Fyre Festival Hit With $100 Million Suit; Organizer Says 'We Were A Little Naive'

May 1, 2017
Originally published on May 2, 2017 1:40 pm

If the Fyre Festival had played out according to the immaculate hype of its marketing materials, attendees would be flying home from the Bahamas right about now, sunburned and hungover from the greatest weekend of their young lives, cellphones full of models' phone numbers, #latergramming their way to legend status.

Instead, at least one of those once bright-eyed festivalgoers has filed a lawsuit and ticket buyers are receiving apologies from event organizers, who now admit that the Fyre Festival "fell dramatically short of even the most modest expectations."

On Sunday, Fyre Fest attendee Daniel Jung filed a lawsuit against the organizers. His attorney Ben Meiselas, of celebrity law firm Geragos & Geragos, tweeted the first few pages of the suit, adding, "Refunding ticket price is not enough!"

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court, names festival co-founders Ja Rule and Billy McFarland, along with Fyre Media, as defendants. It seeks to be a class action, with the plaintiff estimating that more than 1,000 people "purchased tickets for, and/or attended, Defendants' Fyre Festival."

Jung says he paid $2,000 for a ticket package and airfare to the event that started on Thursday and promised "a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience on the Islands of the Exumas." The suit seeks damages in excess of $100 million on behalf of himself and "similarly-situated persons."

If you read only one lawsuit today, make it this one. The suit offers a fine retelling of the "cultural moment" formerly known as the Fyre Festival. A few highlights:

  • "Attendees' efforts to escape the unfolding disaster were hamstrung by their reliance upon Defendants for transportation, as well as by the fact that Defendants promoted the festival as a 'cashless' event — Defendants instructed attendees to upload funds to a wristband for use at the festival rather than bringing any cash. As such, Attendees were unable to purchase basic transportation on local taxis or busses, which accept only cash. As a result of Defendants' roadblocks to escape, at least one attendee suffered a medical emergency and lost consciousness after being locked inside a nearby building with other concert-goers waiting to be airlifted from the island."
  • "Shockingly, Defendants had been aware for months that their festival was dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance. Individuals employed by Defendants have since acknowledged that no infrastructure for food service or accommodations was in place as recently as last month — the island was totally barren — and that the few contractors who had been retained by Defendants were refusing to work because they had not been paid."
  • "Defendants were knowingly lying about the festival's accommodations and safety, and continued to promote the event and sell ticket packages. The festival was even promoted as being on a 'private island' once owned by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar — the island isn't private, as there is a 'Sandals' resort down the road, and Pablo Escobar never owned the island."
  • "Mr. McFarland and Mr. Atkins began personally reaching out to performers and celebrities in advance of the festival and warned them not to attend — acknowledging the fact that the festival was outrageously underequipped and potentially dangerous for anyone in attendance."
  • "While Plaintiff is aware that Defendants have made overtures regarding refunds, Class Members' damages in being lured to a deserted island and left to fend for themselves — a situation tantamount to false imprisonment — exceed the face value of their ticket packages by many orders of magnitude."

It must be noted that despite the detailed account, the doomsday tone of the lawsuit doesn't always line up with the often-humorous social media postings cited as evidence.

The suit states, for example, "In addition to the substandard accommodations, wild animals were seen in and around the festival grounds." That's accompanied by an Instagram photo of two festivalgoers wading in crystal blue waters, captioned "#fyre is a huge shitshow but it hasn't been a total loss. I got to meet this swimming pig yesterday."

Following the schadenfreude jubilee online, Ja Rule tweeted on Sunday afternoon, "Relieved to share that all guest are safe, and have been sent the form to apply for a refund. Our deepest apologies."

His co-founder, Billy McFarland, was more reflective, or at least more voluble. In a Rolling Stone interview posted as the fracas was unfolding Friday, McFarland told the tale of how he and Rule took flying lessons together, ran out of gas and landed in the Exumas (ostensibly inspiring the Fyre Festival). As with so many entrepreneurs' failed dreams, the vision extended just about as far as a marketing plan:

"We started this website and launched this festival marketing campaign. Our festival became a real thing and took [on] a life of its own. Our next step was to book the talent and actually make the music festival. We went out excited, and that's when a lot of reality and roadblocks hit. ... We were a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves. Next year, we will definitely start earlier."

Yes, next year.

Despite everything going wrong with a music festival that offered neither music nor festival and instead is being sued for allegedly creating "a situation tantamount to false imprisonment," Fyre says it is going to have a festival next year, on a to-be-determined American beach.

The festival organizers emailed apologies to attendees on Sunday morning. "The Fyre Festival is a dream and vision that we poured our hearts and souls into creating, and it fell dramatically short of even the most modest expectations," they said. "We're heartbroken that we let down all the guests who put their faith in us and we fully recognize and own our shortcomings. We should have done better and we want to make it right."

The email included a link to a form that attendees can use to apply for a refund. And that refund form makes a truly astounding offer: You can opt to not receive a refund, and instead get extra VIP passes to next year's event.

That's right — to the people who already paid thousands of dollars to get either marooned on an island or not marooned on an island, with swimming pigs that were either adorable or dangerous, the Fyre Festival would like to offer the "adventure" of having their money funneled toward a maybe-it'll-happen-Fyre Fest 2.0 next year.

And Fyre just might be able to get some ticket buyers to take that offer.

A festivalgoer named Brett Linkletter described his experience on ABC's Good Morning America. "What we thought was cool got really bad really fast," he said. "The drinks were room temperature, there was absolutely no food. ... It was literally like The Hunger Games."

But, Linkletter said, "things could have gotten a lot worse than they did. End of the day, it was kind of a crazy, fun experience, you know, I mean, whatever. And I'm planning on going next year if it happens."

A cultural moment, indeed.

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