It is not a good time to be associated with the Fyre Festival. Initially designed as the ultimate luxury experience, Fyre was co-created by Ja Rule and meant to host performances by Blink-182, Major Lazer, Migos, and more. It was promoted with an extremely aspirational video featuring models Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, and held on the Exumas, which are those islands in the Bahamas that have swimming pigs.
For between $1,000 and $250,000, fans were promised a decadent weekend hobnobbing with influencers, eating gourmet food, and probably swimming around in the ocean with those pigs to the sweet sounds of “Put It on Me.” Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. If you visit the Fyre Festival’s official site, there’s an austere note from the organizers explaining that “Fyre Festival set out to provide a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience on the Islands of the Exumas. Due to circumstances out of our control, the physical infrastructure was not in place on time and we are unable to fulfill on that vision safely and enjoyably for our guests.”
Here’s what the Fyre Festival was supposed to look like.
A quick scan through the #FyreFestival hashtag shows a vaguely apocalyptic scenario: luggage being thrown from the back of a truck in the middle of the night, a meal consisting of sandwich bread and a couple slices of cheese in a styrofoam container, and halfway-set-up tents supposedly meant for disaster relief. These “accommodations” would be horrible at any music festival, but when people show up ready for decadence, the contrast is all the more striking.
What, exactly, went wrong? We’ll surely find out soon, but the explanation will likely boil down to poor planning. Putting together a massive music festival is a daunting task. Putting together a massive destination music festival that is meant to be the apex of all music festivals might be impossible.
It is by now established that music festivals are a large part of keeping the music industry afloat; last year’s Coachella brought in $95 million over the course of two weekends. Increasingly, the experience is the selling point, and the actual concerts that are held at these festivals are only one part of that experience. So how all-inclusive can a festival be, and how comfortable can a VIP area get? To get an idea, Bonnaroo offers a private tour bus, Austin City Limits has a golden toilet, and Coachella has air-conditioned cabanas for VIPs. Iceland’s Secret Solstice Festival offers a million-dollar ticket that grants you access to private planes, a concert inside a volcano, a concert inside a lagoon, and other heights of opulence so ridiculous that they seem pointless. Ostensibly, a luxury festival experience is a window into what it’s like to be rich, but if you have to actually be rich to experience it, what’s the point?
Organizers can promise festivalgoers the world, but if they want to actually see any music they’ll still be walking around outside and baking in the sun with limited access to water. There’s a comfort ceiling, and Fyre’s disaster showing proves it may have been reached.
Not too long ago, luxury at music festivals was an afterthought. Fans flocked to earlier iterations of festivals such as Coachella and Bonnaroo because they had a chance to see every band they enjoyed in one place. If that meant they had to sleep tent-to-tent in a dusty field, then that’s how it was going to happen. It wasn’t ideal, but there wasn’t really an alternative, either.
I’m not romanticizing the festivals of the past: I fully acknowledge that Woodstock ’94 was so screwed up, a bunch of people that got covered in mud just embraced the mud and created a society of mud people; that Woodstock ’99 was so awful, there was never another installment; and that jam-band festivals exist. But the lesson here is obvious: Organizing a music festival is not a way to make some easy money, and attending a music festival is not the same as going on a relaxing vacation. Music festivals start to work when attendees reach that blurry state between exhaustion and euphoria and every performance feels like the best thing you’ve ever seen. Fyre Festival tried to promise everything but delivered on nothing, not even the potential for a reasonably pretty Instagram photo.