Fyre Music Festival fallout: How a superficial marketing campaign turned into a $100 million fraud lawsuit and countless jokes about those who were conned

May 1, 2017

by John Larson

Fyre Festival

The Fyre Music Festival has already been labeled as one of the worst music-industry scams of the decade. The inaugural event, which was marketed as a luxury experience, mainly for people ages 18 to 35,  was supposed to take place April 28 to April 30  and May 5 to May 7, 2017 at the Exumas in the Bahamas. Blink-182, Tyga, Pusha T, Desiigner and Major Lazer were all at one point or another advertised as Fyre Festival performers.

Instead, the event was cancelled the day before it was supposed to begin and became an example of what not to do in event planning.  A $100 million class-action fraud lawsuit has been filed against festival organizers such as rapper Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, a 25-year-old who has been described in news reports as an “entrepreneur” with no experience working in the music industry.

The people who paid $4,000 to $12,000 each for V.I.P. packages such as transportation by private jet, luxury accommodations on a private beach and gourmet meals, instead showed up and found a site that looked more like a disaster refugee camp, with flimsy tents in a garbage-strewn area, no real security measures and substandard meals that not even homeless shelters would serve. Even for festivalgoers who opted for the non-V.I.P. tickets (which started at about $500 each), the event still cost thousands of dollars if you factor in transportation, food and hotel accommodations.

To make matters worse, many of the festivalgoers (none of whom received the “private jet” transportation if they paid for it) were stranded in the Bahamas for several hours or days as the local airports struggled to keep up with the sudden influx of thousands of people desperate to leave after the festival was cancelled. An estimated 5,000 people paid for Fyre Festival tickets, according to some reports, but the official number still has not been verified. Regardless of how many people bought tickets, even the event’s promoters have admitted there weren’t enough accommodations for festivalgoers.

Much of the marketing for the event was done on the Internet. A promotional video featuring models Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Emily Ratajkowski showed them and other swimsuit-clad models cavorting on a beach, to obviously try to make people feel that an abundance of sexiness and glamour in a tropical paradise was just waiting for Fyre Festival attendees. Reality TV star/model Kendall Jenner promoted the Fyre Festival on Instagram. To thousands of gullible ticket buyers, having famous models appear in an ad for a first-time music festival had to make the event legitimate.

The backlash on the Internet has been massive, but interestingly, the criticism has been mostly directed at the people who bought tickets, because they’re perceived as spoiled, rich brats who were dumb enough to fall for this con.

Here’s a sampling of comments made on social media:

“This would make for a good Eli Roth horror movie. A bunch of dumb ass rich kids get stranded on the island from hell and get picked off one by one while try to film themselves with selfie sicks and drones.”

“From the organizer, criminal Billy McFarland, who blamed the whole cluster$#%$ on bad weather: ‘Then the wind came, and turned all our five star gourmet food into cheese sandwiches.'”

“That awkward moment you trust a Victoria’s Secret model that there will be actual food.”

“Should have called it the burning money festival.”

“We used to imagine a theme park called Third World World where rich people could briefly experience the life of the poors but Ja Rule made it happen.”

Ja Rule, McFarland and other people associated with the festival have issued public apologies and promised refunds to everyone who bought tickets to this fiasco. McFarland placed much of the blame on “bad weather.” They also claim that they want to do a Fyre Festival in 2018 in the United States instead of the Bahamas. If that should ever happen, there are plenty of people who’ve declared on social media and elsewhere that they would still buy tickets for it. And that says a lot about why people got conned in the first place.

May 5, 2017 UPDATE: A $5 million class-action lawsuit has been filed against the organizers and public-relations companies of Fyre Festival. The law firm Greenspoon Marder filed the complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on behalf of all ticket purchasers.

The following is an excerpt from a Greenspoon Marder press release:

This will be the first lawsuit filed against the organizers of the Fyre Festival in the Southern District of Florida – a region considered to be the “hub” for Fyre Festival. To attend the festival, all festival-goers were required to take a flight from Miami to the Bahamas. Further, while the event was supposed to take place in the Bahamas, the tickets list the location of the event as a Florida address.

This is also the first lawsuit to address the Defendants’ efforts to escape liability by offering a vague, unknown refund. On April 30, 2017, ticket purchasers received an email containing a link where the consumer can “apply” for a refund – notably without a guarantee that a refund will actually be provided. Ticket purchasers were then required to fill out a vague, lengthy multi-question application form, which also failed to advise the potential class of their litigation rights. The Rule 23(d) Motion to Limit Communications is designed to protect the Plaintiffs and potential class members from misleading communications such as the April 30 refund email that seek to unfairly deprive them of their legal rights and reimbursement of all of the costs they incurred and damages they suffered.

This lawsuit is also the first to name as Defendants the Public Relations agencies representing Fyre Festival. Hired to coordinate Fyre Festival’s marketing and advertising campaign, 42West and Matte Projects knew or should have known that their advertisements and promotions were false and likely to mislead consumers.

March 9, 2018 UPDATE: Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and has been fined $62 million by a Manhattan federal court. He was arrested in June 2017 for the crime. While out on bail for the Fyre Festival scam, McFarland was busted for fraud again, this time for selling fake tickets to events such as the Met Gala and Burning Man. He pleaded guilty to that crime in October 2017.

October 11, 2018 UPDATE: McFarland has been sentenced to six years in prison for fraud. He had faced up to 20 years in prison.



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