One of our Heads of Social, Emma Ames, gives her review of the Fyre Festival scandal.

With the release of two big documentaries on Netflix and the exclusively-American TV company Hulu, the Fyre Festival has made yet another splash as we learn what led the ‘greatest new music event of the decade’ to become a catastrophic weekend for everyone involved.

When the Fyre Festival disaster first hit the news in 2017, I seemed to miss all of the drama. So, watching the Netflix documentary is actually the first instance in which I became aware of the event. My first reaction was that I was surprised I had missed the whole affair because it sounds like the kind of thing I would pay attention to in the news. So, two years on and with my only impression of the event coming from a Netflix documentary, I’ll attempt to sum up the entire event and encourage you to go watch the program. It’s interesting to see how dangerous ambition is in young and generally idealistic people.

What’s interesting is that Fyre wasn’t originally a music festival but an app that event organisers could use to book musicians who signed up to the service. A very good idea to simplify the booking system for music professionals (and the odd rich person hosting an extravagant private party). The music festival was simply an event for influencers and possible investors in order to advertise the launch of the app, perhaps a way of attracting even more musicians to get involved with the business.

The initial advert for the festival, filled with top models and beach landscapes, made the event seem like a dream holiday for any financially well-endowed music fan. However, Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, directors of the Fyre company, made several key mistakes:

  • The owner of the original island set to host the huge event specifically stated that they could not advertise the cove as Pablo Escobar’s private island. When they ignored that warning and put it in bold writing in the advert, the owners rescinded permission for them to use their property.
  • After losing access to that island, the replacement island did not have the infrastructure to host such a large, high-tech music festival.
  • They massively over-sold on tickets.
  • They did not give themselves enough time to plan. Most music festivals are planned all year round but Fyre barely gave themselves a few months.
  • Despite the professionals and expert team around him, McFarland seemed to ignore them all. He kept spending more and more money but even I can’t see where the money went considering the state the so-called festival was in once the highly anticipated weekend rolled around.
  • I don’t think anyone in the team properly considered the sheer amount of resources, organisation and equipment that are needed to host a music festival of that size, especially in the middle of the Bahamas.
  • They did not give up. They carelessly carried on, even after all of the warning signs and all of the issues.

There was nothing wrong with the idea. It was just mishandled and poorly managed. From my interpretation of the documentary, McFarland and by extension Ja Rule had very little consideration for the people this event would impact. McFarland was attracted to the ‘high life’ and didn’t seem to understand the cost of things. It seemed that he treated the money of investors as his own.

Ultimately, it left hundreds of people stranded on an island with barely any shelter or food. It left thousands of people defrauded out of thousands of dollars. It severely damaged the careers of a lot people involved. No one could be properly compensated because McFarland had no money and no assets by the time he was charged. I don’t think the amount he owed when it all fell through was even properly calculated.

Billy McFarland was sentenced to 6 years in prison for fraud and lying to investors. Ja Rule, oddly enough, did not face any criminal charges, despite being co-director of the company. McFarland received a lifetime ban from managing future enterprises. This seems like a cautionary tale for over-confident business moguls but honestly, there are moments in the documentary that are hard to swallow. I’m not particularly mad for the people who brought tickets to the event. I don’t particularly know why but my heart mostly goes out to the local businesses and labourers of the island who were employed by McFarland to build, host, drive and just work tirelessly. They received none of the money they were promised. The Netflix documentary shows just how much damage the failed festival caused to the island it landed on.

Featured Image by: Omeiza Haruna


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