A $100 Million Lawsuit Has Been Filed Against Fyre Festival's FoundersArticle by: Laura Mason|@masonlazarus
Mon May 01, 2017 | 12:20 PM
It was a long weekend for Fyre Festival's co-founders, Ja Rule and Billy McFarland. First they canceled their event altogether, followed by an intense #dumpsterfyre over the fest's many egregious hiccups that made its way to the furthest reaches of the internet (even my father asked me if I'd heard about it). Then there was Ja Rule's eyeroll-inducing apology ("This is NOT MY FAULT...but I'm taking responsibility), New York Magazine's scathing, behind-the-scenes article written by a former Fyre employee, and McFarland's head-scratching claims of "we'll be back next year." Now? A $100 million lawsuit has been filed by a superstar entertainment attorney against Ja Rule and McFarland.
You might be hungover or hating that it's Monday, but at least you didn't have a $100 million lawsuit on your desk when you got to work this morning. Filed by Mark Geragos, whose clients have included Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder, and Chris Brown, the suit alleges fraudulent behavior that cost attendees “thousands of dollars on travel, lodging, and time off work.” Geragos represents Daniel Jung, who paid $2,000 to attend the festival.
According to The Wrap, the lawsuit, which covers all attendees in the same situation as Jung, details the Hunger Games-esque scenario festies were faced with at the Bahamian festival site, which was painfully lacking in security and staff, food (hello, iconic soggy cheese sandwich) and water, the "luxurious" accommodations promised by Fyre (dilapidated disaster relief tents, we're looking at you), and basically any and all infrastructure whatsoever. It was so bad that the U.S. Embassy had to help stranded festies get home. Not helping matters is the festival's claims that the Exumas island where it was built was once owned by Pablo Escobar, which is apparently false.
The suit also alleges that Fyre's co-founders knew that their festival was going to implode but did nothing to warn attendees – indeed, it was reported by New York Magazine that Fyre's staff (the lawsuit says Ja Rule and McFarland also personally reached out to some) called famous guests who were scheduled to attend the fest in advance and warned them to not come until Fyre's second weekend (May 5-7, 2017), "when all the kinks have been worked out." NY Mag's article "I Worked at Fyre Festival. It Was Always Going to Be a Disaster." by Chloe Gordon exposes just how insanely unprepared the festival and its naive staff were during the whole process:
"I would be working with an 11-person team and a few of the festival executives," she wrote about her experiences occurring as recently as mid-March. "The production team was all new hires and, before we arrived, we were led to believe things had been in motion for a while. But nothing had been done. Festival vendors weren’t in place, no stage had been rented, transportation had not been arranged. Frankly, we were standing on an empty gravel pit and no one had any idea how we were going to build a festival village from scratch."
What Fyre Festival was supposed to look like...
Yikes. She also wrote that the planning team warned that it would not be up to the standard as advertised and that the best idea would be to roll over all tickets to 2018 and start planning for that immediately. One guy from the marketing team said: "Let’s just do it and be legends, man.” By as late as a month and a half before the festival's start, no artists has been paid and there was still no technical director for the festival; shortly thereafter, much of the production team was fired.
Still, McFarland, Ja Rule's 25-year-old tech entrepreneur co-founder – who apparently has another shady venture that reeks of blatant money grubbing under his belt – thinks Fyre Festival will be able to come back next year. In a series of interviews, McFarland blamed much of the fest's abrupt cancellation on a bad storm the morning of the festival, but admitted to Rolling Stone that "we were a little bit ambitious" and "We were overwhelmed and just didn’t have the foresight to solve all these problems."
What it actually looked like...
However, he and Ja Rule seem to think Fyre Festival will be able to find a new home (in the U.S., on a beach) and a new team with much more festival production experience – their now-tarnished reputations be damned. In a statement released over the weekend, they announced that all ticket holders from this year's festival will receive refunds. According to Stereogum, if this year's attendees want they can forego their refunds for VIP passes to next year's event, and that they'd make "a considerable donation to the Bahamas Red Cross Society as part of our initiatives."
How have festival organizers like McFarland come to the head space where charging festival-goers thousands of hard-earned dollars for festival experiences is the norm? Slate published an excellent but depressing explanation by writer Ron Knox. Many of the most well-known festivals in North America and across the globe have been trending towards a debacle like this for awhile, and festival attendees are the ones who have been getting screwed the entire way:
"The culture and economics of the American music-festival circuit have created an environment in which the exorbitantly priced Fyre Festival is an acceptable concept," Knox wrote. "It’s taken a decade of steadily rising ticket costs and the advent of lavish VIP packages at most every major American festival to get to this point, where people are now willing to shell out thousands of dollars on an unproven, first-time festival—never mind its plainly illogical mix of luxury perks, complex logistics, and its owners’ now-admitted utter lack of experience in putting on a major music festival."
The biggest reason for this astonishing new reality? Live Nation and AEG own almost every major festival in America. "When two companies control a multibillion-dollar industry and set prices against one another, it’s logical to expect ticket costs to go up until those companies hit the ceiling where literally no one will pay what they’re asking," wrote Knox. Many other festivals that want to compete in the big leagues add their own high-end VIP experiences to appeal to the moneyed. And bands comply because it's almost impossible for them to get the same money and exposure from touring and selling records as they do from playing the annual festival circuit.
And that brings us to Fyre Festival, a new high point for ambitious VIP temptations promised to those who've got the dough, and a new low point for mainstream festival culture, which is now so hyper-driven by capitalism that the only way left for festival organizers to look is inward and ask: Why? Who are we excluding, and what for?