Inside Ja Rule’s Fyre Festival Disaster: How the Luxury Music Fest Became ‘Lord of the Flies’
It was supposed to a luxurious weekend in the Bahamas, with tickets ranging from $4,000 to $250,000. Instead, festivalgoers say, “it looked like a refugee camp.”
Hot off the heels of Coachella, trust fund babies and funemployed douchebags made plans to jet to Miami for the first-ever Fyre Festival. From there, the festival—which was slated to take place over two weekends, April 27 to 28 and May 5 through 7—promised to fly these VIPs to the private island of Fyre Cay in the Bahamas for an unparalleled concert-going experience. Tickets ranged from $4,000 to $250,000, which is a small price to pay for the best month of Instagram stories ever. Why not give that traditional Indian headdress you bought for Coachella one last chance to go Internet viral?
But as we all know, when man plans, God laughs. And when that man is Ja Rule, and he’s planning a multi-day luxury festival full of amenities he’s incapable of providing, God is like “lmao.” According to an article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, festivalgoers who had purchased VIP packages were starting to get nervous, as “the festival’s ‘concierge’ team [had] been slow to provide them with logistical details.”
Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, the co-creators of Fyre Festival, were doomed from the moment they decided to hype their event by bringing models to the Bahamas and sharing pictures of their sandy butts on Instagram. Bella Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, and Kendall Jenner were among the many models who arrived via private jet to take promotional photos and videos for the festival (almost all of these “influencers” have since deleted their Fyre Fest posts). Basically, if you ever hooked up with Justin Bieber, you were doing ads for Fyre Festival.
Already, the festival was suspicious—the images shared on social media (#FyreFestival!) were pictures of known islands and locations in the Bahamas—not the elusive “Fyre Cay” where the festival was supposedly located. According to tourist website Exuma Online, people who actually live on Exuma had never heard of this Fyre Cay, and while private cays do exist in the area, they are relatively small, and would be incapable of accommodating thousands of party-goers. In other words, Fyre Festival was shipping its high-rolling (and highly gullible) customers off to the Bahamas under false pretenses from the very start.
Potential Fyre Festival attendees were fed images of gorgeous models cavorting in the sand, and promised luxury villa accommodations, incredible food, a genre-spanning musical lineup, and even buried treasure. (Seriously, in 2017, are white people still getting scammed by the prospect of buried treasure?) But instead of living out their fantasies of being a Kendall or a Bella, festivalgoers quickly found themselves closer to being a Piggy or a Ralph.
A source on the ground who wished to remain anonymous tells The Daily Beast the festival was in shambles from the get-go, explaining that guests arrived to what was supposed to a “tent village” but “the village is not finished. And there is no one in charge.” The source continues, “There was no infrastructure to support the 2000 people that had been expected and people began demanding their money back…There are reports that booze is being looted. I've heard one claim that at least 50 to 60 thousand dollars in booze was given away in order to keep people happy.” Artists scheduled to perform have also begun pulling out of the festival. One group of performing artists, the source says, was “placed in a house for lodging and had to leave as it was allegedly overrun with rats and rat shit.”
North Carolina native William Finley told Billboard that his $2,700 “artist pass” was supposed to include an open bar, catered food, and overnight villas. Instead, he found himself lodged in “basically disaster relief tents.”
“They're not that uncomfortable,” he allowed, “but the tents are so poorly made that they’d blow over in a second if there was any wind or rain.” A brief perusal of the #FyreFestival hashtag on Twitter includes rumors of violent altercations between festivalgoers and locals, non-existent “luxury accommodations,” packs of feral dogs and mountains of trash. One particularly haunting viral image shows one of the “catered meals” festivalgoers forked over thousands of dollars for: two pieces of bread, two pieces of cheese, and a handful of lettuce. Toto, we’re not in Indio anymore.
Anna Van Amber and Trevor Sholders, both from Denver, corroborated the chaos to The Daily Beast. “Fyre Festival, more like liar festival,” Van Amber quipped. “it was completely falsely advertised, we were expecting a cool luxurious experience in the Bahamas, and we didn’t have a bed to sleep in last night.” She added, “The ‘gourmet chef’ is Costco hamburger buns with lettuce on it for vegetarians.” Starr Catering Group, which had originally signed on to cater the festival, told Buzzfeed that their contract had been terminated in early April.
Sholders was similarly irritated by the organizers’ lack of communication, explaining, “We were in the dark about information up to the very last minute.” When Sholders and Van Amber arrived, they were led to a local bar, where they were left with their luggage all day, “from about ten in the morning to seven, eight at night.”
“From the get-go, you could tell that nobody knew what was going on,” Sholders noted. Next, he says, they were brought to the tents, which were supposed to be reserved, and told to run and grab whatever shelter they could find. Trevor described the confusion of hunting for habitation: “Just trying to find out a way to stay warm and dry.” Sholders and Van Amber left the Bahamas with what Sholders describes as an “eye-opening experience.”
“It looked like a refugee camp,” he says.
Airlines began to cancel their flights to Exuma “due to overcapacity on the island” before the festival even began. Adding insult to incompetency, would-be headliners Blink-182 issued a statement Thursday, pulling out of the festival and explaining, “We’re not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give fans.” This last-minute Blink-182 blue-balling was yet another blow to the beleaguered festival (the original lineup also included Major Lazer, Migos, and Lil Yachty).
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism issued a statement Friday, saying they are “extremely disappointed in the way the events unfolded yesterday with the Fyre Festival.” They offered “a heartfelt apology to all who traveled to our country for this event,” explaining that “hundreds of visitors to Exuma were met with total disorganization and chaos.” The Ministry also insisted they are not official sponsors of the festival, but had been falsely assured by the organizers about their ability to put on a safe and successful event. “Clearly,” the statement continued, “they did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale.” The statement concludes with a promise to “assist with the organization of a safe return of all Fyre Festival visitors.”
The Fyre Festival’s own website replaced its VIP package offers and colorful insta-ads with a solemn statement Friday morning, announcing that the event has been indefinitely postponed. It reads in part: “Fyre Festival set out to provide a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience on the Islands of the Exumas. Due to circumstances out of our control, the physical infrastructure was not in place on time and we are unable to fulfill on that vision safely and enjoyably for our guests. At this time, we are working tirelessly to get flights scheduled and get everyone off of Great Exuma and home safely as quickly as we can.” The Fyre Festival’s Instagram account has also disabled its comments section.
While one Fyre Festival-goer tweeted a picture of attendees “signing papers for full refunds,” Anna and Trevor say that when they asked a festival organizer when they might get their money back, he told them to “call your banks and file a fraud report on your charges for the tickets,” adding, “That’s what I would do.” According to Trevor, “I don’t think they have the money to pay us back. There’s no refund.”
Of course, given the festival’s numerous failures and the limitations of the local airport, attendees are suspicious that they will be able to get back to Miami any time soon. Van Amber and Sholders are wary of taking a Fyre Festival-organized shuttle to a tiny airport, considering that they and their fellow festivalgoers don’t even have return flights booked. “[The airport] literally holds about 100 people,” Sholders explained. “There’s no facilities there, no water, food, or anything…so if we all managed to get on a bus and get to the airport, we’d have one bathroom, and we’d just be sitting on the tarmac.” Really puts the awfulness that is Coachella into perspective.
While Ja Rule was notably absent from his own dumpster Fyre, he issued a frenzied Tweet mid-Friday. “We are working right now on getting everyone of [sic] the island SAFE that is my immediate concern,” he wrote. “I will make a statement soon I’m heartbroken at this moment my partners and I wanted this to be an amazing event it was NOT A SCAM as everyone is reporting I don’t know how everything went so left but I’m working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded…I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT…but I’m taking responsibility I’m deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this.” Meanwhile, internet sleuths are pointing fingers at Ja Rule’s potentially more culpable festival co-founder, McFarland, whose previous entrepreneurial endeavor—a “black card” for millennials—ended in a familiar call for refunds.
Additional reporting by Gaby del Valle.