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Ja Rule’s luxury festival collapses into a $100 million lawsuit

By | Published on Tuesday 2 May 2017


What was meant to be a luxury music festival for the rich and famous staged in the Bahamas and backed by Ja Rule certainly got a lot of attention on the social networks over the weekend. Though for all the wrong reasons, of course.

As bands, including headliners Blink 182, pulled out and already inadequate infrastructure fell apart, flights to the festival island were put on hold while those already there shared photos of the shambles unfolding as the whole event was called off. The writs and recriminations followed almost immediately.

With tickets priced as high as $12,000, the Fyre Festival promised a luxurious live entertainment experience. It was the brainchild of 25 year old computer programmer Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule, who bonded over a common love of technology, hip hop and the ocean. Unfortunately festival management wasn’t part of the common bond.

Speaking to Rolling Stone shortly after the whole debacle was formally declared cancelled, McFarland recalled how the duo had “started this website and launched this festival marketing campaign. Our festival became a real thing and took on a life of its own. Our next step was to book the talent and actually make the music festival. We went out excited, and that’s when a lot of reality and roadblocks hit”.

The biggest reality check was just how ambitious staging a festival on the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas really was, given the relatively tight timelines and lack of experience among the top team. Admits McFarland: “There wasn’t a great way to get guests in here – we were a little bit ambitious. There wasn’t water or sewage. It was almost like we tried building a city out of nothing and it took almost all of our personal resources to make this happen, and everything we had, to make this festival go on”.

Island life can also mean unpredictable weather events. “The morning of the festival, a bad storm came in and took down half of our tents and busted water pipes”, McFarland continued. “The weather unfortunately delayed flights and made them run into each other in terms of being close to when a lot of people were arriving. That was unfortunately something we had no control of”.

Which isn’t to say that you couldn’t stage a festival on Great Exuma, the Bahamas Ministry Of Tourism was keen to stress as social media posts from the collapsing event went viral, many of which portrayed the island as a desolate wasteland surrounded by shark infested waters. Not so said the tourism agency’s boss Joy Jibrilu, presumably worried about the Bahamas brand.

“Exuma is one of the most beautiful and developed islands in The Bahamas and we in the ministry are so disappointed that there have been false claims surrounding the island”, said Jibrilu. “We want to ensure that all stakeholders and guests know of the development and infrastructural capacity of this island”.

The point Jibrilu was making was that while staging a festival on Great Exuma was ambitious, doing so would have been entirely possible had the Fyre Festival team known what they were doing. Or maybe just listened to those they hired who did know what they were doing, who – according to this article by one of them – aired their concerns to an uninterested management, before bailing on what was obviously – to them – a doomed enterprise.

McFarland concedes that he underestimated the task of staging a festival, let alone a festival on a small island that was being sold on the luxury it would provide attendees. Not that this has put him off having another go. “We were a little na├»ve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves”, he said. “Next year, we will definitely start earlier. The reality is, we weren’t experienced enough to keep up”.

Yep, next year. And those who found themselves stranded on the festival island this time, or sitting on a chartered airplane going nowhere, are being promised VIP tickets for take two next year. Though McFarland could as yet spend much of the next twelve months swamped in litigation, with celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos already putting together a class action for those who bought tickets to the big non-event.

His first client, Daniel Jung, wants $5 million in damages “for alleged fraud, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and negligent misrepresentation”. According to Variety, another 150 plaintiffs could as yet join the action, possibly all claiming similar amounts. Geragos seems confident that the lawsuit will be seeking $100 million in damages as an absolute minimum.

All of which means that, while the photos streaming out of the Fyre Festival on Friday looked a little like footage from some sort of natural disaster, an accompanying benefit concert may yet be required to pay off the costs of the legal fallout.

Ja Rule can headline the litigation fundraiser, but maybe he should hire some more experienced hands to run the show. After all, the whole Fyre Festival debacle neatly demonstrates what happens when you put a major event in the hands of a some rich kids who are prone to ignore whatever the experts tell them. Good job no one’s ever done that with a whole country, hey America?