Music

The full story of Ja Rule’s Fyre Festival disaster, ‘bankruptcy’ and $100m lawsuit

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Dave Fawbert
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As first attempts and never-before-seen grandeur go, Fyre Festival’s inaugural year was up there with the Titanic.

It had been billed as the most decadent and instagrammable festival ever put on, with tickets for the event in the Bahamas costing between $450 for a day pass all the way up to $12,000 for a VIP package, with acts like Major Lazer, Tyga and blink-182 due to perform in front of people who would surely have been facing the opposite way while taking enough selfies to sink the internet.

However, the reality was vastly different, with partygoers arriving last Thursday to find that the luxury experience they’d been sold had not materialised, with ticketholders tweeting stories of refugee camp-style tents (instead of the ‘modern, eco-friendly geodesic domes’ they’d been promised), wild pigs roaming loose, minimal security (with those present engaging in fights with the crowd), no food and no booze – in short, Rich Kids of Instagram meets Lord of the Flies.

While it was very, very (very) easy to laugh at trust-fund kids who had forked out for this hellish experience, there were reports of people fainting in airports while waiting for flights to leave the island and lack of food and water with many undoubtedly having something of a traumatic time.

After taking an inordinately long amount of time to even acknowledge that the event couldn’t go ahead, the stories of just what an absolutely disorganised shitshow this was began to creep out.

The festival had been ‘organised’ (we’re using that term very loosely) by rapper Ja Rule and ‘serial entrepreneur’ Billy McFarland, and initially they were concerned with the most important things – getting people safely off the island and refunding them promptly  feeling sorry for themselves and trying to lay blame elsewhere.

McFarland spoke to Rolling Stone (rather than, y’know, the people who’d paid $12k to have their luggage chucked around) to say that it was ‘definitely the toughest day of my life’ and blamed weather conditions, saying: ‘The morning of the festival, a bad storm came in and took down half of our tents and busted water pipes’. However, he somewhat undermined that excuse by admitting, “We were a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves. Next year, we will definitely start earlier. The reality is, we weren't experienced enough to keep up.”

Next year Billy. Yeah, next year.

Meanwhile, Ja Rule took to Twitter to loudly declare that it was ‘NOT A SCAM’ and ‘NOT MY FAULT’:

Our favourite line on the whole thing is possibly from their website, where it says: “We thought we were ready, but then everyone arrived.”

Yeah, festivals eh? Really easy, apart from when everybody goes and bloody turns up.

Weak as they are, getting in early with these excuses probably made sense given the certainty that at least one of this army of rich kids would have access to a nice, expensive lawyer, and the lawsuit duly arrived today, with attendee Daniel Jung enlisting the services of celebrity trial lawyer Mark Geragos, who is accusing the pair of "an outrageous failure to prepare" and suing them for fraud, negligent representation and breach of contract to the tune of $100m (£78m).

The court filing reads: "The festival's lack of adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care created a dangerous and panicked situation among attendees – suddenly finding themselves stranded on a remote island without basic provisions – that was closer to The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies than Coachella... The Fyre Festival was nothing more than a get-rich-quick scam from the very beginning."

We’re no legal experts, but we’d say it’s not looking good for McFarland and Ja Rule, given the other stories which started to emerge in the press.

Reports in Motherboard and the New York Post’s Page Six suggested that the A-list celebrities used to sell the event were warned not to come. “They called all the A-list names and the modeling agencies and told them not to come,” the source said. “They were just like, ‘Oh, come next weekend [the event was due to run over two separate weekends – it may shock you, but next weekend’s is not happening] when all the kinks have been worked out.’ This was before the chaos even started.”

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Meanwhile, NYMag managed to interview the festival’s talent producer Chloe Gordon, who began work on the festival in March but soon discovered that, “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.”

While Ja Rule did a ‘site visit’ that involved spending a lot of time on a yacht, according to his Instagram, event planners got together and recommended that the event be postponed until the following year, with work on the 2018 event to begin immediately.

A post shared by JaRule (@ruleyorkcity) on

They were met with the flawless suggestion by one of the marketing team: “Let’s just do it and be legends, man.”

Meanwhile, that night, Ja Rule proclaimed: “To living like movie stars, partying like rock stars, and fucking like porn stars.”

Gordon eventually quit six weeks before the start of the event and – hilariously – had not had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so was completely free to spill the beans.

A unnamed staff member also talked to the Broke-Ass Stuart blog and suggested that things weren’t quite as bad as described by the media – for example, the stage and soundsystem were apparently ready to go – but also described how many staff members had quit, or been fired, with jobs simply not being done, best summed up with the line: “Does all of this sound like a giant, unorganized clusterfuck of epic proportions? It should, because it is.”

In the immediate wake of the festival’s cancellation, ticketholders were offered the choice between a full refund or a VIP ticket to next year’s festival, which will apparently take place at a “United States beach venue”.

However, reports suggest that performers and staff were not paid, with the blog above saying that it expects Ja Rule – who it says was very much a figurehead for the event, rather than ever getting involved with any of the organisation – and Billy McFarland – who, seemingly, very much was involved with the planning – to declare bankruptcy, so we’d be frankly amazed if any refunds end up being processed, and equally amazed if a 2018 event either gets the go-ahead, or happens without any further hitches. Even if it somehow does, we’re intrigued as to how exactly, conceptually at least, you can make every person a VIP. We suspect that is the least of their issues though.

Broke-Ass Stuart summarises his take by saying: “This was a case of good intentions executed horribly by people with literally no industry experience when it comes to creating a festival. It was a disaster from the start and it honestly never should have been seen to the end. It should have been canceled weeks prior but everyone thought they could turn it around. And now, Ja Rule and Billy McFarland will pay the heftiest of prices for the misfire.”

And we can’t really put it any better than that.

(Image: Fyre Festival)

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Dave Fawbert

ShortList.com staff writer Dave’s primary passions are pop, prose, punning and power ballads (and alliteration). A lower division football enthusiast and long-suffering cricket fan, he is one of only 110 people followed on Twitter by Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n’ Dave. Follow Dave on Twitter like Chas: @davefawbert

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