Learnings from Fyre Festival

Titled by some as the “most disastrous festival ever”, Fyre Festival hit the headlines for its falsehoods and non delivery.

Fyre Festival co-founders Billy McFarland and Ja Rule
Photo: Web Summit

If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary yet, then I recommend spending 90 minutes of your time to watch it. The staggering issues raised and the numbers involved makes compelling viewing – $100million of damages claims post event, allegations of $27.4million of fraudulent fundraising, thousands of upset customers, prison sentences, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

For those who have yet to hear about the event itself – it was sold as a new ‘luxury music festival’ in the Bahamas last year that went from a heavily promoted event by social media influencers and music artists to a number of lawsuits and criminal charges for the company and promoter.

Attendees were left with no accommodation, little or no food, lost baggage, soaking wet mattresses in the ‘VIP tents’ (note: apparently they were actually disaster relief tents), flight cancellations and numerous other failures that meant they had to make do with what they could get their hands on until being evacuated from the island when it was clear that there really was not going to be a festival of any type taking place!

On top of that, numerous suppliers, staff and contractors have been left unpaid and unable to reclaim their losses. The words scam, con and fraud regularly pop up in the online discussions and from a bystander’s perspective it appeared to be set to fail from the start. Although, sitting watching a documentary eight months on this is all very easy for me to say. It may have been a US event but things like this should always make our industry sit up and double check how we operate.

Have I ever been close to being hoodwinked by a promoter similar to that on the documentary? No, thank goodness. Can we all still learn some lessons from this debacle? A resounding yes would be my answer.

Some of the learning could probably be summed up with the simple phrase “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. However, while it can be very easy to succumb to an exciting new event proposition, I’d suggest taking a few minutes before signing to delve a little deeper.

  • Have they done anything similar before?
  • How did those events turn out?
  • What’s their background?
  • Do they have the right backing and support in place?
  • Does the hype and advertising ring true?

The above questions should be asked whether you are a supplier, event organiser or even a potential guest. They should at least allow you to step back and consider things before taking the plunge.

As a supplier you may be happy to take financial risk as part of your business model, for others you may simply want to act as a paid contractor with no risk. Be clear from the outset what you want from the relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable with what’s requested, walk away. Many suppliers are SMEs and debts could have a huge adverse effect on them and their financial security. In the past I have walked away from projects if the numbers didn’t add up or the information coming from the promotion team didn’t sit well. It is not easy but in hindsight the right decisions were made.

Fyre festival documentary posterIf you end up being the “face” of the event as the event organiser, are you happy with what you are selling and providing? If not, what are your options? Are you certain you have confidence in the event and its goals? It was interesting the number of people interviewed in the documentary who bought into the event 100% and were left high and dry following its demise.

For potential attendees it may be harder to distinguish between what will be a truly unique festival starting out and something less than ideal, but feedback and information is more readily available now more than ever with today’s technology. Use it to your advantage and maybe delve a little deeper.

I’ve met with new promoters promising exciting things, be it the best new event ever or an appealing financial return. I can’t say I haven’t been extremely tempted, but having stepped back to consider the opportunity it has become clear the risks that I could have taken on were huge and, in most cases, I have been proved right.

There are people out there who think putting on a festival or event is easy – it isn’t. It takes a team of knowledgeable, informed and experienced people to make a success. On top of that, and having looked back at the documentary, a good slice of honesty and integrity also helps!



John RadfordJohn Radford runs JR Event Services and has worked in the event industry for over 20 years. He provides event management and event safety consultancy services for a broad spectrum of events from single day and city centre cultural events to week long music and dance festivals. Visit www.jreventservices.co.uk or call 01275 406760 for an informal chat.


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