UPDATE: See below for an update about Billy McFarland’s statement.
Like so many others, I woke this morning to see my Twitter timeline leaping with updates and retweets from a festival “no one” knew existed. Fyre Festival was billed as a luxurious music festival to be held on a private island in the Bahamas. The hefty price tag of the event included perks like private ships, yacht docks (yachts were BYOB), massages and glamorous quarters. As we’ve seen from the photos posted on social media, they got leftover US Aid tents drenched in water (it had rained the night before), nothing built and cheese sandwiches in styrofoam boxes.
Fyre Festival was supposed to be a 2 weekend event beginning April 28th -30th and May 5th – 7th. Thought the musical lineup may be unfamiliar to some, apparently, it was enoough of a draw for people to drop over $1000 to attend the event. All reports state that the festival was promoted by 90s era rapper, Ja Rule and by using the images and influencer cachet of Instagram models. Tickets began at around $450 and went up to $250,000 for supreme party style packages that promised all forms of luxury and proximity to the artists.
In just a cursory reading of the festival’s website (now pulled to just have a statement) and social media, it all sounded to good to be true with a price tag that just didn’t add up. The festival, which sold out it’s initial batch of tickets in December 2016, didn’t have a line up, but promised to have big acts representing various genres while also showcasing “culture and food”. Independent media sites, like Bustle and Por Homme, published gushing articles over an event with no details beyond the word of organizers. By the end of January, the signs that the festival set up wasn’t going smoothly were coming to light. By March, many people were asking on various sites if the whole event wasn’t just a scam. A Page Six article describes a mishmash of events that show the festival wasn’t running smoothly. An April article in Quartz noted that claims of how the festival was coming together didn’t match with reality.
Depending on amenities, tickets to the high-end concert cost between $1,500 and a wild $250,000, and more than 12,000 people are expected to fly out to the Bahamas for the shows. But the festival—scheduled to kick off during a weekend at the end of April—has missed a number of payment deadlines to artists, according to a new Wall Street Journal report (paywall), which suggested it’s not in the best financial health.
A music festival is charging $250,000 a ticket—and still looks to be in financial trouble by Amy X. Wang for Quartz
Other news outlets interviewed attendees, most of whom claimed that they chose this festival because it sounded “cool” and “different”. You see, they were bored with Coachella.
I attend a lot of music festivals and conventions that are often started by fans and run by volunteers. I’ve also worked on such events in both a professional capacity and a volunteer to the cause. My forte was conference and meeting planning. I did that for almost 20 years, starting in my mid-teens. My experience working at record labels, publicity agencies and radio stations warned me away from applying my skillset to any sort of music event. There are just too many details that can get lost, musicians aren’t the most reliable people to work with, and their representatives and concert promoters are often untrustworthy.
What I’ve seen from events, like Korean music festivals in the US, is that people are so eager to go with the hope their faves will get an invite, that they spend money before realizing it’s not what they wanted. In the case of Fyre Festival, what was shocking was that attendee William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) found an organizer’s dated notebook on the ground and posted pictures. For an event that was slated to start on April 28th, it was amazing to see a notebook dated April 14th with to-dos that should’ve been taken care of by the end 2016 or by the end of February at the latest.
Ja Rule has issued a statement which he takes responsibility for what he claims is not his fault. That’s possible.
A convention should have a team to take care of business. Fyre Festival’s creative director Mark Musters and entrepreneur Billy McFarland have been on radio silence, but have been frequently quoted in news articles leading up to the event. It’s entirely possible that due to his fame, he’s been made the scapegoat.
But when people spend hundreds–or in this case, thousands==of dollars and hours of flying time to attend an event, they don’t really care who is responsible. They just want what’s promised or a refund.
With that in mind, here’s a list of demands that events must meet before I consider purchase:
Never buy tickets without a line up announced. If tickets go on sale before the first artist is announced, wait. Yes, it may get sold out, but you may also be able to get tickets later from people who can’t attend or are uninterested in the music. This is what I’m seeing with this year’s Korea Times Music Festival. Too many people jumped to buy their tickets in January, but the line up–which was slowly announced in March–is disappointing to many kpop fans.
If there are no sponsors pages or exhibitor information on the site before tickets go on sale, skip it. This means that the organizers are relying on your money before they set prices for sponsors and exhibitors. This often means that the attendee is paying for the space, but it also means that exhibitors will, most likely, but completely unsatisfied with their spaces. This was the case with the first few Komikaze conventions. Tickets went on sale, but the exhibitor page lacked a lot of important information. Speaking to them on the convention floor, most were unhappy with lack of basics available or that they were charged exorbitant fees for items once they arrived on-site.
Social media plays a large part in getting the word out nowadays and Fyre Festival certainly had a pretty Instagram page. But for destination events, it’s important that organic posts and regular updates of what is happening are included. This could be in the form of team members posting about meetings or images of final walkthroughs (important!) If you’re not seeing these sorts of updates under the event hashtag before tickets go on sale, then you should be wary of spending a dime. If you aren’t seeing these in the 2 weeks before the event, try to get refund or sell your ticket. Chances are you’ll be disappointed in the entire event.
Also beware of an event when the hashtag is full of @[female name][string of numbers] with a bikini clad avatar all saying, “I can’t wait until #eventthatcosttoomuch[year]!” There was an even a few years ago that was supposed to be some sort of anime con, but none of the local anime community hyped it up. The tickets for the event started at $25. I saw a flyer in a hair salon in San Gabriel 2 days before the event. The posts under the hashtags all looked like bots. In the end, it was about 40 guys in a room in some Orange County community college with a girl in shiny shorts and cat ears dancing on stage to anime theme songs.
A source says that attendees have not yet seen pictures of their “villas” on the fest’s private Bahamian island. Another source said, “It feels like they have good intentions, but are out of their league … Several companies bailed on working with them because they were very disorganized. They don’t return calls.”
If a list of artists are announced, but they haven’t posted a thing about the events on their website or social media pages within a day of the announcement, that should set off alarms. In searching through the pages of Fyre Festival’s artist line up, I found few artists that had a post on attending. Since the reports of Fyre Festival being a bust started coming in last night, it’s possible that the other artists had scrubbed references from their sites and social media. It’s also possible that their representatives posted their schedules elsewhere. If the artists are posting about their other concerts near or on the event date, but nothing about the event since the first announcement, it’s usually a big red flag that there is money trouble with the promoters. In my experience, they either don’t go show up or go on hours later than planned.
Hopefully, these tips will help you attend conventions and music festivals with a restful state of mind. Or…at the very least, you don’t spend thousands of dollars to not sleep in emergency tents.
UPDATE: ABC News reports that co-organizer, Billy McFarland still has plans to hold Fyre Festival next year:
For his part, McFarland, 25, admitted to Rolling Stone that his team was “a little naive in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves. Next year, we will definitely start earlier. The reality is, we weren’t experienced enough to keep up.”
‘Fyre Festival organizers said attendees ‘will be refunded in full’ by Joi-Marie McKenzie for ABC News
McFarland complained that it was “the worst day of his life” and more suprisingly, the whole idea was really began as just a big ol’ joke:
“We started the website to test the theory that people were interested and it went from there. All of the 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.
A National Punchline by Gabrielle Bluestone for Vice
Which all ties in to what I’ve posted above. If your organizers have never held a convention or festival before, there’s no reason to trust they’ll do a good job if the team in place is also inexperienced.