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Out of the frying pan: Fyre Festival, the most chaotic music event in history, returns for 2024 edition

The owners of the brand, whose 2017 debacle gave rise to one of the most successful documentaries of all time on Netflix, are betting on notoriety to stage a revival

Ja Rule y Billy McFarland
Rapper Ja Rule (left) and Billy McFarland, founder of the Fyre Festival, in 2019.Netflix (©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Colle)

Some refer to Homer’s Iliad to find the origin of the famous phrase: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Its provenance is far from clear, but it could certainly have been conceived for the Fyre Festival, a music event on a private island in the Bahamas that in 2017 became an unprecedented and infamous fiasco.

Billy McFarland, the promoter behind the Fyre Festival, promised heaven and earth: luxury villas, gourmet food and VIP entertainment. However, what attendees were given was akin to unwitting participation in a nightmarish reality show. The tents were so basic that they made camping in a July dryland seem like paradise. The gourmet food translated into limp sandwiches in cardboard boxes. And the live music... well, let’s just say there was no music at all.

The result: a perfect storm of social media memes, lawsuits, and the inglorious collapse of McFarland. It was a Hollywood-worthy spectacle and spawned two documentaries. FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened on Netflix (2019) and Fyre Fraud on Hulu (2019) both portraying the biggest fiasco in music festival history.

Against this not exactly encouraging background, McFarland has announced that this year’s festival remains on track. Although there is still no specific date or location, in August 2023 the organizer revealed that it will be held in late December 2024 in the Caribbean.

“In my opinion, the success of the documentary about the disastrous organization of the festival actually gives it incredible brand value, because it has global recognition. So I can see why someone would want to put on another edition of the Fyre Festival: it will generate media buzz again, it will be recognized, maybe the artists will want the publicity. The key to this is whether there really will be a Fyre Festival II, and what the staging of it will be,” says Paul Stokes, a British music and culture journalist who works with outlets such as The Guardian.

Others, however, find it hard to believe that artists and bands will overlook the previous disaster to sign up for this “new adventure.” “It’s hard to imagine serious, professional people investing time in negotiating their participation in this,” says Ricard Robles, co-founder of the Sónar festival in Barcelona. And he is not wrong: a new edition of the Fyre Festival will require a tremendous leap of faith, as well as a lot of cast-iron contracts to protect the interests of the artists, although, as Robles adds, “there are always people willing to play the fool or who have aspirations that have nothing to do with sustaining an artistic reputation.”

Expectations for the inaugural Fyre Festival were sky high due to the scale and ambition of the proposal and its objective difficulty in being carried out. However, due to its notoriety, it remains to be seen if betting on the same concept is a recipe for success or the harbinger of a new cataclysm. “I think a version of the Fyre Festival that could work would be to take it a bit of a joke,” Stokes says. “Turn it into a kind of immersive experience; a silly, wacky touch that would replicate the tone of the documentary. I think, if you want to put on Fyre Festival II as a serious festival, the supposedly luxury event that the first one aimed to be, people will be a lot more wary about the proposition and a lot more unsure if it’s something they want to commit to.”

If the Fyre Festival attempts a relaunch as it was originally conceived and fails spectacularly again, the only shame to apportion will be on anyone who reinvested in the project.

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