Fyre Festival – like Lord of the Flies?

Seashells on a picturesque beach

Remember Lord of the Flies by William Golding? Recent festival goers had more reason than most to recall this dramatic survival story about British school boys stranded on an uninhabited island.

If you enjoy a festival but find the accompanying poor weather and muddy fields disappointing, you may have been enticed by the Fyre Festival. It was billed as a once in a lifetime cultural moment created from a blend of music, art and gourmet food in the Bahamas. What‘s not to like? With tickets priced from $1,200 to over $100,000 this was an exclusive event expecting 7,000 attendees. No expense was spared advertising for the event, depicting models enjoying all the luxury of the Bahamas, making the event seem even more exclusive.

So who was billed to play at this exclusive event?

  • Headliners, Blink-182
  • Major Lazer
  • Skepta 
  • Disclosure 
  • Migos

Hit by a major bout of envy?  

No need. The lucky few with tickets found that a wasteland, rather than a wonderland, awaited them in the Bahamas. Many chose to publically document their experience on social media.  Here is some of what they highlighted:

  • Performers pulled out and did not turn up
  • There was a lack of adequate food, water and shelter
  • Squalid conditions
  • Luggage was unceremoniously dumped from shipping containers and left for guests to rifle through
  • Small clusters of FEMA tents, exposed on a sand bar, were apparently the luxury accommodation. The tents were soaked and battered by wind and rain and inadequate in numbers
  • The lack of adequate food, water, shelter, and medical care created a dangerous and panicked situation among attendees, that were stranded on a remote island without basic provisions - closer to The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies than Coachella (extract from court filing)

The initial reaction was that the event had been a scam and a get-rich quick scheme.  Attendees were, understandably, furious. Not so said the organisers, who were quick to explain that the Fyre Cay Island was not suitable and lacked the infrastructure to support such an event (inadequate airport, inadequate buses, and poor weather). In expressing their personal disappointment and “heartbreak” they admitted they had been overwhelmed and unprepared for what the event required.

In the face of a PR disaster the organisers calculated that an apology and offering full refunds and VIP tickets to the 2018 festival (don’t panic yet – venue America) would suffice. It seems well-to-do customers who have been disappointed, stranded for hours without food, water and shelter might take a bit more to accept the apology. A $100m lawsuit has been issued by one attendee, who is expecting to be joined by others in a class action seeking damages for fraud, breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and negligent misrepresentation.

The good news?

The organisers say they have learnt from their mistakes and they intend to plan earlier next year (no reports as to whether Ralph and Piggy will be attending).  

What have we learnt?

  • There is a reason(s) why no-one has hosted a festival on an exclusive and remote Bahamas island previously
  • Influencer marketing was used to promote this event.  Influencer marketing is an increasingly popular tool used to build brand credibility.The question now being raised is should these influencers, who generate income for themselves from followers’ trust, be held liable to vet products or services before they promote them? The American Federal Trade Commission is starting to look at similar claims.  An influencer, using their fame to promote a product, is subject to the same rules relating to advertising. In other words, the message should not mislead, harm or offend and should be responsible. Also, if it is an advertisement, it should be identified as such. The hashtags #ad and #sponsored are sometimes used but not widely understood by consumers. As influencers build their own brand via social media this is arguably now an issue of corporate accountability.

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Chat to the Author, Sara Stabler

Senior Associate, Dispute Resolution and Litigation, Cambridge office

Meet Sara
Sara Stabler, dispute resolution and litigation specialist in Cambridge
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