Rob flew home for a short visit with family, while I stayed behind to care for our boat and our two dogs in the Emerald Bay Marina on Great Exuma. With Rob out of town, I was settling in for a nice, calm, relaxing weekend. I envisioned the next four days would be spent reading books on the beach, cooking healthy meals, sipping on rose, and testing out some face creams. Rob and I hadn’t spent a night apart since we moved onto the boat 18 months ago and while I was certainly going to miss him, I was looking forward to the alone time. But on Thursday morning, the sleepy, quaint marina atmosphere changed wildly when megayachts began rolling in.
One after another, big beautiful boats came pouring into the marina. Famous yachts like the James Bond inspired Octopussy, Jerry Seinfeld’s Moka, and the Galactica Star (recently rented out to Beyonce and Jayz for $350,000 a week) had all shown up for the party. Obviously, something big was going on and I was living on our 39 foot sailboat in the middle of it.
As it turns out, that something big was Fyre Festival. What, you’ve never heard of it? Well, me neither. Fyre Festival, labelled as “Coachella for the Super Rich”, promised an amazing music filled weekend with luxurious accommodations on a private island filled with swimming pigs and supermodels. Sound too good to be true? As it turns out, it was.
Guests began arriving Thursday morning ready to be wooed by the promises of grandeur, but instead found a vacant gravel lot with half erected FEMA relief tents, unwrapped mattresses, partially assembled IKEA furniture, stacks of unopened amazon boxes, and a lack of food and drinks. Luggage was being tossed out of the back of trucks, feral dogs roamed the site, and cheese sandwiches were being served for dinner. It certainly wasn’t the experience guests expected when they shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars to attend. It’s no surprise that artists quickly started dropping out of the lineup and the music festival was over before it ever began.
After the Fyre Fest organizers pulled the plug, one big problem remained. Hundreds of concert goers were stranded in disaster tent city with less than adequate accommodations and little food. To make matters worse, the festival took place the same weekend as the Exuma Regatta, an event that draws thousands of visitors to the island each year. Therefore, rental properties, hotels, taxis, and cars were already completely booked. Concert goers were out of options. Several took shelter in the Exuma Airport, but many others were forced to sleep in the hot, muggy, and damp FEMA disaster relief tents.
The remaining flights from Miami to Great Exuma were canceled and the airlines flew empty planes to Georgetown to rescue stranded concert goers. After 48 hours, it appears that the last of the guests have finally returned to the US and the Fyre Festival saga has come to a bitter end.
But before the chaos erupted, the marina was buzzing. Boat were quickly filling the slips and yacht parties were kicking off all around. Our new dock neighbor was a beautiful new Lagoon 620. The stunning Catamaran would be running lunch and dinner charters throughout the festival. I chuckled at the thought of the rich and famous staring out at my boat during their luxury dinner.
At some point in the early evening I noticed a considerable change in the atmosphere. The yacht parties had intensified, but now everyone appeared to be fuming. Here they were on gorgeous boats, under clear skies, in the beautiful Bahamas, what on earth did they have to be so angry about. That’s when I discovered #fyrefestival. Not only had the festival been canceled, but the internet was exploding with hilarious memes comparing it to the Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. I spent the remainder of the night reading twitter responses while parties around me roared.
When our friends Tory and Jon (Sail Me Om) heard about the chaos the next day, they decided to travel up from Georgetown (10 miles away) to see the disaster first hand. The three of us walked over to the festival site and right through the security gate. At this point most concert goers had already fled and there was essentially no security. We first noticed the sea of disaster relief tents on the gravel lot. Hardly the beach paradise that was promised.
We descended into tent city and took the opportunity to take selfies in the less than luxurious accommodations while Tory filmed the entire experience on Facebook live. The heat inside the tents was completely unbearable. The sun beating down on the plastic covering created a scorching oven. We could only stand to be inside for a few minutes. In fact, it was nearly impossible to escape the brutal Bahamian sun. The festival site had no trees, no shade covers, and no buildings. Drinks, snacks, mattresses, tents, furniture, and lockers were still wrapped up on pallets and scattered throughout the site. It appeared as if the organizers ordered all the supplies from amazon prime just a few days ago. It was a ghost town.
As we neared the stage, we finally ran into some concert goers. There were around 100 people left on site. Many of them were still trying to arrange a way off the island, but there were still a few that were trying to make the most of a horrible situation. The bar was open and they were chilling on the beach in the only sliver of shade that existed on the entire site. We chatted with a few and they seemed pretty positive. They were in the Bahamas and determined to have a good time. But of course, they were under the assumption that they will receive a full reimbursement. We’ll have to see about that.
Overall the conditions were incredibly lousy. Fyre Festival was an epic fail. It’s difficult to imagine how so much could go wrong and why the organizers didn’t call off the event when it was obvious that they couldn’t set up the accommodations in time for the guests. It appears that the Fyre team was in way over their heads. While they did give their attendees a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it certainly wasn’t the type they were expecting.
After giving ourselves a tour of the festival site, the three of us retreated to the marina. Jon was determined to get on a megayacht so we marched over to the largest one, the Galactica Star, and asked to board. We were quickly told to get lost, but not before we met another couple also trying to board. They invited us over to their smaller, but equally luxurious boat. It wasn’t the biggest boat in the marina, but we were sipping cocktails on a megayacht and chatting with models in bikinis.
Shortly after we arrive, a young blonde came outside and asked everyone to quiet down. Billy was inside trying to conduct business and we were being distracting. I couldn’t imagine who would be working while yacht parties were going on, but I quickly understood when I found out who’s boat we were on—Billy McFarland’s. Billy is the 25 year old Fyre Fest CEO and co-organizer with rapper Ja Rule. He appeared to be single handedly dealing with the media frenzy inside, while we were steps away, mingling and ordering drinks from the bar. When I went inside to use the head, I overheard him reading his open letter to Rolling Stone magazine. The day couldn’t get any crazier.
When the day started, I thought we were just going to hike to the site and take pictures for a couple of hours. That led to drinking free margaritas on the beach with concert goers. And then we found ourselves on the festival CEO’s yacht, again ordering free drinks and mingling with the young and beautiful. Fyre Fest may have been a disappointment for most, but it was turning out to be an incredible experience for us. We said goodbye once the party started winding down and there was only one way to end this insane day. We walked to the nearest pub and stuffed our faces with pizza.
Billy McFarland and Ja Rule may have had an amazing idea, but they failed incredibly when executing. I’m sure Billy and the other organizers will be lawyering up to protect themselves. And though the concert goers had a crappy 36 hours, they have returned home safely. I’m not sure if they will see refunds, but those that spend thousands of dollars on a music festival can probably afford to lose it. The saddest thing is that the real loser isn’t Billy or the concert guests, it’s the Bahamas.
The Bahamian government had to divert resources to the festival during a busy Regatta weekend to ensure attendees were able to return safely. Many of the locals that were slated to work the event walked away without employment or getting paid. Even our dock neighbors lost thousands of dollars on champagne and food they purchased for the 6 dinner services they were expecting to host. With many tourists leaving the island with a bad taste in their mouths, Fyre Festival has been nothing but a PR fiasco for the Bahamas. It’s too bad, because it all could have been avoided. It’s easy to talk about grand ideas, but much more difficult to make them a reality. I would hope that Billy McFarland and Ja Rule have learned that lesson. But since they are already talking about Fyre Forward, a 2018 music festival, I seriously doubt it.