The Fyre Festival was billed as an immersive music and luxury lifestyle experience loaded with all of the luxe elements one would expect of a celebrity-backed event: private island, villas, yachts, private jets, bikini-clad models, gourmet food, beer stands, and top-level entertainment courtesy of some of the most recognizable names in music. The festival, founded by Ja Rule and organized by Fyre Media, a startup the rapper helped launch in 2015, was to take place Great Exuma in the Bahamas, with tickets ranging in price from $1,000 to more than $12,000. A promotional video for Fyre Festival featured Hailey Baldwin, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski. Promises of paradise lured in around 6,000 partiers.
What ticketholders actually received upon arrival, according to numerous reports, was something a tad bit different…
Housing accommodations? Unmarked tents previously used in disaster relief incidents. Gourmet food? Two pieces of unappetizing bread and cheese served in Styrofoam containers. The beer stands? Unmanned and, presumably, empty. Security lockers? It’s a bit difficult to call the lockers when they’re missing locks. Entertainment? Unless you find standing on a beach with feral dogs and confused, angry festival-goers entertaining, there was none. Oh, and reports indicate that there is no festival security on the grounds. Nor do festival-goers have their luggage because, as a report from Complex explained, the bags were tossed off of a shipping container. In the middle of the night. Without lights. Blink 182 canceled their appearance, releasing the following statement:
"We're not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans.”
Yikes. A statement on Fyre Festival’s website says, in part, “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… The festival is being postponed until we can further assess if and when we are able to create the high- quality experience we envisioned.”
The organizers have also asked that festival-goers still on the island – many rushed back to the airport to escape the chaos – remain where they are (we suppose an increasingly unpleasant beach) while they “coordinate” arrangements to get everyone to the airport. How confident Fyre Festival ticketholders should be in that coordination remains to be seen.
Festivals are big business, massively popular with Millennials in particular. But they aren’t as simple as getting some permits, a large swath of land to contain all of the entertainment, and bringing in a few musical acts. There are serious logistics with which event organizers must contend, and legal requirements they must understand and fulfill.
Failing to deliver on any aspect of a festival doesn’t just cost the organizers money, it can destroy the reputations of all involved, including the scheduled entertainers. In fact, it can heavily damage the city, town or island hosting the festival, significantly harming their tourism. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the failure of Fyre Festival, as it stands now, may cost the Bahamas millions of tourism dollars.
The lessons that bar, nightclub and restaurant operators, beer, wine and spirits brands and distributors, promoters, and performers can learn from this festival fiasco are invaluable.
One, nobody cares about your brand more than you, so always protect your business – do your research before signing on to work with event organizers.
Two, don’t sign anything that doesn’t provide you with the ability to opt out without penalty.
And three, along those lines, do not be afraid to pull out of any event if you see it going sideways or encounter developments that will harm your business. Look out for number one – your brand – because the fallout from a disaster like the one we’re watching unfold could cost you in reputation and dollars, and you have too many people relying on you to take that risk.