Fyre Festival’s Bahamas Bust & Lessons Learned


The Fyre Festival beckons Millennials with the promise of sun and fun. Well, they did get some sun.

In the immediate aftermath of the Bahamian debacle that was the Fyre Festival, social and other media were awash in scorn – for the participants, for the “influencers” including celebrities like Kendall Jenner and assorted models that helped market the ill-fated festival, and especially for organizers Ja Rule and a 25-year-old marketing whiz named Billy McFarland. 

A mental picture emerged of karma served cold to “promoters” with more money than sense, entitled Millennials willing to pay through the nose to frolic in the Bahamas with celebrities they see in their Instagram feeds,  being entertained by some of the biggest-name musicians in the world, all while being housed and fed in world-class luxury. 

But that oh-so-mockable image belies the fact that there is a very real market for, and businesses that support, the kind of experiential events Ja Rule and McFarland aspired to create, even if they were completely incapable of executing their vision. 

It’s no laughing matter to the professionals who could have helped them, and it’s of little consolation to fans who found themselves trapped on a Caribbean island without adequate shelter, food or water after Fyre Festival was abruptly canceled April 29.

There were different kinds of risks at play here. Sure, some people sprung for packages reportedly costing in the six figures, including concert tickets ranging from $1,000 to $12,000. It’s also certain that the vast majority paid substantially less.

So, many of Fyre Festival’s customers, rather than mockable trust fund babies, could be the same people willing to spring for somebody else’s camping festival. And some deeply experienced companies, while skeptical, were willing to at least kick Fyre’s tires during the early planning stages, even if they ultimately declined to become involved.

CAA Sports’ Ety Rybak told Pollstar that Fyre Festival contacted the company about being a sales partner.

“The owner’s credibility issues made be me believe there was a strong chance it was a lot of smoke and mirrors,” Rybak said. “The only reason to have agreed to work with them is if we believed the festival had staying power for the future.

There wasn’t enough reason to believe this would be the case, so we passed.”

Lynne King Smith, CEO of ticket solutions firm

“As a consumer, I always look at the record of the festival or event from previous years, read the press and reviews and then make my decision,” Smith told Pollstar. “With those things in mind, all the Fyre Festival buyers took a huge risk and had nothing to go on.” Despite Fyre Festival’s tsunami of bad press, she (and many others Pollstar spoke with but weren’t willing to speak on the record), agreed one disastrous island party shouldn’t tarnish future destination events that are backed by established professionals.

“I don’t think it will harm the festivals with long track records of success but, hopefully, bring to light that producing an event of this scope that involves it all – travel, food, lodging, and entertainment – should only be taken on by companies who are in it full-time and have the expertise to deliver,” Smith said. “Any new festival had better be prepared to make partnerships with experienced companies to bring confidence to their buyers and the ability to deliver.” 

CEO Dan Berkowitz spoke to Pollstar right after leaving a lunch meeting with one such artist, talking about their own festival.

Fyre Fest Concierge
– Fyre Fest Concierge

“They went through with it, that’s the thing,” Berkowitz said. “Knowing what they knew, clearly, a week before the show they knew what they were getting into. People came anyway and then couldn’t get off the island. Thank God no one was hurt or killed there,” Berkowitz said.

He is skeptical of reports that 81 percent of those offered a choice of refunds or free VIP services in 2018 opted for the latter, but marvels at Fyre Festival’s obviously successful marketing.

They proved there was a market for such an event. “If it had been successful, Fyre could have been a game-changer,” Berkowitz told Pollstar. “They showed you can get to critical mass for a high-end event like that. The problem is, you have to execute what it is that you offer.

“Their plan was to charter private planes, take [festival-goers] to an island, build all these structures, feed them gourmet food, house them in villas, provide them with yachts. You can’t fault them for thinking big. They didn’t come anywhere close to pulling it off, though.”

Berkowitz started CID Entertainment in 2007, and does VIP and travel packages. 

“We started CID Presents in 2015 with guest services and other amenities and our staff has experiential chops.

Fyre Festival
– Fyre Festival Catering

“Having an informed staff is the difference between having a good event and a bad event,” Berkowitz said. “The goal is sending people home with a memory for life. You build the magic on top of that.”

Fyre Festival certainly sent people home with a memory for life. For those experienced professionals willing to help Ja Rule and McFarland pick up the pieces and make magic for Fyre 2018, there’s room on a saturated festival calendar for something new and likely rewards for well-managed risk and vision. “I do not believe this will diminish interest in other festivals,” Rybak said. “On the contrary, horror stories like this only further lend credibility to established festivals.”