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Beef Of The Week #353: Fyre Festival v Fyre Festival

By | Published on Friday 5 May 2017

Fyre Festival

Putting on a festival is a major undertaking, both financially and logistically. Because of this, it’s inevitable that these events sometimes fall apart, either before or after the show. But few have ever collapsed quite so spectacularly as last week’s Fyre Festival.

It was billed as a luxury event, based on a remote island in the Bahamas once owned by Pablo Escobar, aka Great Exuma. Attendees would be surrounded by models, fed gourmet food, put up in a deluxe campsite and treated to the finest music available to mankind. Though in the end, the line in promotional materials that this festival was “on the boundaries of impossible” turned out to be alarmingly prescient.

Attendees arrived to find what looked like disaster relief tents on an unfinished site that had been ravaged by a storm that morning. And that was only the start of it. Transport issues meant that many were stuck in airports trying to get to the festival island, while those who had made it were trapped, unable to get away. The food was not gourmet, bands booked to play cancelled, and there were rumours that the sea was full of sharks.

Basically, it was suppose to look like this…

…but it actually looked like this:

Tickets cost between $450 and $12,000, which ensured that expectations were high. Still, you could have paid a lot less and still have been disappointed to be fed a cheese sandwich and then have your luggage thrown off the back of a shipping container in the dark.

Organisers Ja Rule and “tech bro” Billy McFarland were both very apologetic after being forced to pull the plug on the event hours before it was officially due to begin.

McFarland admitted that they had been “a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves”, while speaking to Rolling Stone. He added that next year, they “will definitely start earlier” on the planning.

Yes, starting earlier. That’s an idea. While McFarland was busy apologising, a former member of the festival’s team, Chloe Gordon, was giving her view of the event to New York Magazine. Brought in two months before it was due to take place, she said, she found that very little had yet been done in terms of putting it together, besides booking some bands and getting a drinks sponsor.

Her job had been to liaise with the musicians, which seems to mainly have consisted of listening to them asking why they hadn’t been paid their agreed fees yet. So when headliners Blink 182 pulled out at the last minute, saying that they were “not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give to fans”, you can probably translate “what we need” to be “some bloody money”.

Gordon’s account goes on to say that a meeting was eventually convened at which Fyre Festival management were told that an event could in theory still be pulled together in the six weeks they had left. However, it would cost at least $50 million and still not meet the expectations of ticketholders. Best just cut your losses and get out now, the logistics teams recommended.

At this point, Gordon says, someone from the marketing team uttered the words, “let’s just do it and be legends, man”. More prophetic words. So management did what anyone would do, they forged ahead, made most of their production team redundant and tried to negotiate down the fees of everyone who was left.

And sure, maybe you shouldn’t damn this entire event merely on the perspective of one person who worked on the project for just four days. Luckily though, more ex-staffers have since come forward to explain where it all went wrong.

“Things like water [supply], bathrooms and other everyday structures that should have been in place six months before – none of that had been done”, one person on the production team, brought in after Gordon left, told Variety. “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”.

As well as former employees bad-mouthing the festival, there’s all the stuff that actually happened to help you further damn its organisation. Speaking of which, back on the festival site, those still stuck there were busy sharing their disappointment via the social networks. According to TMZ, lawyers for the event responded by firing off cease and desist letters, accusing them of spreading false information and claiming that their actions could “incite violence, rioting or civil unrest”. It’s not clear what good sending these letters was, given that the recipients were trapped on a remote island.

That wasn’t the end of the legal action related to Fyre Festival, of course. Although it quickly began flowing back in the opposite direction. That’s the problem with putting on a festival for rich kids – they can all afford lawyers.

First to offer his services was celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, who on Sunday submitted a class action lawsuit. With one attendee on board starting the ball rolling demanding $5 million in damages, Geragos estimated that he could get as many as 150 claimants to join him, with damages likely to come in at more than $100 million.

“[The] festival’s lack of adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care created a dangerous and panicked situation among attendees … that was closer to ‘The Hunger Games’ or ‘Lord Of The Flies’ than Coachella”, says the lawsuit, according to Variety.

But why have one class action lawsuit when you can have two? Two days later, lawyer John Girardi submitted another one in LA, this time with three ticketholders already signed up. As well as accusing organisers of breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and fraud, this case also alleged that promises had been made in the promotion of the event that could never have been delivered upon.

Casting the net wider, he also claimed that various ‘social media influencers’ who had been paid to post about Fyre had failed to declare that they were being compensated for promoting the event, breaching Federal Trade Commission rules. The FTC has not yet said if it plans to investigate these claims, but it has been cracking down on celebrities who push products for money without making it clear that this is what they are doing.

Oh, but hey, you know what’s better than two class action lawsuits demanding multi-million dollar damages for anyone and everyone who attended the event? That’s right: three. New York lawyer Eduard Korsinsky filed his legal action on Wednesday, initially on behalf of two attendees of the festival, but seeking class status and a jury trial. This one accuses organisers of negligence, fraud, misrepresentation and violating various consumer laws.

The full apology from McFarland and Ja Rule issued on the Fyre Festival website the day after the event was cancelled is included in the latest legal papers, in which they detail various failures in putting the event together – not least that they “simply weren’t ready” and that the team had been “overwhelmed”. A ‘mea culpa’, as the lawsuit calls it.

Still, before the Fyre team can deal with all that, there’s a little matter of refunds, which they did get moving on pretty quickly.

“We are in the process of helping all Fyre Festival guests apply for refunds”, a member of the festival’s management team told Rolling Stone. “All guests who purchased tickets have been sent the appropriate form to start the refund procedure. The Fyre Festival is a dream and vision that we regrettably did not see come to life how we’d imagined in 2017, but our main priority now is rectifying the situation and helping all affected guests”.

Part of that form offered customers the chance to receive a VIP pass for next year’s Fyre Festival, instead of getting their money back. Scoff away, but that spokesperson claimed that “81% of guests who have filled out the refund application have said they would like to attend Fyre Festival 2018”.

The question now is, where will next year’s festival take place? Because it seemingly won’t be on Great Exuma, or anywhere else in the Bahamas. The local tourist board didn’t take too kindly to the region being presented as a shark-infested hellhole across the social networks.

While the event was collapsing, the tourism agency’s boss Joy Jibrilu, put out a statement saying: “Exuma is one of the most beautiful and developed islands in The Bahamas and we in the ministry are so disappointed that there have been false claims surrounding the island. We want to ensure that all stakeholders and guests know of the development and infrastructural capacity of this island”.

According to TMZ, the Bahamas Ministry Of Tourism has now “barred” Fyre Festival from returning next year. Or ever.

Whatever the if, when or where of Fyre Festival 2018, the legal fallout of 2017 will presumably keep all of us entertained – and various lawyers in neatly tailored suits – for some time to come. While you wait for the next step though, you could spend some time looking through a PowerPoint presentation pitching the festival, which leaked after it all went under.

“What if we reimagined what it means to attend a music festival?” it asked, with yet more foreshadowing words. There’s also a helpful list of all the social media stars on board who the FTC might now like to investigate.

And you can also get the inside track on the company’s “360° methodology … to capture brand revenue in a unique manner”. That complete methodology is to “understand brand goals”, and then “ideate”, “conceptualise” and finally “execute”. Yes, that’s it. Presumably they got stuck on the ideating and conceptualising.

Check out all 43 magnificent pages of the pitch here, and this review of its contents from various actual business people on Vice.



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