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Fyre Fest fiasco: Bahamas party becomes huge disappointment

Associated Press logo Associated Press 4/29/2017 By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
FILE - In this April 25, 2017 file photo, Ja Rule attends City Harvest's 23rd Annual Gala, "An Evening of Practical Magic" in New York. Organizers of the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, produced by a partnership that includes rapper Ja Rule, have canceled the weekend event at the last minute Friday after many people had already arrived and spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this April 25, 2017 file photo, Ja Rule attends City Harvest's 23rd Annual Gala, "An Evening of Practical Magic" in New York. Organizers of the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas, produced by a partnership that includes rapper Ja Rule, have canceled the weekend event at the last minute Friday after many people had already arrived and spent thousands of dollars on tickets and travel. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP, File)

In this day and age, the young and beautiful live and die on social media.

In the case of the ill-fated Fyre Festival — a multiday music, art and culture party that promised "an invitation to let loose and unplug with the likeminded" on the Bahamian island of Exuma — it's been a sudden and ugly death, chronicled in real-time on YouTube and filtered through Facebook.

Organizers canceled the event at the last minute after poor planning, disorganization and lack of accommodations. Most of the A-list acts had pulled out of the festival days before, citing a lack of payment.

It was supposed to be a sun-soaked experience filled with yachts, gourmet food and models. Ticket prices ranged from $500 to $12,000.

But by Saturday morning, the partygoers had decamped, many of them to hotels in Miami in hopes of salvaging a weekend. People decried the festival accommodations as being like a "disaster tent city" and a "refugee camp."

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism expressed its deep disappointment in a statement sent to the media.

"Hundreds of visitors to Exuma were met with total disorganization and chaos," the tourism office wrote in a statement.

In a statement posted on the Fyre Festival website Saturday, co-organizer Billy McFarland said festival goers will be refunded in full. "We will be working on refunds over the next few days and will be in touch directly with guests with more details. Also, all guests from this year will have free VIP passes to next year's festival," he wrote.

The hype for Fyre Festival began months ago, marketed with slick videos on social media.

"I saw it on Instagram and booked it before the lineup was announced," said Mitch Purgason, a 25-year-old bespoke menswear designer in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Instagram ads looked especially "ridiculous" — parlance for amazing — what with models like Gigi Hadid and rapper Ja Rule. Blink-182 was supposed to perform. Photos of the impossibly blue water and the sugary sandy beach looked incredible. And the veritable icing on the cake: wild, docile pigs lived on the beach and swam in the warm water, perfect props for a killer Instagram selfie.

Although the festival on the island chain east of Florida appeared to cater to the Millennial trust fund crowd, it was people like Purgason and 29-year-old Jake Strang of Pittsburgh who purchased early tickets — young professionals who wanted to spend a fun weekend in the tropics.

Like Purgason, Strang paid $500 for a flight to the island from Miami, lodging and food. Strang and seven of his friends planned the trip to coincide with a birthday. They reserved a "lodge" for eight, with four king beds and a seating area in the middle.

"Everything made it look amazing," said Strang.

The festival website was also enticing. It promised a treasure hunt of "exceptional proportions," with over $1 million in riches to be found. It also said the event would be held on a private island.

Purgason said he was skeptical, but went ahead with the planned vacation anyway. "Worst case scenario, I figured, we're still in the Bahamas in a villa."

His first inkling that something was amiss came on Thursday morning. Purgason was on the first flight from Miami to Exuma and when they landed, organizers said the villas weren't ready. So they whisked the planeload of partygoers to a restaurant at a nearby resort. He noted that it wasn't a private island at all.

Still, food and drink were free and plenty. Cute pigs and bikini-clad girls roamed the beach. There was a DJ.

"They actually treated us pretty well," he said. "The first three hours was dope."

Jenna Conlin, 30, an advertising professional in Venice, California, said, "They were putting down bottles of tequila on every table in an attempt to make everybody happy."

Strang flew in later Thursday and wasn't so lucky.

"When we arrived, it essentially looked like a construction site. It looked like they were trying to sell lots for homes," he said.

The festival goers were suddenly told by the promoter to find a tent, and waved his arm in a direction. But the tents had holes that had obviously allowed rain to come in because the beds were wet. They were given a Styrofoam container of food that involved "two slices of ham, lettuce and one slice of cheese on soggy bread," Strang said.

A few lucky patrons had been relocated to resorts. Most were left to find beds in the tents.

It wasn't like it was easy to just grab another hotel room; Exuma is a small island with a population of about 7,000, without the well-developed tourist infrastructure of Nassau or Freeport. The island's hotels were already booked months in advance by a well-known regatta, wrote Robert Carron, owner of the Bahamas Tribune newspaper.

By daybreak, people had already started to line up and complain, and buses began taking people to the airport. It was official: the festival was cancelled. Word got out via social media that organizers issued a statement citing "circumstances out of our control" for their inability to prepare the "physical infrastructure" for the event in the largely undeveloped Exuma.

"I'm heartbroken at this moment," Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, said on Twitter. "I wanted this to be an amazing event. It was not a scam as everyone is reporting. I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT."

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Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush

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