Prompt: FESTIVAL IN FLAMES
The information about Fyre Festival was borrowed from Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fyre_Festival). It is presented as blockquoted text.
Everything else is story inspiration for anyone that wants to write about a similar event. Drabbles and snippets and speculative fiction. None of it is real. All of it is purely for entertainment.
I know nothing about the real people or events of Fyre Festival. I don’t want to know anything.
All characters are fictional and in no way reflective of the real people that I don’t know anything about.
Fyre Festival was a fraudulent luxury music festival founded by Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc, and rapper Ja Rule. It was created with the intent of promoting the company’s Fyre app for booking music talent.
The festival was to promote an app.
The festival was scheduled to take place on April 28–30 and May 5–7, 2017, on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.
Three days in hell.
The event was promoted on Instagram by social media influencers including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Emily Ratajkowski, many of whom did not initially disclose they had been paid to do so.
It was just a little oversight. A couple of button taps and the posts were scheduled and she never even thought about it again.
Except there were rules for promoting things on social media. Laws that had to be followed when someone was making as much money as she was.
This was her job.
And she fucked up.
During the Fyre Festival’s inaugural weekend, the event experienced problems related to security, food, accommodation, medical services and artist relations, resulting in the festival being postponed indefinitely.
"’By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,’" she crooned, then shook her head near violently. "Nope, James. We’re staying home on this one."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Look at the way this is all being advertised. Look at the fly-by-nightness of it all." As she spoke, Violet mouse-clicked her way through the various pages of the website. To James’ eyes, everything looked good. More than good; like heaven on Earth with scantily clad bodies enjoying the paradise of beach and bungalow. "Nope. I’ve been in this business long enough to smell a con job. We’re turning this one down."
"But it’s so much money!"
"Exactly." She wagged her finger. "The biggest mistake you can make is to get so greedy you don’t notice when things are too good to be true. No. This whole thing reeks of being a scam. We’re gonna pass on this one."
Instead of the luxury villas and gourmet meals for which festival attendees paid hundreds of dollars, they received prepackaged sandwiches and FEMA tents as their accommodation.
"What the F is this supposed to be?" Kimber demanded, crossing her arms angrily. "This is some grade-A horse crap."
Off to the side, Marla sat on her suitcase and stared around in dejected horror. She’d given up lunch for a month and cashed in three CDs to get here. This was a once in a lifetime splurge!
There were supposed to be beautiful bungalows and like 10,000 count sheets and cabana boys flexing their muscles while bringing her daiquiris.
"I’m so disappointed!" she wailed, lowering her head against her arms. She hoped the fall of her hair kept strangers from seeing her cry.
Further prompt: Kimber feels guilty because she’s the one that talked Marla into going to the festival.
- Kimber is from a wealthy family.
* The trip for her isn’t that big of a deal, but she knows that Marla works hard for all her money and will refuse to let Kimber pay for her ticket. (She doesn’t understand Marla’s sense of honor, but she respects it.)
* She was very excited to have Marla actually go on such a great vacation with her, and it’s absolutely devastating to realize what an awful experience they’re sharing. She’s very angry at the event planners, though she’s trying not to take her rage out on the staff caring for them all.
* She hates the ratty tent and the lack of food. She paid extra so they could be here for the first Fyrefest and so they could have one of the better accommodations. And instead everything is terrible.
- Marla works an office job that she doesn’t exactly hate, but that she doesn’t love. Over the course of the festival disaster, she discovers her inner strength.
* On returning home, she makes great changes in her life. Different options:
* quits her job
* falls in love with her boss/coworker
* follows her dream career
* gets a pet and fixes up her crappy apartment
* She and Kimber fall for each other, the disastrous vacation being one of the funny romantic stories they like to tell.
* They return home and date before moving in together
* They reveal their changed status to their family and friends
- The whole festival turns out to be a horror story. A literal horror story.
* Like Hostel, they’ve been gathered for nefarious reasons.
* Left on a literal island, they are forced to struggle against other festival goers for resources and to stay alive.
* Things take a turn for the weird. They lose all contact with the mainland, eventually to discover that the island is somehow cut off from the wider world. Kimber and Marla are trapped with other vacationers and low supplies becomes the biggest problem and the biggest impetus for murder.
In March 2018, McFarland pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud to defraud investors and ticket holders, and a second count to defraud a ticket vendor that occurred while out on bail. In October 2018, McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to forfeit US $26 million. The organizers became the subject of at least eight lawsuits, several seeking class action status, and one seeking more than $100 million in damages. The cases accuse the organizers of defrauding ticket buyers.
Two documentaries about the events of the festival were released in 2019: Hulu’s Fyre Fraud, and Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. It was also featured on an episode of the CNBC series American Greed in 2019.
The festival was organized by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, to promote the Fyre music booking app. Ja Rule had come to know McFarland through regular visits to events McFarland hosted at his previous venture, Magnises.
During a flight to the Bahamas, McFarland and Ja Rule’s private plane touched down on a lightly populated island which they later discovered was Norman’s Cay, the former private island of Carlos Lehder Rivas, a kingpin of the Medellín Cartel.
One look at the island was all it took.
"This is the place," he announced.
"What?" his assistant asked.
He swept his arms out from his body in a wide arc; spun halfway around on his feet to encompass the entirety of the island. "This is it. This is the place. This is where my vision comes to life."
McFarland then leased the island from the current owners, with the owners giving the strict condition that McFarland make no reference to Pablo Escobar (leader of the Medellín Cartel) in any marketing materials.
"Everything that you want, you can have. There’s just the one thing that you cannot do."
Temptation has lured many a man to his own ruin.
Promotional footage with hired supermodels was shot on Norman’s Cay, and planning for the festival went ahead.
The island had been leased. The ad material released. And then it all went to hell.
On December 12, 2016, Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski and other influencers paid by Fyre simultaneously posted to their Instagram feeds a video with a thumbnail consisting of an orange square and a logo made of stylized flames. The video showed Bella Hadid and other models represented by her agency running around a tropical beach. Text with the video promised "an immersive music festival … two transformative weekends … on the boundaries of the impossible".
This was the beginning of the Fyre Festival’s promotional campaign, during which McFarland himself claimed that the island had been owned by Pablo Escobar. The owners cancelled their arrangement with McFarland soon after.
"You only had to do one thing: Not mention his name in any of your promotional materials. Everything that you ever wanted was in your grasp. And you threw it away."
In reality, Pablo Escobar never owned Norman’s Cay.
"Threw it all away for a lie. Oh, but you should change your name to Jimmy Pesto, because just like his fictional restaurant’s connection to the Italian mafia was a lie… So was this island’s history false. But if you’d only listened… The lie would never have been shared, and your dreams would not have turned to ash and smoke."
When they were kicked off of Norman’s Cay, they only had four months before their inaugural festival on April 28–30th.
Tick tock. Tick tock. Time kept passing by, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week by week.
It felt like he’d sweated out his whole body’s worth. Shirt after shirt he’d dirtied and had laundered. Three or four shirts a day, a memorable ten on the day he’d had to face down the investors.
There was a way to dig himself out of this hole, he knew there was. But he couldn’t see it, so he kept finding himself pulled down deeper and deeper.
His guts were a constant churning mess of nerves, but he kept smiling and smiling and smiling. Selling it, even as he felt himself dying inside.
After several small islands that seemed like likely venues were turned down, and with only two months to go before the Fyre Festival, the Bahamian government gave McFarland a permit to use a site set aside for development at Roker Point (Coordinates: 23.6350°N 75.9188°W) on Great Exuma, just north of the Sandals Resort.
The resort and hotel were right there. Only a couple miles away down the beach.
They’d been promised exclusivity and a once in a lifetime experience. Instead they were in a parking lot with raggedy tents half set up and a mess of porta-potties off to the side.
"I think we’ve been lied to."
Material released on social media continued to promote the falsehood that the Festival was being hosted on Pablo Escobar’s private island, with maps of the site altered to make it appear as if Roker Point was an island unto itself.
It was desperation that drove him. The single-minded need to have something to give all the people showing up. To make them understand that he wasn’t a liar.
"Change the maps," he ordered.
"You heard me. Change the names on the maps. None of these guys knows anything about the world outside of America. We just change a few names, and voila! They’re not smart enough to even know the difference. We just got to sell the idea. Sell. Sell. Sell."
In reality, the Festival was in a remote parking lot north of a Sandals Resort and a nearby marina where locals’ boats were stored.
Furthermore, Great Exuma was not a private or remote island. Instead, the festival was scheduled to take place in an abandoned resort development. McFarland never announced the change; he just simply renamed the island "Fyre Cay". With no infrastructure and no villas, the team had just under two months to turn Roker Point into Fyre Cay.
An investor, fashion executive Carola Jain, reportedly arranged for Fyre to receive a $4 million loan, which the company used most of to rent luxurious offices in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood.
He looked so pitiful to her eyes. The once vibrant man reduced by stress into the sweaty mess taking up her couch.
"Fine, fine," she interrupted his blubbering, unable to take it any longer. "I will give you some money if you stop asking me. You get this much from me, and no more. Agreed?"
"Agreed! Agreed!" His face was lit up with exultation. "I’ll get you the best cabin and fly you out with me."
She waved her hand. "No, no. I don’t have time to get sunburnt on an island. I have a lot of work to do. You go and tell me all about it when you come back."
"Thank you," he said. He was suddenly standing close to her desk. She hadn’t even seen him rise to his feet. Yet here he was, close enough to touch, eyes hooded and dark. "Thank you so much."
With no experience staging an event of the proposed festival’s scale, McFarland began approaching companies that did, and was reportedly taken aback when informed the event would cost at least $50 million to stage in the time available as he had promised.
He’s a lunatic, Francois thought, keeping his expression pleasantly neutral. "Allow me to reiterate: It will cost much more than $10 million to get things set up the way you’re talking. At least five times more. And the time scale… There’s no way. You’re at least a year away from an event like this, and that’s only with a veteran crew setting everything up for you."
He sighed. "I’m sorry, but there’s no way you’re going to get your festival off the ground in the time you’re talking about. No way at all."
Furthermore, the more experienced consultants told them that in addition to the cost, an event of this magnitude would have needed an extra year to plan. He and his associates at Fyre believed it would cost far less and continued with their plans under that assumption. The organizers tried to do things themselves where possible; McFarland supposedly learned how to rent the stage by doing a Google Search.
"It can’t be that hard," he said, tapping away at the laptop keyboard.
"People go to school for years to learn how to do this kind of stuff, Mac. I don’t think you’re going to unlock the secrets to festival planning in the weeks we’ve got left."
"Look, Google exists for a reason. I’m going to hit Wikihow, and watch a few videos, and it’s all going to come together. Just you watch. This is going to be a festival for the history books."
In the days leading up to the festival, they cut expenses extensively, having learned that the luxury villas were going to cost $10 million alone, and targeted deposits for the bands, food, infrastructure and staff.
"If we pack the island with awesome music and great people, nobody’s gonna want to go back to their villas anyway. Everybody is going to be busy having a great time on the beach. It’s gonna work out. It’s gonna."
"I think we’re really overreaching here, Mac. We should cancel, or at least postpone until we can figure things out."
"No, no, we don’t need to. All those people pre-ordered. All those people are not going to be disappointed. We just have to get so many great acts here that nobody even cares about the villas. We can do this. We can."
"I… I don’t know, man."
Scheduled for two weekends in April and May 2017, the event sold day tickets from US$500 to US$1,500, and VIP packages including airfare and luxury tent accommodation for US$12,000.
Customers were promised accommodation in "modern, eco-friendly, geodesic domes" and meals from celebrity chefs. The final advertised lineup was for 33 groups, including Pusha T, Tyga, Desiigner, Blink-182, Major Lazer, Disclosure, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Kaytranada, Lil Yachty, Matoma, Klingande, Skepta, Claptone, Le Youth, Tensnake, Blond:ish, and Lee Burridge. In the days leading up to the festival, all of the aforementioned acts pulled out, with Major Lazer never confirming their attendance despite being advertised.
"F you. I’m not going to end up stuck on some island in another country. Cancel it. I’m not going."
"No. I don’t care that they’re promising a private jet and accommodations and blah blah blah. No. I’m not getting stuck in another country with no way to up and leave if I need to. No."
To make matters worse, organizers of the Fyre Festival planned their first event for April 28–30th, the same weekend as the Exuma Regatta, a Bahamian sailing race series that utilized most of the island’s hotels, vacation rentals and resources.
While the festival’s promotional material kept claiming that the festival would be held on a remote private island that once belonged to drug trafficker Pablo Escobar, workers were busy preparing Roker Point for the festival, scattering sand over its rocks and improving a road to a nearby beach, where they built some cabanas and installed swing seats.
"Hey, do you know why we’re doing this like this?"
"I think they’re trying to fool them into thinking this is some of private island or something."
"Yeah yeah. Looking around, I don’t think it’s going to be happy laughs and smiling faces. We’re gonna want to be out of here before the people start showing up. There’s gonna be a lot of yelling."
"Yeah there is. But as long as we get paid."
"As long as we get paid, brother."
On the mainland, 5,000 tickets had been sold, and an air service was hired to charter festival-goers from Miami. A medical-services company and caterer were also hired, but the latter withdrew a few weeks before the festival.
"No way. I’m not taking all my stuff there. He lied to us, Janice. Blatant and extended lying."
"Yeah. That’s what it looks like."
"We’re going to end up in the middle of nowhere and have to bring all our gear home on our own dime and I’m not having it. If he jumps out on the bill, we’re ruined. I’m not risking my whole business. I won’t do it. Tell him no."
With only two weeks to go, a new catering service with a $1 million total budget was hired, drastically reduced from the $6 million originally allocated to provide for what was promised as "uniquely authentic island cuisine…local seafood, Bahamian-style sushi and even a pig roast".
In March 2017, Fyre also hired a veteran event producer, Yaron Lavi, who saw that it was impossible to hold the sort of event McFarland and Ja Rule envisioned at the site. He assumed they would postpone the event to November as they had been discussing since they were not ready.
The smartest thing would be to postpone the festival. They’d sat in a room, he’d told them they needed to postpone, and he could have sworn that they understood and agreed with him. No matter how unhappy it made Mac, the festival had to be postponed.
"So why am I looking at what I’m seeing?" he said out loud. His tablet was on a stand in front of his breakfast plate, the browser opened to a brand new article proclaiming the festival was going on as planned, including the falsehood about it taking place on a private island.
"This is gonna be bad."
However, when Fyre told him they would stage the event in the spring anyway, Lavi told them to abandon plans for temporary villas and instead erect tents, the only accommodation that could be delivered in the time remaining. Lavi advised Fyre to make this clear to those who had already bought tickets, as otherwise it would be damaging to their brand. He says the company assured him that an email was being prepared, but he was not sure if it was sent.
Comcast Ventures considered investing $25 million in the Fyre app, which McFarland apparently hoped would allow him to finance the festival, but declined days beforehand. Reportedly, McFarland had valued Fyre Media at $90 million but was unable to provide sufficient proof of that when Comcast requested it.
"The app has great potential, but the company itself… They’ve been hemorrhaging money. The guy is obsessed with having his big festival right now. It’s a bad investment at the moment."
"Thank you for your opinion. Please notify him that we’ve changed our mind on the deal. No need to pour salt in the wound, but be firm. He doesn’t seem like the kind of man that understands anything less than a solid No."
Writing for New York magazine, one of the event organizers later noted that since at least mid-March there were significant problems with the planning, and at one point it was suggested they reschedule the 2017 festival until 2018.
"I don’t understand why we don’t reschedule." She sighed heavily, fighting the urge to scrub her hand over her face.
She, along with the rest of the office staff, had been asked to help set up the event. She’d never pitched a tent before, but she was trying her best and her dirty sweaty body showed it.
It may have been April, but the heat was brutal for someone that had flown straight from a New York spring. Already she was regretting letting herself be talked into the trip. She could have been sleeping in her own bed instead of the lop-sided haphazardly assembled yurt that had been set aside for the staff. They hadn’t even given her an air mattress; so it was just a sleeping bag on a tarp on asphalt.
"We need to reschedule," she said. "There’s no way everything’s going to be ready on time. He’s dreaming. There’s no way."
These plans, however, were revoked at the last minute with the decision to go on with the event as planned. "Let’s just do it and be legends, man," one of the organizers is reported to have said. Later that month, Page Six began reporting rumors that the festival organizers were too disorganized and "in over their heads."
After the Comcast deal fell through, McFarland obtained some temporary financing for Fyre through investor Ezra Birnbaum that required the company repay at least US$500,000 of the loan within 16 days.
In order to raise quick cash for the event, and with under two weeks to go before the inaugural event, Fyre informed ticket-holders that the event would now be "cashless (and cardless)," and encouraged attendees to put up thousands of dollars in advance on a digital Fyre Band to cover purchases at the festival, according to one lawsuit. Each attendee would be issued an RFID-equipped, smartwatch-like ID to use during the festival; this was despite warnings that such digital bracelets would be useless because of the poor Wi-Fi connection at the site.
"It’ll be like we’re in the future. Just wave your wrist, and everything’s paid for. It’ll be amazing. You’ll all love it."
"But… Are you sure you want the whole event to be cashless? I mean, that seems a little…"
"It’ll be great! I can see it all in my mind’s eye: Beautiful women in strips of nothing not having to worry about purses and cards and cash. Just a wrist band and a bikini. It’ll be perfect."
McFarland, who signed the email, suggested that attendees deposit $300–500 for every day they planned to attend. About $2 million from festival goers was taken for these bracelets, 40% of which, according to a lawsuit later filed by Birnbaum, was used by McFarland to pay off the short-term loan.
Festival events and attendee experiences
Early in the morning of April 27, heavy rain fell on Great Exuma, soaking the open tents and mattresses piled out in the open air for guest arrivals later that day.
The rain had come from nowhere. That’s what he’d say later over and over again. The rain had come from nowhere.
Clear skies had become heavy and gray, then rain was soaking everything, from sleeping bags and mattresses to the pile of tents the staff were still desperately attempting to assemble.
He wondered if he was being punished by some higher power. But he couldn’t see why they’d do such a thing. He’d always tried his best to live a good life.
It was just this festival turning his everything into hell.
The first flights from Miami International Airport to Exuma International Airport, operated by Swift Air and Xtra Airways, landed at 6:20 a.m. That afternoon, Blink-182 announced that it was withdrawing from the festival, stating in a Twitter post that: "We’re not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans."
Initial arrivals were brought to an "impromptu beach party" at a beachside restaurant, where they were plied with alcohol and kept waiting for around six hours while frantic preparations at the festival site continued. McFarland had hired hundreds of local Bahamian workers to help build the site. Meanwhile, organizers had to renegotiate the guarantees they offered to the people who would be playing at the festival as costs spiraled out of control. Later arrivals were brought directly to the grounds by school bus where the true state of the festival’s site became apparent: their accommodations were little more than scattered disaster relief tents with dirt floors, some with mattresses that were soaking wet as a result of the morning rain. The gourmet food accommodations were nothing more than inadequate and poor quality food (including cheese sandwiches served in foam containers).
Festival-goers were dropped off at the production bungalow where McFarland and his team were based so they could be registered, but after hours of waiting in vain, people rushed to claim their own tents. Although there were only about 500 people, there were not enough tents and beds for the guests, so they wound up stealing from others.
It was wrong. They knew it was wrong. But they were not going to spend another moment in the open air with nothing comfortable to sit on while others had mattresses and tents.
With a stealthness that had them mentally humming spy music, they stole the unassembled tent and air mattress from a woman loudly complaining at her distracted boyfriend. He was frantically tapping at his phone, cursing the lack of a dependable signal. Byrd could have told him it was useless.
The first thing they’d done when they’d realized the situation was try to call their mother. They’d managed a brief "Help me! Send money!" message, and they weren’t even sure she’d really heard them before the signal was lost.
It was the knowledge that they weren’t likely to be leaving soon that had them stealing the tent and mattress. If they knew they were going to be out of this hellhole in a few hours, they wouldn’t have bothered. But they had a suspicion that it was at least going to be overnight, if not the full three days.
I’m going to sue them all so hard, they thought, returning to the area they’d claimed for their own.
Attendees were unable to leave the festival for the nearby Sandals resorts as it was peak season, with almost every hotel on Great Exuma already fully booked for the annual Exuma Regatta. Around nightfall, a group of local musicians took to the stage and played for a few hours, the only act to perform at the event. In the early morning, it was announced that the festival would be postponed and that the attendees would be returned to Miami as soon as possible.
Reports from the festival mentioned various other problems, such as the mishandling or theft of guests’ baggage, no lighting to help people find their way around, an unfinished gravel lot, a lack of medical personnel or event staff, no cell phone or internet service, portable toilets, no running water and heavy-handed security. These problems were exacerbated as the festival had been promoted as a cashless event, leaving many attendees without money for taxi fare or other expenses.
Many attendees were reportedly stranded, as flights to and from the island were cancelled after the Bahamian government issued an order that barred any planes from landing at the airport.
The first flight back to Miami boarded at 1:30 a.m. on April 28, but was delayed for hours due to issues with the flight’s manifest. It was cancelled after sunrise, and passengers were locked in the Exuma Airport terminal with no access to food, water or air conditioning; a passenger recalled that at least one person passed out from the heat and had to be hospitalized.
The flight eventually left Exuma later that morning, and more charter flights to Miami departed from Exuma throughout the day. One attendee who was stuck in Miami reported that the pilot of their airplane had told them to get off so they could turn the plane around for immediate departure, as they were now serving as a rescue aircraft to get attendees off Great Exuma Island.
Seeing the island disappear far behind and below the plane, she reached up and shut the window cover. She was glad to be going home.
She didn’t want to see or hear about her island hell ever again.