The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The complete disaster of Fyre Festival played out on social media for all to see; ‘NOT MY FAULT’ says organizer Ja Rule

The Fyre Festival was supposed to be a star studded luxury event in the Bahamas. Here's how it went very wrong. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

The organizers of the Fyre Festival promised “two transformative weekends” on a “remote and private” island in the Bahamas that was “once owned by Pablo Escobar.” Kendall Jenner promoted it on Instagram. Ja Rule was one of the organizers. Festival-goers paid thousands of dollars for what they believed was going to be a luxury experience. Anyone who could afford the ticket would arrive in paradise on a private jet with their friends, for a taste of the lifestyle that only seems to exist on the Instagram feeds of models.

None of that happened.

The first wave of paying guests arrived on Thursday, only to find themselves staring at a chaotic festival site that appeared to be weeks away from being able to host anyone. Blink-182, one of the bands headlining the festival, had canceled at the last minute. The tents that were set up for guests to sleep in looked like “FEMA tents,” one person said. Not exactly the luxury accommodations they’d paid for. Meanwhile some tents were still in their boxes. There were barely any festival staffers around to tell people where to go, and the promised gourmet food was, well, not:

Starr Catering Group, a high-end catering company once linked to the festival, said on Friday that their agreement with organizers was “terminated” earlier this month, and that they had nothing to do with the food actually served there.

Overnight, the festival said in a statement posted to social media that it had gotten off to an “unexpected start.” By Friday morning, the festival was “postponed.” And on Friday afternoon, Ja Rule tweeted out a statement saying he was “heartbroken” about the whole thing. He apologized to the would-be festival goers, but said that the disaster was “NOT MY FAULT.”

“I don’t know how everything went so left but I’m working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded,” he wrote.

We contacted the Fyre Festival earlier on Friday to get some clarity on whether refunds are being issued, and how, but have yet to receive a response.

“We thought it would be four nights with good music. They branded it as the next Coachella,” a 32-year-old festival goer who identified himself as William Finley told me in a phone call from the Exuma International Airport on Friday morning. Finley and his friends paid about $4,000 each for VIP access and “luxury lodge” accommodations at the festival. After seeing the actual festival site, Finley decided to get on the next flight out of there. “We’d rather be sleeping at an airport,” he said, “rather than in a tent on a rocky outcropping near a Sandals resort.”

Festival-goers paid anywhere from $450 for a no-frills day pass to up to $250,000 for the full VIP experience. One widely-advertised festival package cost $12,000. There were even packages that included a private yacht.

Finley was still livetweeting his journey back home to Raleigh, N.C. on Friday, sitting along with about 150 other people at the airport who had also given up on the festival. As we spoke, Finley said they were all “locked in” at the airport, in hour seven of waiting for a flight (he eventually did make it to Miami). Someone had passed out from the heat, and things were kind of tense: “There might be a riot here,” he said at one point. “There’s a lot of ‘Type A’ personalities.”

Before he gave up on Fyre Fest, Finley documented what it was like at the festival site Thursday night:

Others did the same:

On Instagram, an early stream of photos from the #fyrefestival tag looked more like what organizers were hoping for…

…but the hashtag slowly started to give way to reality:

And plenty of others who planned on attending the festival couldn’t even get there amid all the chaos:

The disorder at Fyre Festival appears to have caught a lot of the attendees off guard. But there were signs that all was not what it seemed. In early April, the Wall Street Journal reported that festival organizers had missed a series of deadlines, including those for paying artists. An anonymous Twitter account, @FyreFraud, began tweeting about the festival in March. In a series of DMs, the person behind the account identified themselves as in the “industry,” but not directly connected to the festival itself.

“Knew from the beginning this was an impossible undertaking given the time, cost & location,” @FyreFraud said. ” the logistics of hosting a festival on a deserted island (no power, water, medics, infrastructure) seemed absurd.” But the extent to which Fyre Festival fell apart so quickly, they added, exceeded even their expectations.

On Friday, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism released a statement saying they were ” extremely disappointed” in how the Fyre Festival unfolded, calling the state of things there “total disorganization” and “chaos.” The ministry is now at the Fyre Festival site to “assist with the organization of a safe return of all Fyre Festival visitors.”

Emphasizing that the festival was a “private” event, the ministry says it “offered advice and assisted with communications with other government agencies” to festival organizers, the statement reads. “The event organizers assured us that all measures were taken to ensure a safe and successful event,” they add, “but clearly they did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale.”

[This post has been updated multiple times]

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