the timeline was too short and they didn’t want to hear it. I think their friends and the people they wanted to have a good time — the VIPs — would be staying at [nearby] villas and resorts and on yachts and be safe, they didn’t worry as much about infrastructure and the everyday ticket-buyer.”

The level of disorganization was so deep that as recently as mid-March, it’s likely that several vital elements of producing a festival had not yet been secured (and it’s unclear whether they ever were). “I kept stressing that they had to get festival insurance, you can’t run a festival without it, and I honestly don’t know if they ever got it,” the first former employee said. “And I know for a fact that even though the [emergency medical services] company and staff they’d hired was certified, the festival hadn’t secured the proper permits for them to be able to practice in the Bahamas.”

The pair said that McFarland was “the number-one decision-maker” and downplay the role of Ja Rule, who has received much of the criticism for the event’s disorganization.

“He was around in the Bahamas a lot,” one said. “But I definitely don’t blame him as much of the rest of the Fyre production team. I don’t think it was necessarily his role to be … He had a team who were supposed to be dealing with it more directly. He wasn’t part of the day-to-day.”

The two former employees single out McFarland as the main executive behind the festival, but also point to the role of 24-year-old chief marketing officer Grant Margolin.

“The marketing person behind this entire thing is Grant,” one said. “He kept saying in meetings, ‘I’m a marketing genius, I’m a prodigy — [the concerns] don’t matter, we’re gonna sell this and it’s gonna be amazing.’ He said that over and over and over. And after we went down to the Bahamas to assess the situation and we realized there was no possible way [the festival] was going to happen, he told the man who hired us that he wasn’t happy with [us] because we were a bunch of women who didn’t smile enough.”

According to the two, that behavior extended to the executives’ dealings with the local businesses and population as well.

“In multiple meetings, they promised the people on that island that this was going to change their lives — there would be so much tourism, they said they were going to build a hotel once it was over — they lied to every single Bahamian there. They went to restaurants and didn’t pay their bills, and when we were there they would never use their credit cards — they had giant wads of cash, all of them. They prepaid for their hotels in America — and then when we tried to use those cards to check in [to the island hotel], the cards wouldn’t go through. It was very weird.”

“And Exuma is not desolate,” the other stressed. “It is a beautiful, wonderful place and the community is so wonderful.”

While the disorganization of the festival rapidly became clear on Thursday, the extent of the organizers’ incompetence and indifference — not to mention the class-action lawsuits that have been filed — has kept the story alive over the past week.

The festival was hit with a third of what may turn out to be many lawsuits, filed in federal court in New York on Thursday. Matthew Herlihy and Anthony Lauriello — who each paid $1,027 for their tickets, and deposited $900 and $1,000 respectively onto electronic wristbands, according to the complaint — are seeking damages for themselves and other attendees for “negligence, fraud, and violations of consumer protection statutes.” In what is becoming a familiar tune, the latest suit alleges, “false representations, material omissions, and negligence” and a “failure to organize, prepare, and provide attendees with the experience that the Defendants marketed as being a luxurious private-island getaway.”

The first production professional said, “When we were talking about menus, Grant even said, ‘They won’t care what we feed them.’ [The organizers] didn’t even understand that the things people paid for, that they had been promised, had to be real.”

One week after the event was slated to begin, the organizers of the Fyre Festival have achieved at least one of their goals, if not in the way they’d planned: They’ve truly become legends.

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    1. BV says:

      a couple of 20 something millennials with no business experience….hmmm…what could go wrong?

    2. This is no big deal, what you really need to be looking at – who is ripping people off is having our things built by basically slave labor overseas with no regard to their health, so they can keep the corporation’s profit margin high so they can pay all the retired people money on their portfolios. Can you imagine the baby boomers retiring on social security, nope me neither. Poor squeak by on S>S> but the middle class to upper class depends on their portfolio to make ends meet. In order for this to work they have to invest into Wall Street and the corporations have to use slave labor overseas to keep the cost down. Now this is one screwed up Monetary System.

    3. George Grant says:

      Whoa! Everyone keeps mentioning this socialite who was going to find it. She’s not a socialite, she’s a working mom named Carola Jain. Her husband has billions from Wall Street, he’s Bobby. But she’s no socialite, she goes to work and makes investments and maintains a place in the Hamptons plus New York City. Raises kids and throws great parties and also goes to her job. They have a ton of household help but she’s not a lady who lunches. Between her and her assistants I think she does her best and she looks to make entrepreneurial moves – she likes Billy who is a fellow entrepreneur. She leans in!

    4. You’d think with so many people ripped off one of them would be pissed off enough to hire some goons to teach those responsible what happens when you rip off the wrong rich people. At the very least I’d hire private investigators to find out everything about each of those Fyre guys and make sure they never did it again.

    5. Mel says:

      “We’re gonna be legends.”
      Well, they weren’t wrong. I’m sure they didn’t plan on being legends for staggering, breathtaking incompetence and hubris. But they will be legends.

    6. Boooom says:

      Unbelievable! So let’s leave Ja alone for a second. I mean to not realise this Billy guy is an absolute tool is unforgiveable and the toast video doing the rounds on youtube is some funny stuff but now we have 3 new names instead of just ja and billy the kid. I’m guessing even a pornstar is giving you guys a wide berth for a while guys?

      So guys (not Jerry he’s running for the hills) your going to refund everyone and give it a go next year? Who’s stumping up the cash for all your venders you’ve already paid, those you haven’t, artist deposits (those you did pay), a lot of disaster relief tents or were they stolen from Hurricane Matthew left overs?, private jet flights (yours), bitches and hoes expenses over the last 6 months, the half built stage, villas you booked with other people’s money for your mates who decided to stay for a week on Exuma on your (everyone’s) cash, nice mates. Not to mention Kendall’s punchy post (marketing genius that grant – pay influencers over the odds for unsponsored posts – how very 2017 of you or was that fuckjerrys advice?) worked well, sell out all 5000 tickets ? = 5000 x £500 = $2.5 m let’s face it everyone bought the early bird after the video that’s all. No one bought the non existent packages ! Less costs (all the wads you flunked on Coke) = errrrr is that rich socialite still underwriting all of this? Billy give her a call + Ja Rules personal fortune… are we covered? “Shit billy what about the $100m dollar law suit for gross negligence – shit bro forgot about that thought we’d managed to get away with that for a second!” Wonder if I can call Mum and Dad on this one? Am I too old? Did we get the insurance thing that event production pro mentioned, shit, was that on me? I wrote it down on my to do list but it was way down the list, then I lost my pad!

    7. After reading this article, it seems to me that the Fyre management didn’t care very much for anyone at all. Going into another country and treating the locals like they aren’t worth anything is bad business plain and straight. I don’t care how much money sits in your wallet or if you’re the president of the USA a moral person would know not to treat people like trash. Guys like Ja Rule depend on it so people will buy his albums. These are the people that matter most, they are the ones who save the little amounts of money they can, at jobs that don’t pay well enough to have what super stars and rock stars and etc. have. It’s a slap to the consumer who make you guys rich. It seems to me that the only thing Mr McFarland was after was becoming a cool rich guy with a cool rap star friend something like a self proclaimed Deva. Who can really say? I feel bad that he had scorch the trust of others in the process of this whole thing, like the models and stars. He had to have to had known that the people coming weren’t with serious wealth and maybe that was the problem the people he wanted was the serious rich, not common people who can’t afford luxury as he advertised. Anyone who works for a living no matter what their job is know that, it seems to me that anyone who gets too wealth too soon or is born into riches take that for granted. Sure money makes the world go around, but it can’t change, time places, things and most of all who you really are.

    8. Booooo says:

      Another tell tale sign of McFarland and CO’s narcissism is their belief that they were above the rules and parameters that apply to other people, and their entitlement of associating with very ‘special’/famous people.

    9. Booooo says:

      I knew someone with full blown narcissistic personality disorder who fancied himself a gifted entrepreneur, and McFarland reminds me of him. People with this disorder are truly delusional, out of touch with reality, lack empathy for others, grandiose, and they have cognitive lapses in their ability to reason and decipher reality accurately which leads them into doing breathtakingly stupid and reckless things. I think we all know a certain someone else who has this as well. Think travel ban roll out and building a beautiful wall.

      • Rob Hoffmann says:

        We all know someone with full-blown narcissistic personality disorder. He currently lives part-time at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and part-time at Mar-A-Lago Resort in Florida.

    10. fatalreview says:

      oh the cocky over confidant party boy stupidity of it all-but exactly what you would expect from their twitter twattt slore marketing approach-all castle in the sky with absolutely no idea how really DO anything-karma has dealt the blow using their own hands-and KenDULL is just got her third karmic beat down-bboed presenting a music award, trying cash in on “the movement” with poison sugar water peddlars Pepsi and leading all the “young snotty rich” to be stranded on a island and then held in holding cells-oh the horror can you imagine all the wanna bee Kartrashian skankks being told to sit there and shut up? I hope the Bahamians took some vid of their caterwauling it had to be horrendous-maybe they will have some compassion next time they skip over a refugee story to see Vylie’s photoshopped azz-great day Karma for all

    11. Mark Self says:

      The sad thing is this could have worked. What a great idea to have a festival on a private island populated with super models and rock stars, even celebrity chefs.

      We’ll never know now – because it could never be sold to such a credulous audience again after this. It sounds like that marketing manager Grant deserves a special place in hell.

    12. Trevor_Phillips says:

      I love when these entitled greedy bastards fall flat on their faces.

    13. Michael Brown says:

      Why do they keep calling this Billy McFarland character an entrepreneur? First he sells these kids a worthless credit card, then he takes their money and strands them on an island. Sounds like there’s something wrong with him, like he doesn’t know right from wrong.

    14. Eric says:

      They are the Trumps of Music Festivals.

      • The Truth says:

        Time to get real, Trevor. Trump has been successfully sued many times for not delivering on his bogus business ventures. He’s filed for bankruptcy six times and blithely walked away from his bad debts, stiffing hundreds of hard-working vendors for millions in the process. Billy McFarland and Grant Margolin are pikers compared to The Donald.

      • Mel says:

        Spoken like a true Trumptard. Your boy’s doing a bang-up job doing nothing. I am sure you must be very proud.

      • GUEST says:

        They are the Obamacare of music festivals.

    15. Sct says:

      Wait they’re rich so it’s not a crime ??
      selling tickets to a nonexistant convention/gathering (facilities) is not a crime. At least the crime would be resolved in front of a judge immediately; compensate the attendees.
      Forget the greedy lawyers. No claims once the crime has been cured.

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