One month before thousands of well-heeled millennials were set to descend on a remote island in the Bahamas for the Fyre Festival to frolic on yachts, rub elbows with models, and hear acts like Blink 182 and Major Lazer, the organizers had a big problem.
They were running low on cash and the festival lacked fundamental necessities — toilets and showers, for example — and they were running out of time. One supplier told VICE News that when they were contacted by the festival in April, they told the organizers that all the money in the world wouldn’t get trailers for toilets and showers past customs in time, because that takes weeks to process. The festival was scheduled over two weekends in late April and early May.
It turns out customs was something Billy McFarland, Fyre Festival’s 25-year-old founder, should have worried about. On Saturday, Bahamian officials shut down the ill-fated site. “Customs has the area on lockdown because Billy has not paid Customs duty taxes on the items that he imported,” the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism said in a statement obtained by ABC. By then the festival had at least one toilet trailer and a cluster of porta-potties, but the ticket-holders were long gone from the site, which some compared to a refugee camp in part because the “luxury tents” were similar to FEMA tents.
Interviews with dozens of people, including former Fyre employees, contractors, and potential investors, reveal the organizers behind Fyre Fest knew months in advance that they were not going to be able to provide even a fraction of what they were selling. Despite the glossy marketing, McFarland and his company, Fyre Media, had little to offer investors beyond a now-infamous photoshoot featuring 10 of IMG’s most popular models, and a press release touting a partnership with YachtLife, a luxury yacht charter app.
He spent $250,000 on a single Instagram post from Kim Kardashian’s half-sister Kendall Jenner and laid out hundreds of thousands more on lesser-name “influencers,” none of whom were paid less than $20,000, one person familiar with the payments said.