Fyre Festival: how the disaster unfolded and why Bahamas officials have the site on lockdown

Fyre Festival: expectation vs reality Fyre Festival: expectation vs reality
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What is Fyre Festival?

It promised to be a boutique festival like no other: yachts, turquoise waters and adorable piglets that frolicked on the beach with supermodels by day, with bands by night. Based on a remote island formerly owned by Pablo Escobar in The Exumas in The Bahamas, guests would be flown in and wined and dined for tickets that range in price from $450 - $250,000. Unfortunately, the Festival’s tagline, “on the boundaries of impossible”, proved all too prescient.

What happened?

A series of small disasters. When headliners Blink 182 pulled out at the last minute, claiming that they “were not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans”, people perhaps should have been wary.

Guests arrived at the airports expecting to travel like celebrities in chartered 737 planes, but found themselves stranded with only lengthy delays. When they arrived, their luggage was dumped from shipping tankers on the beaches in darkness. The luxury accommodation transpired to be disaster relief tents, while others found themselves with no accommodation at all. The gourmet food turned out to be a deconstructed cheese sandwich.

Finally, as sewage facilities broke around the site, the festival was cancelled on its first day, leaving many guests unable to get home. And as for those crystal clear waters? Apparently infested with sharks.

What were the guests saying?

With no reporters on the ground at Fyre Festival, the horrorshow played out on social media - the same technology that had made the event a hit in the first place, with it promising the opportunity to mingle with “influencers” at the exclusive weekend.

Twitter and Instagram soon filled up with photos and stories of what was going on, including from a dedicated account, @FyreFraud.

What did the organisers say?

Fyre Festival was the brainchild of Noughties rapper Ja Rule and 25-year-old tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland. Both admitted that they had bitten off more than they could chew with Fyre Festival.

McFarland wrote a column for Rolling Stone explaining himself, in which he said that organising a luxury music festival after “falling in love” with an island he and Ja Rule accidentally landed on was “a little naive”. He admitted that the island didn’t have the infrastructure the guests, who were largely from the US, were used to, and a storm on the morning of the festival’s first day didn’t help things either.

“The morning of the festival, a bad storm came in and took down half of our tents and busted water pipes. Guests started to arrive and the most basic function we take for granted in the U.S., we realised, "Wow, we can't do this." We were on a rush job to fix everything and guests were arriving and that caused check-in to be delayed. We were overwhelmed and just didn't have the foresight to solve all these problems.”

A “heartbroken” Ja Rule, who spent the weekend on various stages in New York, said that he was “taking responsibility”, although he also posted: “I truly apologise as this is NOT MY FAULT.”

An official statement appeared on Fyre Festival’s website on Saturday, in which the organisers claimed they couldn’t have anticipated the popularity of the festival, despite knowing how many tickets they had sold. “We simply weren’t ready for what happened next, or how big this thing would get,” the statement read: “We thought we were ready, but then everyone arrived. The team was overwhelmed. The airport was jam packed. The buses couldn’t handle the load. And the wind from rough weather took down half of the tents on the morning our guests were scheduled to arrive.”

What has Bella Hadid had to say?

Hadid was among the supermodels and “influencers” who helped to make Fyre Festival such an intriguing prospect to potential guests. The others were Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner, who was reportedly paid $250,000 to promote the event on her Instagram account.

Hadid, who was spotted in Miami over the weekend, but never quite made it to the airport (US website TMZ reported that high profile guests were warned in advance not to come), later apologised on social media.

Make sure to get your tickets for @fyrefestival 🤗weekend two still available! #fyrefestival

A post shared by Rose Bertram (@rose_bertram) on

She said: “I initially trusted this would be an amazing and memorable experience for all of us, which is why I agreed to do one promotion… not knowing about the disaster that was to come. I feel so sorry and badly because this is something I couldn’t stand by, although of course if I would have known about the outcome, you would have all known too.”

Do we know any more about how things went so wrong?

Bella Hadid promotes the festival, left, and the accommodation provided, right

Writing for NY Mag’s The Cut, talent producer Chloe Gordon told a warts-and-all story of how she got involved behind the scenes with Fyre Festival and how it was clear from quite early on how much of a horror show things were going to be. Her experience was of non-existent planning, very little infrastructure and no money coming through to pay the musicians and artists who had been booked to play the festival.

Furthermore, Gordon claims, organisers knew that the event would “not be up to the standard they had advertised” and were advised to postpone the festival until 2018. The decision was overturned by “a guy from the marketing team said, ‘Let’s just do it and be legends, man.’”

Gordon eventually quit the project when she was told that she would only receive two thirds of her promised pay.

Has everyone been taken off the island yet?

The barrage of irate social media updates has ceased, which suggests that guests have either been taken off the island, or simply run out of signal or battery power with which to voice their frustration. On Sunday Ja Rule tweeted on Sunday to say that everyone was “safe”.

The statement released on Saturday by Fyre Festival announced that: “We had no other options, so we began the process of getting guests quickly and safely back to Miami, which continued through the weekend. Our top priority as a company is to ensure the comfort and safe return home of all of our guests.”

What happened next?

Possibly not learning from their mistakes first time around, organisers are offering not only refunds to ticket-holders, but bonus VIP passes to those who bought tickets this year. One festival-goer shared a screengrab from Fyre Festival on Twitter which explained that if you “had purchased three passes for 2017 you would receive six total 2018 passes”:

The festival’s website also claims that it has received an outpouring of support from the industry: “Then something amazing happened: venues, bands, and people started contacting us and said they’d do anything to make this festival a reality and how they wanted to help.”

And what’s all this about lawsuits?

There are various reports coming in that Fyre Festival co-founder McFarland has been arrested, or kept on site by Bahamian officials. The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism told Good Morning America that officials were keeping the festival site on lockdown because McFarland had not paid customs duty taxes on the items that were imported onto the island for the event: “Customs has the area on lockdown because [festival organiser] Billy [McFarland] has not paid customs duty taxes on the items that he imported" the ministry told US network ABC. "He and his staff have left the items with a security company guarding it."

Meanwhile, one disgruntled festival goer has slapped a lawsuit on Fyre Festival and its organisers for fraud, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith, and negligent misrepresentation.

Daniel Jung, who spent $2,000 on his Fyre Festival ticket and airfare, claims: “Festival-goers survived on bare rations, little more than bread and a slice of cheese, and tried to escape the elements in the only shelter provided by Defendants: small clusters of ‘FEMA tents,’ exposed on a sand bar, that were soaked and battered by wind and rain."

Did anyone have fun?!

New York Post’s Page Six reported that if you were on a yacht, you were spared the misery of sewage and sweaty cheese sandwiches:

Those on yachts fared better, including Nigerian billionaire Kola Aluko, who was there on Galactica Star, his 65-meter (213-foot), $50 million yacht. We hear one of Jay Z‘s managers was there and that Alex von Furstenberg has rented Jerry Seinfeld‘s 42-meter (138-foot) yacht Moka and is cruising around with pals. “The people in yachts were fine,” a source told us. “The only thing that they had to deal with was instead of nice boats taking them between their boat and the island, they used life rafts.

Things also appeared to improve for those left stranded on the island after drinks were made free and they knew when they might be getting on a plane:

 

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