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.
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.
“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.