What ticket holders thought would be a weekend in paradise turned into a nightmare when a super-exclusive music festival in the Bahamas became a disorganized disaster, stranding attendees who in some cases paid tens of thousands of dollars.
Hyped by glossy ads featuring supermodels including Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Gigi Hadid, the Fyre Festival promised “the culture experience of the decade” in a tropical wonderland of yachts, villas, and gourmet cuisine. Ticket prices went into five-figures for special VIP treatment, though general admission packages were available starting from $1,200.
When they arrived at the festival site in Exuma, guests said they found a dire, unfinished campsite. They described their “luxury” accommodations as disaster relief tents, many still un-built. Baggage arrived in a shipping container. For dinner, they were served bread, cold cuts, cheese slices, and a side salad in a styrofoam box.
Marquee names such as Pusha T, Major Lazer, Disclosure, and Migos were scheduled to play. Blink 182 canceled just before the event, citing concerns the band wouldn’t “have what we need” to give a quality performance. In the weeks leading up to the festival date, organizers allegedly missed payment deadlines to artists and were scrambling to pay the acts in full, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal [subscription].
The event was organized by rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, who is also the founder and chief executive of Magnises, a social club for “elite” millennials. According to a report by Business Insider, some members of that enterprise claimed last-minute trip cancellations, scheduling failures, and unwanted charges on their cards.
The festival’s namesake is Fyre Media, a talent booking startup founded by the Ja Rule and McFarland in 2015. “We didn’t just want to be a tech company that was a pure enterprise with no consumer awareness,” McFarland said in a recent Vanity Fair interview. “So a festival was a great way to go and do that and beyond people who are attending.”
Things apparently didn’t turn out as planned, though it remains unclear exactly what went wrong. Festival organizers said Friday they are “working tirelessly” to get attendees home safely.
“Due to circumstances out of our control, the physical infrastructure was not in place on time and we are unable to fulfill on that vision safely and enjoyably for our guests,” the organizers said in a statement. “The festival is being postponed until we can further assess if and when we are able to create the high-quality experience we envisioned.”
The event’s implosion was so calamitous it prompted a Bahamian government agency to issue a statement on the matter. “We are extremely disappointed in the way the events unfolded yesterday with the Fyre Festival. We offer a heartfelt apology to all who traveled to our country for this event,” the Ministry of Tourism said Friday. The U.S. embassy in the Bahamas didn’t respond to a request for comment.
While the official policy stated on the Fyre Festival’s website said no refunds would be issued, following an outcry on social media, the company said they would provide refund information. This is probably a smart move, given what could follow: “It sounds like a clear breach of contract case,” said Randall Kessler, a Georgia-based attorney. “They didn’t deliver what they promised.”
According to Dylan Caccamesi, who paid about $1,200 to attend, organizers asked those seeking refunds to write their names, email addresses, and phone numbers on pieces of computer paper. He signed the paper in the hope that it would help guarantee a refund. “I’m not sure what the intent was,” the 22-year-old from New Jersey said in a phone interview from the Bahamas. “We still have to get a hold of them.”
Caccamesi said an email was also sent by the festival promising a refund, citing unforeseen circumstances, but detailed information has yet to be provided.
“I haven’t been on a vacation in a while. I was like, ‘I’ll be living luxurious!’ It was supposed to be good for like, high class youth. A higher expectations festival,” he said.
If he doesn’t receive a refund, Caccamesi doesn’t anticipate he’ll go the legal route. Instead, he plans to lobby his banking provider to issue a chargeback. However, he added that among the well-heeled festival attendees, “there has been talk of a class action.”
In the meantime Caccamesi is trying to make the best of a bad situation. “We have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “We’re just sitting on the beach getting wasted.”
©2017 Bloomberg L.P.