Here Are 5 Things To Help You Understand The Ill-fated Fyre Festival

Attendees, who paid up to $75,000 per ticket, were promised that they would be flown into the Bahamas on private jets.

January 30, 2019

Billy McFarland [Investigation Discovery/screenshot]

Billy McFarland [Investigation Discovery/screenshot]

By: Catherine Townsend

It was billed as the new and more upscale Coachella, and the most massive music festival the world had ever seen.

Fyre Festival was set in a luxurious island paradise where ticket holders could pose for the perfect selfies while surrounded by supermodels on jet skis. Attendees, who paid up to $75,000 per ticket, were promised that they would be flown into the Bahamas on private jets.

After arriving, they would hang out with supermodels and influencers such as Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajowski, and Bella Hadid. They would eat five-star meals, watch acts including Blink 182 and Migos, and swim with pigs.

Instead, they got FEMA disaster tents filled with urine-soaked mattresses, and cold cheese sandwiches against a backdrop of a deserted beach that resembled a “post-apocalyptic wasteland,” according to court papers.

All of the bands canceled, and thousands of people were left stranded and struggling to get home.

The festival’s organizer, Billy McFarland, is serving a six-year prison term after being charged with wire fraud. His disastrous festival has been the subject of two competing documentaries, Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and Hulu's Fyre Fraud.

The films paint a picture of McFarland as a Bernie Madoff for the millennial generation who had a long history of scamming people before the festival put his name in the spotlight.

Billy McFarland in an image from Fyre Fraud [Hulu / YouTube (screenshot)]

Billy McFarland in an image from Fyre Fraud [Hulu / YouTube (screenshot)]

Here are five standout points to know about the Fyre Festival:

1. This wasn’t Billy McFarland’s first scam.

Before he founded Fyre Fest, he had a long history of shady behavior.

Billy created Magnises, an American Express Black Card, and marketed it as a status symbol for millennials. McFarland admitted in the Hulu documentary that he got the idea after buying a strip of sheet metal from China and deciding that it looked cool.

But Magnises wasn’t actual credit card: Instead, aspirational millennials would pay to have their own, already existing credit or debit card copied over to a magnetic strip that he created.

Members, who paid $250 per year, were promised exclusive access to VIP events.
But we learned in the documentary that the special VIP tickets for events including Hamilton or the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show often never existed. Sometimes, a former staffer admitted, McFarland would scour ticket websites hours before an event and deliver the tickets last minute.

2. McFarland’s business plan seemed to be whatever could help him “score with models.”

One of the perks of the Magnises card was access to an exclusive townhouse that appeared to be largely populated by frat boy–types.

But the Magnises crew was kicked out of its Greenwich Village townhouse after allegedly causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to the property.

A real estate agent who showed McFarland several properties told Business Insider that she became concerned about his ability to afford a property she showed him. She said that he asked her the question: “Do you think I would get laid more by models if we get this space?” after she showed him a $30,000/month property and was unsure if he could afford it.

Even as a kid, McFarland’s primary motivation appeared to be attracting the opposite sex. He said in the Hulu documentary that he hacked into the school’s rudimentary computer system and changed the teacher’s passwords in order to promote his crayon repair business – and impress a girl he had a crush on.

“As a child, Billy was always ahead of the curve,” his mother said in a statement shown in Fyre Fraud. "Billy has been gifted with a blessing and a curse. He can only think big.”

3. For many viewers, the jury is still out on Ja Rule, Jerry Media, and some Instagram influencers.

Each documentary faced controversy: The Netflix documentary was produced in cooperation with Jerry Media, the team hired to do social media for Fyre, while the Hulu documentary paid McFarland for an interview.

Not surprisingly, the Hulu documentary paints the Jerry Media employees in a harsher light. Ex–Jerry Media designer Oren Aks stated that he was personally instructed to delete any negative or accusatory posts about Fyre on its Instagram account, and to block accounts leaving negative comments. Some of the words he was told to flag were “lineup,” “performers,” “details,” “info,” flights,” “fraud,” “stupid,” “scam,” and, incredibly, “festival.”

Rapper Ja Rule worked with McFarland on Fyre Media and was repeatedly referred to as McFarland’s “partner” and one of the creators of the Fyre Festival.

The Netflix documentary shows him in the Bahamas with McFarland and on a call in which he refers to the event as “false advertising” rather than fraud.

Ja Rule has denied any involvement in fraudulent activity involving the Fyre Festival. He tweeted that he "had an amazing vision to create a festival like no other," and was also “hustled” by McFarland.

The rapper was named in a class-action lawsuit, but has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Models Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, and Bella Hadid are among those who were ordered Monday to disclose information about payments they received to promote or appear at the Fyre Festival, according to ABC News. Court records show that models, performers and social-media influencers were paid $5.3 million in advance of the event.

4. A Fyre event planner said McFarland asked him to perform oral sex on a customs officer for bottled water.

Andy King told the Netflix documentary that McFarland called him and instructed him, as the festival’s “wonderful gay leader,” to "suck the d---" of the head of customs office so that trucks of Evian water bottles could be brought to the festival site.

"I literally drove home, took a shower, I drank some mouth wash, and I got into my car to drive across the island to take one for the team," King said. "I got to his office fully prepared to suck his d---.”

King claimed that the customs official did not ask him to perform sexual favors – but insisted that he wanted Fyre to pay the customs fee.

The water was released.

Scenes from Fyre Festival in Fyre Fraud [Hulu / YouTube (screenshot)]

Scenes from Fyre Festival in Fyre Fraud [Hulu / YouTube (screenshot)]

5. McFarland did not discriminate: He stole from wealthy investors and small business owners.

The Fyre Festival was not just a case of McFarland getting in over his head – the entire business was a Ponzi scheme from the start. And while many commenters have mocked social media footage of millennials with trust funds, McFarland stole from everyone: investors, his own employees, and day laborers in the Bahamas.

According to court documents filed with the Southern District of New York, McFarland lied to potential investors about the profitability of the Fyre App. He provided a balance sheet indicating assets of $31,360,957.00 in 2017. He also listed the island in the Bahamas – which he never bought – as an asset, and claimed that Drake had booked a $1.5 million performance through the Fyre App, according to court documents.

Infamous cold cheese sandwich served at Fyre Fest shown in Fyre Fraud [Hulu / YouTube (screenshot)]

Infamous cold cheese sandwich served at Fyre Fest shown in Fyre Fraud [Hulu / YouTube (screenshot)]

The investors put in hundreds of thousands of dollars, which was never paid back.
Many crew members in the Bahamas who worked on the festival for months have revealed that the Fyre Festival left them broke.

Restaurant owner Maryann Rolle tearfully told the film crew that she lost $50,000 of her life savings catering the festival. Viewers have crowdfunded more than $200,000 for Rolle – making her one of the only people in the Fyre Festival story who got a somewhat happy ending.

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