- Fyre Festival was billed as an elite island concert experience.
- Entrepreneur Billy McFarland created the Fyre Festival.
- The rapper Ja Rule was involved in the creation of the festival and his name and face helped create buzz around it.
- The details of the Fyre Festival inspired the creation of two documentaries, one on Netflix and one on Hulu.
If you didn’t know about the Fyre Festival in 2017, chances are you have now after two documentaries were released about the ill-fated music festival, Hulu’s “Fyre Fraud” and Netflix’s “FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.”
The Fyre Festival was billed as an upscale Coachella. Set on a private Bahamian island, attendees were supposed to be able to be able to pay for elite access to private villas, food prepared by celebrity chefs, and an all-star concert lineup featuring acts such as Blink 182 and Migos.
And it seemed like no expense was spared when it came to promoting the Fyre Festival. Fyre’s marketing team produced a visually stunning video of models partying on yachts to try to entice people to purchase tickets. Supermodels including Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner were also paid to promote the festival to their followers on their massive social media platforms.
But as the festival date approached, things began to go terribly wrong. With weeks to go before their upscale clientele was set to arrive, the team realized that they didn’t have adequate accommodations or infrastructure for their guests. Despite the reported pleas from several members of the planning team to cancel the festival and save face, McFarland continued moving forward with the festival.
The festival promoters promised luxury experiences for attendees, but poor planning, a rainstorm, and a host of missteps made guests feel like they had been dropped into an episode of “Lost” rather than at a five-star music festival experience and left McFarland and his team to deal with major legal and professional blowback.
In case you haven’t had a chance to watch the documentaries, here’s a break down of the key players involved in this music festival disaster.
Entrepreneur Billy McFarland created the Fyre Festival.
The Fyre Festival was the brainchild of New York-based entrepreneur, Billy McFarland. McFarland had made a name for himself around the New York party scene for creating what he promoted as members-only party experiences tied to an exclusive credit card.
The 27-year-old created the lavish Fyre Festival beach party as a means to promote his new Fyre Media App, which was being designed to give users a means to book access to their favorite celebrities.
But even after everything fell apart with Fyre Festival, McFarland was reportedly still trying to tap into his millionaire millennial mailing list by selling tickets that didn’t exist to A-list events like the Grammys and the Met Gala. McFarland is currently serving six years in federal prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and other crimes related to the festival.
Ja Rule was involved in the creation of the festival.
- Getty Images
Rapper Ja Rule worked with McFarland’s on Fyre Media and he has been referred to as one of the creators of the Fyre Festival. His name helped generate buzz around the concert and secure funding for the event.
Although the Netflix documentary shows him sitting in on several festival-related meetings with McFarland, including a post-festival call in which he tries to assure Fyre employees that they could make a comeback from all of the negative publicity, Ja Rule has denied any involvement in fraudulent activity surrounding the Fyre Festival.
On his personal Twitter account, Ja Rule tweeted that he was also scammed by McFarland. He also tweeted that he “had an amazing vision to create a festival like no other,” as per BBC’s reports. Ja Rule was named in a class-action lawsuit filed by festival attendees, but Ja Rule said he’s only named because he “has money.”
Jerry Media was one of the companies hired to promote the festival.
- Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images
McFarland hired media company Jerry Media to promote the festival. According to Oken Aks, a former Jerry Media employee who worked on the Fyre Festival campaign and was interviewed in the Hulu documentary, Jerry Media was behind the endorsers, Instagram posts, and hype, and if it weren’t for their marketing campaign, Aks doesn’t think the festival would have become as big as it did.
The company’s founder Elliot Tebele tweeted after the documentary that he was still owed over $150,000 from McFarland. Tebele also tweeted that he “gave every dollar [his] agency earned from the festival” to a now nonexistent GoFundMe for a local Bahamian caterer featured in the Netflix documentary who said she was not paid for her work on the Fyre Festival and so she paid her employees with her own money.
But F— Jerry’s role in the festival has been talked down by Mike Purzycki, the CEO of Jerry Media.
“What was real is that we (F— Jerry media) were responsible for their social media designs and helping with marketing, pre-launch,” Purzycki told Town Square Delaware earlier this year, speaking of Fyre Festival. “We were one of six New York marketing agencies working together. One of the agencies did a great job: the event sold out.”
Purzycki said his team didn’t actually do much, adding “We didn’t even promote the festival, they just snuck us into the pitch deck (sales presentation).”
Purzyckico-produced the Netflix documentary and appeared in it. But Netflix said it did not influence the coverage of the media company. They noted in a statement that, “We were happy to work with Jerry Media and a number of others on the film. At no time did they, or any others we worked with, request favorable coverage in our film, which would be against our ethics.”
Marketing executive Grant Margolin worked closely with McFarland on the festival.
Grant Margolin served as the chief marketing officer for Fyre Media and was in charge of the promotional materials surrounding the festival, including the beautifully shot promotional videos.
Referred to by documentary interviewees as McFarland’s right-hand man, Margolin has found himself facing some legal issues a result of the Fyre debacle. The US Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud-related charges against him. And although he settled, Margolin didn’t admit or deny any of the charges, according to Variety. Margolin reportedly paid a $35,000 penalty and is not allowed to serve as a director or officer of a public company for seven years.
Margolin was also named in a class action lawsuit from attendees against McFarland, Fyre Media, and Ja Rule. According to Bustle, Margolin is also named in a separate lawsuit, in which he is accused of deleting negative comments about the Fyre Festival on social media to prevent attendees from canceling their tickets.
Event planner Andy King was placed in a compromising position to “save” the festival.
Andy King was an event planner who worked on logistical details of the Fyre Festival. King had experience working with McFarland. King said he believed in his ability to produce great experiences, which is why he stayed on board with the Fyre Festival production for so long.
In one of the most jaw-dropping moments in the Netflix documentary, King admits to being prepared to perform sexual acts on Bahamian customs officers in lieu of paying $175,000 cash in fees in order to get the bottles of water Fyre had ordered.
“Billy called and said, ‘Andy you need to take one big thing for the team … You’re our wonderful gay leader and we need you … will you suck d— to fix this water problem?'” King told the interviewer in the Netflix documentary.
He said McFarland told him that if he performed the act on the head of customs, King would “save the festival.” King said he was prepared to do so, but when he arrived at customs the officer “couldn’t have been nicer” and said he’d release the water if he was one of the first people paid the import fee.
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