After much anticipation and skepticism, two documentaries were released on Hulu and Netflix in January 2019 about the infamous Fyre Festival.
Fyre Fest was a music festi- val created to promote an appli- cation also called Fyre, in which people could book artists and talent for special events. The re- ality was much darker and more dangerous.
Created by the artist Ja Rule, American rapper, singer-song- writer and actor, and Billy McFarland, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, Fyre Fest was to take place over the course of two weekends in April and May 2017 on a private island in the Bahamas.
The event was promoted by many of the industry’s top super models and social media influencers, including Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid, and it was meant to feature a lineup that would rival Coachella, with headliners such as Major Lazer, Migos and Daya.
Guests spent thousands of dollars on tickets, private vil- las, VIP packages and special access, setting up Fyre Festival to be the most exclusive music festival of all time.
When guests arrived, how- ever, they were met with a very different reality.
Seth Crossno, Fyre Fest attendee featured in both documentaries and creator of internet persona William Needham Finley IV, said that before he and his friends arrived on the island, they did not think anything was amiss.
“There were some head-scratching moments, but there was nothing to suggest that nothing would be ready or that it would be a big disaster. Nothing tipped us off to that,” Crossno said to The Banner.
Attendees paid thousands of dollars for luxury accommodations that, in reality, consisted of leftover hurricane relief tents, soaked mattresses, cheese sandwiches in take-out boxes, lockers with no locks and no electricity.
Festivalgoers also had no access to first aid or any form of health care. When attendees became aware that Fyre was a the scam, many tried to leave the island.
“Right when we got to the island, we thought, ‘This is four or five months from being ready,’” Crossno said. “We kept thinking, ‘This can’t be it. We’ll keep driving and they’re going to drop us off at the place we reserved.’ We got dropped off and there was this long line of people in front of this blue house. Crossno, along with many other attendees and friends were unsettled by what Fyre Fest turned out to be.
“We were sort of in disbelief that this was our reality and then we immediately thought, ‘We need to get o the island.’ Fear didn’t set in. It was more of an unsettling feeling you got as time passed, and we didn’t get any answers,” Crossno said.
When Fyre Fest attendees tried to leave, however, they were met with even more is- sues. Word spread that flights were being cancelled and hotels were full, leaving the masses confused and frustrated.
It was later revealed that McFarland and his team had been lying and manipulating not only the attendees of Fyre Fest, but also local islanders, caterers and other companies who were supposed to be involved with producing the festival. Jacclyn Greene, freshman public health major, said the health concerns for the people who attended the failed festival should have been taken more seriously.
“This whole event would constitute as a crisis. Those people didn’t have access to the things that they needed. From a public health standpoint, that’s concerning,” Greene said. “People gave their trust to the people putting it on and put their health in their hands, and they were conned in a way that could have affected their lives. People could have had serious health issues arise and that deception and risk was allowed to occur. That’s not OK.”
Kaitlyn Merced, sophomore communication studies major, said she watched both documentaries on Hulu and Netflix and thought the injustice allowed by McFarland and Ja Rule was inexcusable.
“It’s sad that so many people’s lives were affected by what they did, and it was crazy they were able to scam so many people in such a large way,” Merced said. “Of course, I felt bad for the people who attended as well as the local islanders, but when I learned that a lot of the staff on the ‘inside’ were also being manipulated, I found myself feeling especially bad for them.
“So many people who were putting on (the festival) were either being lied to, didn’t really know the extent of what was happening or were being so manipulated that they felt like they had no choice but to go forward with it.”
Once they had arrived back on the mainland, many angry Fyre Fest attendees wanted to sue McFarland for fraud, and several did. March 2018, McFarland pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud in federal court and admitted to using fake documents to attract investors to put more than $26 million into his company. On Oct. 11, 2018, McFarland was sentenced to six years in federal prison.
“Six years in prison doesn’t seem like a very long time considering the number of people defrauded, the amount that was taken or the people that went to the festival,” Crossno said. “When I say people defrauded, that’s about one hundred investors and the people who were victims of false advertising and fraud. Then you have the people in the Bahamas who didn’t get paid. There’s a lot that hasn’t been out there yet.”
Crossno is currently producing a podcast called “Dumpster Fyre” that aims to continue the investigation of Fyre Fest to help ensure everyone affected by Ja Rule and McFarland’s actions are avenged.
“I’m working with filmmakers and the director of the Netflix film and have learned a lot about things that went on be- hind the scenes,” Crossno said. “We’re going to be sharing a lot of that because, though the film was great, it’s hard to go into the details of the things that Billy (McFarland) did to try to pull this off . There’s a lot more.”
Both “Fyre Fraud” (2019) on Hulu and “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” (2019) on Netflix, dive into the controversy and aftermath of the event and can be streamed with a subscription to each service. Hopefully festivalgoers will take a closer look at the tickets they are purchasing and festival planners will be held ac- countable as a result of Fyre.