It was supposed to be the Coachella of the Bahamas. It was supposed to be a VIP experience. It was supposed to be a long weekend filled with lounging on the beach, occasionally interrupted with A-list run-ins and topline musical acts.
Instead it was, as one Twitter user described, "Rich Kids of Instagram" meets Lord of the Flies. Instead it was Millennial Armageddon.
This weekend was the inaugural Fyre Festival, a days-long event created by rapper Ja Rule and tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland, which was billed as a "cultural moment created from a blend of music, art and food." The idea was to gather millennials who like the finer things in life to the Islands of Exumas, where they would basically have a fabulous vacation and giant concert all-in-one. Stars like Emily Ratjakowski and Bella Hadid had been brought on to promote the event in the early stages.
Tickets cost anywhere from $1,000 to $12,000 and promised a flight from Miami, activities like kayaking and yoga, and a stay in a geodesic dome. What actually happened was anything but, and now the Internet with abuzz with horror stories and dispatches from distraught 20-somethings who feel duped out of money, pride and luxury.
There were warning signs before anyone even landed in the Bahamas. First, the musical acts started to pull out. Blink-182 cancelled their performance on Thursday, saying "We're not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans."
Then none of the promised A-listers actually materialized. Sure, if anyone read the fine print they would have discovered that the stars were only brought on to promote the show, with no contractual obligation to attend, but it's kind of hard to be the "Coachella of the Bahamas" without any of Coachella's famous faces.
Then, the festival attendees began to descend upon the Islands of the Exumas, and it became what can only be described as a s--tshow.
Lee/Prahl/ Splash News
First, those "luxury tents" that were promised turned out to be...not that at all. As Thomas Pierce, owner of entertainment marketing company PMA told E! News about his friends who are still stuck in what they described as a first-world apocalypse, "When they landed, they saw emergency tents with wet mattresses. The so-called private plane was a retired commercial airplane."
Pierce said that his friends wanted to leave immediately (how they even managed to survive a ride on a retired commercial plane is still a mystery), but they were unable to get flights back to Miami.
According to Taylor Wiederhorn, an unlucky festival goer, the weekend's organizers first tried to distract attendees from the lack of luxury tents by providing free alcohol. "Six hours later, they took us to the festival grounds," he told E! News. "The tents had no floors, it was just dirt. No beds and port-a-potties. Everyone's luggage was being held in these 20-foot shipping containers. It got to a point where Billy McFarland was standing on a table in the middle of a field trying to direct people. I had to physically fight my way to the cargo containers to get my luggage, which they had been holding. I then tried getting a hotel room but every hotel was booked out because there is a separate festival going on for locals. So there isn't anywhere else to stay."
It turns out that longing for Egyptian cotton sheets and Italian marble bathrooms would be the least of their collective problems. The food, for starters, was terrible. The food they could get their hands on, that is. A paparazzi photographer, who was in possession of a VIP pass for the weekend, said that food was "slow and scarce." All they were offered initially was bread and cheese, and then all that was left was Doritos. There was talk of the occasional mystical sightings of chicken and pasta, "but you had to fight for it."
Once darkness fell on the first night, it got even worse. Reports began flooding in that there was no electricity, no lighting, and that the camp descended into total anarchy. As you can see in the below video, attendees were practically screaming for food, swarming trucks in the darkness. Those who hadn't escaped immediately upon seeing the disaster tents began to run for the hills—or, rather, the airport.
Lee/Prahl/ Splash News
"Once I got my bags, I paid a local to drive me to the airport where 100 people were sleeping on the floor," Wiederhorn told E! "I was fortunate enough to realize early on I needed to get my stuff and get out of there. There was just no organization. Once we saw the tents—which were FEMA tents—and the port-a-potties, I knew it was time to get out of there."
But getting out would prove to be far more difficult. The lucky members of the first wave of evacuations waited about 12 hours for a flight back to the mainland, but plenty others are live-Tweeting from a waiting hell at the airport. There are reports of passengers being kept on the tarmac for hours, or being stuffed into tiny rooms with access to the open bars and upscale snacks they expected to be indulging in during the weekend.
And Pierce tells E! News that there are "thousands" of people still on the festival grounds. "The employees are working under stressful conditions with no sleep," he said. "It's hot and humid and rainy and I'm worried for my friend who's still there working."
Wiederhorn echoed that sentiment: "I still have friends stranded. They're trying to figure out how to get to the airport and get home. I can't even tell you how many people are still stuck there. It was the biggest disaster I've ever seen."
Of course, according to the organizers of the Fyre festival, help is on the way. The concerts themselves were technically cancelled, and the company's website now reads; "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. At this time, we are working tirelessly to get flights scheduled and get everyone off of Great Exuma and home safely as quickly as we can."
Ja Rule also tweeted about the disaster-in-the-making, saying "I'm heartbroken at this moment my partners and I wanted this to be an amazing event it was NOT A SCAM as everyone is reporting. I don't know how everything went so left but I'm working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded."
The rapper also added that it was not his fault, but that he was "taking responsibility."
So where does all of this leave the attendees of the first annual Fyre Festival? In emotional trauma, surely. It's easy to imagine that the specific type of person that can afford to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for a luxury music festival would be shocked to their very core to find themselves staying in anything but the finest and fanciest surroundings. Never in their wildest dreams would they be able to imagine staying in an open camp and eating cheese sandwiches. We'll let the obvious social commentary speak for itself here—we don't want to kick anyone when they're down, but hopefully when all the dust (mud?) settles, they'll be left with a valuable lesson about how the other half lives.
In the meantime, we think it will be a while before they sign up for another music festival.
- Reporting by Beth Sobol