Fyre Fest’s organizers struggled to contain a debacle that became a national punchline on Friday after leaving hundreds of customers who had paid thousands for a star-studded “luxury” experience stranded on a remote island in battered tents with little food and no one in charge.
They promised to get all remaining ticket holders back to the United States by 9 p.m. Friday.
In a phone interview Friday evening, the 25-year-old tech entrepreneur behind the festival, Billy McFarland, called the previous 24 hours the “worst day of my life,” and described the fiasco, which reverberated across social media, as essentially an act of God.
“Unfortunately we were hit by a storm early Thursday morning that caused some damage to half our tent housing and busted pipes and delayed flights that were arriving to the point where we weren’t comfortable in our ability to resolve it, and we decided to postpone the festival,” McFarland said.
He did not address the “villa” housing that was described on the website but did not appear to exist.
He promised all guests would be “refunded in full” and promised free VIP tickets to a 2018 Fyre Festival, which he says will be held somewhere in the United States with a portion of proceeds donated to the Bahamas Red Cross Society. He said he planned to donate $1 per ticket, though in another interview the same day he said $1.50.
The apology capped a 48-hour period where well-heeled millennials took to Instagram and Twitter to document failed logistics that left them stranded on tarmacs, wandering around a half-built festival, and at least in one case, locked in a Bahamas airport overnight.
Fyre Festival was intended to be a “once-in-a-lifetime musical experience,” where revelers could mingle with models and hunt for treasure on jet-skis in between big-name artists’ sets on a “remote and private island” in the Bahamas.
McFarland said he conceived of the event organically after he and Ja Rule “fell in love” with the Grand Exuma island, where the festival was supposed to take place. McFarland and Ja Rule are business partners in Fyre Media, an app that ostensibly allows customers to book performing artists for private events, and the Fyre Festival was intended to be an extension of that brand.
Interestingly, McFarland claims he initially created the festival website as a test to see if people were interested, before it “took on a life of its own.”
“We started the website to test the theory that people were interested, and it went from there. All of a sudden we had thousands of guests and we started booking talent, and we had a festival on our hands. So we thought, ‘Oh wow, we have to go solve all the logistical problems,’” McFarland said.
Rather than hold the festival at a venue built to support thousands of attendees, McFarland, who has never thrown a large-scale music festival before, says he and his partners decided to take on the ambitious task of building a city from scratch — a project that he says included building a sewage system and shipping an ambulance from New York to the island in anticipation of the festival.
McFarland defended against accusations that the company had pulled a bait and switch with housing, saying pictures of the tents were sent to all attendees prior to the festival. Still, there was no evidence of the luxurious villas advertised on the festival website, which had also previously featured renderings of luxury tents that were removed at some point after tickets went on sale. He also denied reports that the stage had not been manufactured or payments made in accordance with the artists’ riders, leading to Blink 182’s abrupt cancellation Thursday.
By Friday night, the festival was in full damage-control mode. McFarland spoke to VICE News with a spokesperson on the line after giving a substantially similar interview to Rolling Stone, which published his comments in full. He began both interviews with what appeared to be prepared remarks, featuring the same introduction (almost down to the word) and including a description of his interests — computers, water, and, “for some reason, a love of rap.” He capped it off with a story he repeated verbatim to other outlets about discovering the island by taking flying lessons with Ja Rule in an “40-year-old plane.”
One detail not addressed in the Rolling Stone interview was the involvement of former Pepsi spokesperson Kendall Jenner, who joined hundreds of so-called influencers like Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, and Emily Ratajkowski in promoting the festival on Instagram.
Now those celebrities have drawn the ire of festival attendees who feel swindled by the so-called “influencer” promotion.
Jenner promoted the festival in a now-deleted Instagram photo, for which she was paid $250,000, according to a Fyre employee with knowledge of the transaction. Jenner did not label the post as an advertisement.
McFarland said only that the company had a confidential deal with Jenner, the details of which he was not aware or at liberty to speak about. Jenner’s rep did not return a request for comment.