The 2017 Fyre Festival turned into a laughingstock, as it not only deceived its attendees but also turned out to be a total catastrophe.
The concept for this music festival, set in the Bahamas, originated from entrepreneur Billy McFarland. He aimed to boost his Fyre app, designed for booking music talent. Collaborating with Ja Rule, McFarland undertook the creation of the festival. Their strategy for promotion involved leveraging social media, for which they paid celebrities and influencers, including Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, Hailey Bieber (formerly Baldwin), and Emily Ratajkowski, to endorse the event.
However, the weekend in April 2017 didn’t unfold as expected for the concertgoers who had anticipated a luxurious experience on Great Exuma Island. Instead, the event was shockingly poorly organized, riddled with constant issues ranging from security concerns, food shortages, inadequate accommodations, insufficient medical services, and strained artist relations. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that the event had to be abruptly canceled, leaving many attendees stranded on the remote part of the island.
As a consequence, both Billy McFarland and Ja Rule faced a $100 million class-action lawsuit filed by attendees in May 2017. The legal woes escalated in the subsequent month when federal agents arrested McFarland on charges of wire fraud.
Courtesy of Billy McFarland/Instagram
Subsequent to the event, McFarland faced lawsuits from attendees and was apprehended by federal agents. He was eventually released on bail amounting to $300,000. In March 2018, he admitted guilt by pleading to one count of wire fraud, aimed at deceiving investors and ticket holders, and another count for defrauding a ticket vendor. As part of his plea, he surrendered $26 million, acknowledging his use of counterfeit documents to attract investors. This legal turmoil continued, as six months later, he was additionally charged with selling fake tickets to prominent events like the Met Gala, Burning Man, and Coachella, even while on bail.
October 2018 marked the month when McFarland received a six-year prison sentence. However, his early release took place in March 2022, and he concluded his term through house arrest, which concluded in September 2022.
Remarkably, six years after the disastrous Fyre Festival, McFarland surprisingly announced his intentions to organize a follow-up festival, making tickets available for purchase.
“Fyre Festival II tickets are officially on sale,” McFarland in an August 2023 video announced. “It has been the absolute wildest journey to get here, and it really all started during a seventh-month stint in solitary confinement. I wrote out this 50-page plan of how it would take this overall interest and demand in Fyre and how it would take my ability [to] bring people from around the world together to make the impossible happen.”
“As a 30-year class-action attorney, I’ve seen it a hundred times: once a schemer, always a schemer. Billy McFarland’s Fyre Festival II is certain to be a bust, and anyone gullible enough to spend time and money on it is sure to be left holding the bag,” said attorney and law lecturer Daniel Karon.
“The difference between the impending Fyre II disaster and Fyre I is that McFarland is likely to have squirreled away his money so that when he’s hit with another class-action lawsuit for fraud, this time there won’t be any money available to compensate his victims,” Karon said.
Courtesy of Ja Rule/Instagram
Ja Rule managed to avoid serving any jail time for his role in the music festival debacle. In January 2019, the rapper clarified that he had been deceived by his business partner, distancing himself from the responsibility of the event’s failure. Ja Rule tweeted at the time, “I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hood winked, lead astray!!!”.
In November 2019, a judge exonerated Ja Rule from any accusations of wrongdoing. Just a month later, Ja Rule released a new song titled “Fyre,” which directly alluded to the event and its aftermath.
“The fest—the festival is on fire / We don’t need no water, make that motherf—r hotter,” he raps. “Hotter than the sun, but it wasn’t that / Show of hands if you got your money back? / Just playing, I got sued for that / 100 mil to be exact.”
Presently, Ja Rule is involved in running an app called ICONN, which bears a striking resemblance in concept to McFarland’s Fyre app.
King, an event planner, played a pivotal role in handling logistical aspects for the festival. He had previously collaborated with McFarland on other business endeavors. Following the Fyre Festival debacle, King retained his position as a co-founder and event producer at his company, Inward Point.
His notable appearance in the Netflix documentary “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” left a lasting impression. In the documentary, King delivered a memorable moment when he openly discussed his willingness to offer favors to Bahamian customs officers as a means to bring in the bottles of water that Fyre had previously ordered. Ultimately, he chose to pay an import fee to release the water.
Surprisingly, in August 2023, King confirmed to Yahoo Entertainment that he would be collaborating with McFarland once again, this time on the organization of Fyre Festival II.
Rolle was the owner of the Exuma Point Bar & Grill. In the Netflix docuseries, she disclosed that she had been defrauded of $50,000 – her entire life savings – which she was owed for providing meals to the festival crew and attendees. In response, she and a friend initiated a GoFundMe campaign that remarkably generated $241,548 in donations. Ironically, a new predicament emerged as her friend attempted to abscond with half of the raised funds, nearly subjecting Rolle to another scam, as reported by Vice.