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The story behind the greatest party that never happened

A behind-the-scenes look at the Fyre Festival has come to Netflix. It’s as bizarre as it sounds.

Source: Netflix/YouTube

IT WAS BILLED as the most exclusive music festival in the world.

Its slick promotional video promised “two transformative weekends” on a “remote and private island in the Exumas” that would explore the “boundaries of the impossible”. Models and social media influencers such as Emily Ratajkowski and Bella Hadid appeared in the promo.

Furthermore, the island was once owned by narcotics kingpin Pablo Escobar. Blink 182 and Major Lazer were among the headliners.

Day tickets cost upwards of €1,000. VIP tickets set you back tens of thousands. It quickly sold out after the PR campaign got under way in December 2016.

Attendees were promised the finest of food, drink, and accommodation. 

But when people began to arrive for the Fyre Festival in April 2017, they were met by an absolute disaster.

Nearly two years on, one of the main organisers is in jail and has been ordered to forfeit over €20 million for wire fraud.

And a new documentary that came to Netflix charts the bizarre rise and quick fall of the Fyre Festival.

Big ideas

The protagonist in this story is Billy McFarland and he’s very much portrayed as the villain of the piece as the man who along with rapper Ja Rule convinces investors, employees and ticket consumers alike to fall for his dream of the most exclusive, high-end music festival around.

The film charts how the charismatic McFarland sought to create the perfect festival but shows how while Fyre Festival’s promotion was going at a blistering pace, the plans for its production were not.

“The cultural event of the decade,” is how he described it. Ja Rule said that he and McFarland were “going to change the way people look at a young tech entrepreneur and a hip-hop mogul, come together and create something incredible”.

In the documentary which has incredible access to those involved with the project, McFarland is shown to have sold villa packages before he knew there’d be enough space for all the people, as well as changing the festival site at the last minute when it became clear how much it would actually cost. 

In a darker turn, local Bahamians who were enlisted to work on the festival weren’t even paid. 

Along the way he falsified statements to show investors that his company earned millions of dollars from April 2016 to February 2017 through talent bookings. In reality, his company had earned just over €50,000.

Luxury food

The extravagance that was promised certainly didn’t materialise, and it was one photo of the meagre food offering that helped the story of the festival go viral as it was shared widely.

The two slices of bread and couple of cheese slices with a bit salad was a far cry from the  food that was promised.

People who’d been sucked in by the Instagram influencers and the social media buzz were met with a stark reality as the quality of food, or lack thereof, chimed in with the rest of the organisation of the festival.

As well as that, mattresses and tents were soaked through the night before guests were due to arrive meant that many were left with nowhere to stay, never mind simply sub-standard accommodation.

A consultant who worked on the festival recalls hearing a staff member say to another “at least they won’t get away with it now”, referring to the organisers.

The festival of a lifetime was anything but, as organisers only admitted defeat after hundreds of people had arrived to attend. Influencers distanced themselves from it, and anger was directed at McFarland and co for creating such a farce.

When the extent of McFarland’s fraudulent activities emerged, it added a new layer to the tale of incredible hubris that played out almost entirely on social media – from the initial promotion, to those livetweeting from the festival and the subsequent vitriol directed at McFarland.

And when the sheen of the social media posts were stripped back, there was nothing of substance to the Fyre Festival – the greatest party that never happened.

About the author:

Sean Murray

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