Photo: Courtesy of Twitter/MattHalfhill
In early March, a friend of mine texted me to ask if I wanted to be a talent producer for the Fyre Festival. I’d never heard of it, but the gig involved going to the Bahamas and being paid extremely well. So I said yes and packed my bags. The festival was supposed to be a luxury music retreat where elite millennials could mingle with “influencers” and models. Tickets cost between $1K and $125K, gourmet food and accommodations were promised. I was planning to spend the next two months working on the festival, but a mere four days after I arrived I was back on a plane to New York because the whole thing, as everyone now knows, was a complete disaster. I was briefly involved in the planning of the event and got a front-row seat to chaos.
On March 14, I flew from Miami to the island of Great Exuma to get the planning started. I was excited, at least at first. Flying in, the water looked beautiful — but I was almost immediately warned not to go near it because of a rampant shark problem. That was an omen I regrettably missed.
After we landed, we drove to the festival site to assess our goods. When we arrived, my initial reaction was “huh.” This was not a model-filled private cay that was owned by Pablo Escobar. This was a development lot covered in gravel with a few tractors scattered around. There was not enough space to build all the tents and green rooms they would need. There was not a long, beautiful beach populated by swimming pigs. There were, however, a lot of sand flies that left me looking like I had smallpox. Still, I had hope.
My job as a talent producer was to coordinate travel and on-site logistics with the artists who would be performing: Blink 182, Major Lazer, Disclosure, among others, had already signed on. I would be working with an 11-person team and a few of the festival executives. 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.
Here’s what the Fyre Festival was supposed to look like.
Pending disaster aside, I started working from an island rental house. I contacted the booked artists’ tour managers to start to coordinate. Almost all of them had the same question for me, which was along the lines of, “Hey … Where’s our money??” I tried to email the business manager to get an answer, who said something like “stand by” for three days in a row. By the end of the week it became clear they would not pay the people they owed.
On Wednesday, Ja Rule arrived for a “site visit.” I don’t know if he actually visited the “site” but he did spend a lot of time on a yacht, according to his Instagram. Meanwhile the event planners were holed up indoors putting together a game plan and a budget. With so little having been prepared ahead of time, the official verdict was that it would take $50 million to pull off. Planners also warned that it would be not be up to the standard they had advertised. The best idea, they said, would be to roll everyone’s tickets over to 2018 and start planning for the next year immediately. They had a meeting with the Fyre execs to deliver the news. A guy from the marketing team said, “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”
At this point it was pretty clear that this was a mess and I shared my concerns with the man I reported to. But he assured me that the Fyre execs were legit, and said some socialite was underwriting the whole thing. The budget was okayed and we were told to carry on with our planning. That night Ja Rule gave a toast. “To living like movie stars, partying like rock stars, and fucking like porn stars.” If Ja Rule is punished for anything perhaps it should be that.
Still, we proceeded. Thursday night we flew to Miami where we would work with a fully functioning internet connection. The artists still hadn’t been paid. It was my job to try and be charming while explaining to tour managers that no, there still was no money or a technical director for the festival. There was, somehow, a secured alcohol sponsor, however. This whole thing was playing out as a hilarious disaster. It was clear to most of us that nothing was going to come together at this rate.
The next day, things really started to fall apart. On Friday, lots of people on the production team got fired. I did not get fired. I did get a phone call that same night that said something along the lines of, “Congratulations, the guys will allow you to continue to work on the festival! For two thirds of what you asked for. And we’re not paying the artists yet.” So with that, I quit. I told the tour managers I had been in contact with that I was going to take myself off the project. And then I flew back to New York and waited eagerly for six weeks to see how Fyre Festival would play out.
Then yesterday, to my dark delight, the rug was pulled out from under them. In the morning headliner and all-around relevant band in 2017 Blink-182 pulled out, citing sub-par production standards. Last night the festival evacuated almost everyone off the island on account of they didn’t have food or tents for anyone (minor details). Today, after a wild night of #fyrefestival terror broadcast on social media, Fyre announced the festival would be indefinitely postponed.
I cannot explain how or why the bros running this festival ignored every warning sign they were given along the way. The writing was on the wall. I saw it firsthand six weeks ago. They overlooked so many very basic things. And baby, they forgot to make me sign an NDA.