Tents and a portable toilet set up for attendees for the Fyre Festival in the Exuma islands, Bahamas. Organizers of the much-hyped music festival in the Bahamas canceled the weekend event at the last minute Friday after many people had already arrived and spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel. Jake Strang / Associated Press
Skift Take: First-time event planners mixed with Instagram influencers and poor infrastructure never add up to a successful gathering — no matter where it is.
In this day and age, the young and beautiful live and die on social media.
And it’s been a sudden and ugly death for the ill-fated Fyre Festival, a multiday music, art and culture party that promised “an invitation to let loose and unplug with the likeminded” on the Bahamian island of Exuma.
The festival’s rise and fall has played out in real time on YouTube and filtered through Facebook, where would-be party goers are putting their anger on display. Instead of photos of boozy good times, people have posted pictures of rows of white tents that look like “Stormtrooper helmets,” blue port-a-potties near half-constructed plywood structures and limp, lifeless cheese sandwiches.
Organizers canceled the event at the last minute after poor planning, disorganization and lack of accommodations. Most of the A-list acts had pulled out days before, saying they hadn’t been paid.
It was supposed to be a sun-soaked experience filled with yachts, gourmet food and models. Ticket prices ranged from $500 to $12,000.
But by Saturday morning, the partygoers had decamped, many of them to hotels in Miami in hopes of salvaging a weekend. People decried the festival accommodations as being like a “disaster tent city” and a “refugee camp.”
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism says it’s deeply disappointed.
“Hundreds of visitors to Exuma were met with total disorganization and chaos,” the tourism office wrote in a statement to the media.
Fyre Festival co-organizer Billy McFarland promised full refunds on the festival’s website Saturday.
“We will be working on refunds over the next few days and will be in touch directly with guests with more details. Also, all guests from this year will have free VIP passes to next year’s festival,” he wrote.
The hype began months ago, marketed with slick videos on social media.
“I saw it on Instagram and booked it before the lineup was announced,” said Mitch Purgason, a 25-year-old bespoke menswear designer in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Instagram ads looked especially “ridiculous” — parlance for amazing — what with models like Gigi Hadid and rapper Ja Rule. Blink-182 was supposed to perform. Photos of the impossibly blue water and the sugary sandy beach looked incredible. What’s more: Wild, docile pigs lived on the beach and swam in the warm water, perfect props for a killer Instagram selfie.
Although the festival on the island chain east of Florida appeared to cater to the Millennial trust fund crowd, it was people like Purgason and 29-year-old Jake Strang of Pittsburgh who purchased early tickets — young professionals who wanted to spend a fun weekend in the tropics.
Both men paid $500 for a flight from Miami to the island along with lodging and food. Strang and seven of his friends planned the trip to coincide with a birthday. They reserved a “lodge” for eight, with four king beds and a seating area in the middle.
“Everything made it look amazing,” said Strang.
The festival website promised a treasure hunt of “exceptional proportions,” with more than $1 million in riches to be found on a private island.
Purgason said he was skeptical, but planned the vacation anyway.
“Worst case scenario, I figured, we’re still in the Bahamas in a villa.”
His first inkling something was amiss came on Thursday morning, after the first flight from Miami to Exuma. Organizers said the villas weren’t ready, so they whisked the planeload of partygoers to a restaurant at a nearby resort.
It wasn’t a private island at all, but food and drink were free and plenty. Cute pigs and bikini-clad girls roamed the beach. There was a DJ.
“They actually treated us pretty well,” he said. “The first three hours was dope.”
Jenna Conlin, 30, an advertising professional from Venice, California, said, “They were putting down bottles of tequila on every table in an attempt to make everybody happy.”
Strang flew in later Thursday and wasn’t so lucky.
“When we arrived, it essentially looked like a construction site. It looked like they were trying to sell lots for homes,” he said.
A promoter told festival goers to find tents and waved his arm in a direction. But the tents had holes that had obviously allowed rain to come in, because the beds were wet. They were given a Styrofoam container of food: “two slices of ham, lettuce and one slice of cheese on soggy bread,” Strang said.
A few lucky patrons had been relocated to resorts. Most had to find beds in the tents. Available rooms aren’t easy to grab on Exuma, a small island with a population of about 7,000 that lacks the well-developed tourist infrastructure of Nassau or Freeport.
The island’s hotels were already booked months in advance for a well-known regatta, wrote Robert Carron, owner of the Bahamas Tribune newspaper.
By daybreak, people were already lining up to complain, and buses began returning them to the airport. Soon, it was official: The festival was cancelled.
Word got out via social media that organizers said “circumstances out of our control” prevented them from preparing the “physical infrastructure” necessary for the event on the largely undeveloped island.
“I’m heartbroken at this moment,” Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, said on Twitter. “I wanted this to be an amazing event. It was not a scam as everyone is reporting. I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT.”
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