After promising its attendees headliners like Blink 182, gourmet meals, luxury accomodations, and the chance to hang out with supermodels, 2017’s Fyre festival truly lived up to its flaming moniker when it “crashed and burned”.
Now infamous, thanks to documentaries on Hulu and Netlix (and this cheese sandwich), this dumpster fire of a festival will go down in history as being one of the most terrible things to ever happen in the Bahamas.
Sure, the event’s creator (and pathological liar) Billy McFarland did get kicked by karma when he received a free ticket to jail for his fraudulent actions. But the ones who are really paying for this disaster are the Bahamian locals hired by McFarland and his team to construct the Fyre festival campsite.
What happened at the Fyre Festival?
The Fyre Festival was scheduled to take place from April 28–30 and May 5–7, 2017. The founder, Billy McFarland (with rapper Ja Rule) promised guests a tropical party like no other. There would be sun, sand and supermodels. Everyone would stay in beach villas, on luxury yachts, or in posh eco-friendly domes. The event was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience, with about 30 groups scheduled to perform. Acts included Pusha T, Tyga, Blink-182, Major Lazer, Matoma, Disclosure, and Skepta.
Heavily advertised on social media, thousands of influencers and rich kids snapped up tickets. They weren’t cheap by any means. Day tickets cost around $500 to $1,500. VIP passes that included everything from accomodations to airfare went up to $100,000. Needless to say, expectations were as high as the prices.
In addition, models and influencers like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid promoted Fyre constantly on their social media accounts. At first, they didn’t disclose the posts as advertisements. Then Fyre hired a posse of supermodels to film promotional material on Norman’s Cay, a private island once owned by a Medellin Cartel kingpin. McFarland leased the island from its current owners, on the strict condition that he would not make any references to the island’s connections with the cartel or Pablo Escobar in advertisements.
Disaster in the Bahamas
Things started to spiral out of control after McFarland brazenly advertised the event’s local as an island “once owned by Pablo Escobar”. The island’s owners quickly canceled his lease. With just a few months to go, the Fyre Festival was without a venue. Scrambling to find a new place, the team finally settled on Roker Point in Great Exuma, nearby a Sandals resort. It was a far cry from the the “private island experience” the festival had promised its guests.
After that, things got steadily worse. McFarland had no experience staging an event of this size, nor did Roker Point have the infrastructure to handle such large crowds. Worse still, the Fyre team didn’t have enough money to work with. It would cost over 12 million dollars to actually give guests the advertised experience.
Although members of his team advised him to come clean with guests about the situation, McFarland forged ahead with his plans. Although the Fyre company basically had no funds, he decided to hold the event anyway. However, he would give guests much less than they were expecting.
The plight of Bahamian workers
The Fyre Festival hired thousands of Bahamian workers to pull the campsite together. Recruiters pulled them in from many of the Bahamian islands, requiring them to work long hours without pay. (In fact, many of them are still waiting to be paid. Several GoFundMe campaigns have raised thousands of dollars for the workers who were scammed.)
When the first day of the event finally rolled around, a rainstorm soaked the campsite. Nearly all of its (non-luxury) tents and mattresses were damaged. Then the guests arrived, and had nowhere to go and nothing to do. So, the event organizers sent them to hang out Maryann Rolle’s Exuma Point Bar. She served the restless crowds drinks and food for hours, until the organizers finally opened up the campsite.
Then, McFarland saw that the Fyre ship was sinking fast. He canceled the event and hightailed it out of the Bahamas. The Fyre corp never paid Rolle and her staff for their efforts. She estimates that the festival owes her about $136,000.
Once she realized that the Fyre team wasn’t going to give her a dime, Rolle took $50,000 out of her own savings account to pay her workers herself. On a GoFundMe page, she wrote, “As I make this plea it’s hard to believe and embarrassing to admit that I was not paid…I was left in a big hole! My life was changed forever, and my credit was ruined by Fyre Fest. My only resource today is to appeal for help.”
Women like Rolle are an example of just how kindhearted and hardworking Bahamians are. While her story put the Fyre Festival organizers to shame, Rolle also shattered many of the misconceptions people have about Caribbean islanders.
The Best of the Bahamas
In the aftermath following the festival, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation was quick to distance itself from what it dubbed “a private event”. However, the agency is eager to showcase the best of the Bahamas, and wipe away all memories of the Fyre fiasco.
Of course, one of the best things about the Bahamas is its incredible beaches. There’s even one with pink sand on Harbor Island! Cabbage Beach in Nassau is a great place to swim with starfish, flounder, and mini crabs, while Cat Island features a beach with underground caverns at Mermaid Hole.
And, in case that ridiculous cheese sandwich left a bad taste in your mouth, check out what Bahamian cuisine is really about. Typical Bahamian food often revolves around shellfish, lobster, crab, and conch. Staples include rice, peas, pigeon peas, pork, and potatoes. In addition, there’s no shortage of delectable tropical fruits on the Bahamian islands. Many are grown locally, including mangoes, coconuts, and pineapples.
Also, if you’re wondering what there is to do in the Bahamas, the answer is: way too much for just one trip! You’ll have to vacation in the Bahamas a few times in order to experience all these amazing islands have to offer. You can swim with plucky dolphins, explore famous dive sites like Andros, and shop in the cozy Port Lucaya marketplace. It’s the largest open-air shopping center in the Bahamas.
Ready to take the trip of a lifetime to the Bahamas? Let KeyCaribe treat you the way you deserve to be treated (no FEMA tents here…)
Main image credit: FYRE FESTIVAL