The first-ever Fyre Festival wasn't supposed to be like this. Hyped as "the cultural experience of the decade," the festival was supposed to launch the first of its two consecutive weekends Friday on a remote island in Fyre Cay in the Exumas, a string of islands in the Bahamas.
It turned out to be a massive disaster that had festival organizers canceling at the last minute and unhappy guests who'd paid thousands to attend blasting the whole thing as a fraud.
Initial plans couldn't have sounded sexier: Blink-182, Disclosure, Kaytranada, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Tyga, Desiigner, Pusha T., Major Lazer and two dozen other artists and surprise-guest headliners spanning a myriad of genres were promised.
More than $1 million in jewelry, cash and other goodies would be up for grabs both weekends in a festival-wide treasure hunt. Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and a bevy of supermodels promoted the festival. Its location, once home to Pablo Escobar and Blackbeard, looked like an Instagram-ready paradise.
However, festivals are a gamble the first year, and pulling off a destination festival on a luxurious private island with ticket packages that cost $1,500 to $250,000 was a risky and ambitious move that allowed little room for error.
"We kept giving them the benefit of the doubt," said would-be attendee William Finley, whose real-time documentation of the chaos went viral late Thursday.
Co-created by Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland, the festival — promoted by Fyre Media Inc. — collapsed into disarray on Thursday as guests began to arrive for the event, which was expecting 6,000 to 7,000 people.
Finley, a writer based in Raleigh, N.C., shelled out $8,999 with a group of his friends for "the lodge" package, which was to include four king beds and all-inclusive meals. After upgrading to all-access artist passes, their total cost was about $3,000 a piece.
"A three-to-four-night stay in a four-room lodge, you're seeing A-list acts and you'd get there by private jet, it's a steal," the 32-year-old said. "It promoted itself as the new Coachella, so you assume it's going to be on the same level."
Everything was far from the luxurious getaway that had been promised, Finley said.
They arrived to unfinished grounds, mass disorganization, no luggage, no beer, food better suited for an elementary school sleep-away camp and the cancellation of one headliner.
The plush villas that had been promised were actually the same type of tents the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses to bring relief to disaster-stricken areas.
"It looked like the set of 'Outbreak.' There were hundreds of tents. Beds everywhere. Nothing was finished," Finley said. "We figured it was for [general-admission ticket holders]. It would be crazy to treat people who paid the most like this."
Shipping containers were strewn about the property; there wasn't a single item for purchase inside the on-site general store, and the concierge booth was half-built.
Guests were shuttled via school bus to another part of the island, where they were given free alcohol, but the food was less than desirable. Photos of cheese sandwiches went viral instantly: "The food court was a summer-camp mess hall," Finley said.
Signs that there were problems had been apparent for weeks.
Production costs spiraled and promoters struggled to pay vendors on time, while some artists had yet to be paid in full before the event was supposed to start, according to multiple industry sources familiar with the matter. Ticket holders complained on social media that organizers had been lax about sending logistical details ahead of time.
Headliner Blink-182 pulled out of the event Thursday, telling fans they were concerned organizers would not be able to provide the production needed for their performance.
"Regrettably, and after much careful and difficult consideration, we want to let you know that we won't be performing at Fyre Fest in the Bahamas this weekend and next weekend," a statement from the band read. "We're not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give fans."
Flights into the Exumas were canceled due to overcapacity on Great Exuma island, and organizers told guests that things "got off to an unexpected start" as frustrated ticket holders began contacting the U.S. Embassy to ask for assistance.
By Friday morning the event had been postponed altogether, with remaining charter flights to the island canceled.
"Fyre Festival set out to provide a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience on the Islands of the Exumas," began a lengthy statement from organizers on Friday.
"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."
Organizers said the festival was being postponed until they could "further assess if and when we are able to create the high-quality experience we envisioned."
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism offered an apology on behalf of the islands.
"We are extremely disappointed in the way the events unfolded yesterday with the Fyre Festival. Tourism is our number one industry and it is our aim to deliver world-class experiences and events. Hundreds of visitors to Exuma were met with total disorganization and chaos," the tourism ministry said.
"Given the magnitude of this undertaking, the MOT lent its support as we do with all international events. We offered advice and assisted with communications with other government agencies," the statement continued. "The event organizers assured us that all measures were taken to ensure a safe and successful event but clearly they did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale."
Ja Rule took to social media to express his regrets about the festival, but stressed that he wasn't to blame for its failure. "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."
A representative for Fyre said the festival's primary concern was the comfort and safety of its guests and would provide comment later.
"There was no coordination, no organization," said ticket holder Finley, who has returned to Miami and is on his way to Ft. Lauderdale to go home. "They should have postponed it for three or four weeks — or cancelled it if they weren't ready."
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