In 2017, over 5,000 people bought tickets to a mysteriously luxurious event expecting Coachella on a private island, but what they got was more like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
In 2016, Billy McFarland needed a way to promote his new talent booking app, Fyre. Essentially what the app did was it allowed normal people, for a fee, to have some celebrity hang out with them, or perform for them, or anything along those lines. Now what McFarland and his team came up with was a luxurious music festival on a private island, with great food and famous people and amazing scenery.
It was a chance for people to be able to escape their lives- but only if they could pay upwards of $1,000.
In conception, the plan was solid, and for a little while, McFarland and his crew were feeling confident. They hired many famous models like Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Bella Hadid to shoot videos to market the festival. This phase of the plan culminated when around 250 influencers simultaneously posted an orange tile on their Instagram, reaching millions of people.
It was a perfect they were selling what appeared to be a dream, and people bought it. Issues started to arise, however, when the cost of putting on the event started to increase.
With dwindling funding and rising expenses, McFarland came up with a plan to get even more money from the attendees. In an attempt to make the event “cardless and cashless” they created a mobile paying device called “Fyre Bands” that the participants could load with cash ahead of time and swipe payment at the festival. He suggested loading $400 for every day that they planned to attend, and through this, Fyre was able to acquire another $800,000 dollars.
Fast-forward to just hours until the guests are set to arrive, and a huge rain storm hits the island of Great Exuma. This was absolutely the final straw and is the factor that demolished any possibility of the event being salvaged. The “villas” (which were actually hurricane relief tents with mattresses) were soaked by the rain rendering them unusable.
Trying their best to fix things before people arrived, the guests were taken to a beach party and provided with alcohol so they would (hopefully) forget that they were not getting the luxury experience they had paid thousands for. Unfortunately, people noticed after being there for six hours that something was up. Eventually, buses arrived and led all of the attendees to a very rude awakening.
Not only were their living quarters destroyed by rain, but the food was also far from gourmet with salad lacking dressing, and a sandwich comprised solely of one slice of cheese. These conditions caused the rich to revolt. People were stockpiling mattresses, toilet paper, and pillows. This was obviously brought on by a gross misrepresentation of the actual event but also because there were not nearly enough resources to cover all of the attendees.
After the disaster of the first night, people just wanted to leave, which was impossible due to the fact that the high volume of travelers overwhelmed the Great Exuma airport. Because of this, the already furious attendees were forced to stay at the airport with a lack of food and water. Eventually, they were all flown back to Miami and many of the participants decided to take legal action against Fyre.
In total, there were seven lawsuits filed against different people within the Fyre company. The first was a class-action lawsuit filed by Daniel Jung for millions of dollars on behalf of over 150 other participants that claimed Fyre breached their covenant of good faith, had negligent misrepresentation as well as many other things. The other six lawsuits had similar claims and all wanted a large sum of money as reparations for the damage and loss the event caused.
The lawsuits were not the only legal action brought upon by Fyre Festival. On May 17th, 2017, Billy McFarland was arrested for wire fraud. Later, he pleaded guilty to another count of wire fraud and was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of defrauding investors by doctoring documents that lead investors to believe that the Fyre app was making much more money than it actually was.
The legal proceedings culminated when McFarland was tried on October 18th, 2018 and sentenced to six years in prison and had to pay $26 million dollars for wire fraud. McFarland is currently serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute: Otisville.
Since then, two documentaries have been made about the scandal and this publicity has helped to crowd raise funds to compensate the people that had been left unpaid after Fyre Festival fell apart.
Although this story seems hilariously ridiculous from the outside, once you look closer the damage that it left in its wake becomes more evident. Thanks to Fyre Festival, all can laugh, but also have more caution about what is to be found on the internet.