This week we were blessed with not one but two documentaries on the infamous Frye Festival. While Hulu’s Fyre Fraud seemed to focus more on the lead up and planning of the festival, Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened centered more around the aftermath of it. Both documentaries covered different ground, but they made one thing alarmingly clear. Billy McFarland is the greatest con artist of our generation.
From the beginning, Frye Festival set exceedingly high expectations for itself. Their advertisement basically presented the dream life for any millennial: exclusivity and luxury. A beautiful, private island with music from our favorite acts, amazing food and some of the world’s most in-demand models such as Bella Hadid, Alessandra Ambrosio and Chanel Iman. The only problem was it was fraud or “false advertisement” as Ja Rule likes to call it.
The cultural experience of the decade opened ticket sales to the public in January of 2017. Package deals started at $1500. With the packages, guests were guaranteed a private flight from Miami to Fyre Cay, ticketed admission, a luxury villa, grand meals and endless hospitality on Pablo Escobar’s old island. McFarland also offered different VIP packages which could include, a private yacht, personal chef and more. However, on April 27th, to the guests’ surprise, they were flown on a commercial plane to an area near Sandals Resort with little to no infrastructure. Instead of luxury and villas, they were met with leftover tents from Hurricane Matthew, cheese sandwiches and no running water.
The next day, April 28th, Fyre Festival organizers were immediately hit with a $100 million class action lawsuit. In addition, McFarland was charged with wire fraud, money laundering, identity theft, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice. Throughout the process of creating the festival and Fyre Media, McFarland consistently delivered empty promises. For example, he told investors that Fyre Media had made millions from talent bookings when they actually had less than $60,000. He also lied to Fyre Festival investors. McFarland claimed he had festival insurance, which would secure their right to a payout incase the festival was cancelled. However, he never purchased the insurance, so investors never received their payout. As a result, McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay $26 million for defrauding investors and consumers.
The lack of accountability taken for Fyre Festival is sickening. Although McFarland is currently serving his time and paying his debt (literally), he did not do this alone. Several people helped him commit fraud along the way, and they should be held responsible as well. Take Ja Rule for example, the co-founder of Fyre. Despite being with McFarland around the clock, he claimed he knew nothing about the fraud or the festival’s lack of production. After everything unfolded, Ja Rule issued a statement saying it was not his fault. To this day, he stands by that. Yesterday, he issued a string of tweets condemning both documentaries, claiming he was tricked and bamboozled as well just like the rest of us.
The saddest part of this entire scam however is the people who were left in major debt. For example, McFarland convinced two of his employees to cover Fyre expenses with their personal credit cards. One is currently being sued for $250,000 by American Express, and the other is $150,000 in debt. To make matters worse, Bahamian workers worked for months day and night trying to bring McFarland’s vision to life. They were paid nothing in return. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the Netflix documentary was when MaryAnn Rolle, owner of a bar-restaurant used by the Fyre Festival, says she emptied her life savings to pay her workers after McFarland abandoned her. Rolle ended up being out of $50,000 which forced her to start all over.
The impact of Fyre Festival is indisputable. Here we are two years later with two documentaries covering the infamous festival. McFarland created perhaps the greatest scam of our generation. He was able to do so simply by capitalizing off of millennials’ fear of FOMO. Generation Z is all about social media. We constantly need to be seen because of this fear that we will be forgotten. Hopefully the next time a new festival comes around we will: have a little less FOMO, do a little more research and pray that Billy McFarland is not in charge of it. For now, we will stick to Coachella.
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Written by Nia Quinn