Decadence in the Sun: The Fyre Festival as a Warning in the New Age of Investing, Part 2

By: Esmat Hanano, 2019 Spring IAC Intern

Welcome back to the next installment in our series on the Fyre Festival. Today, we focus on the Festival’s background and its purported goals. We will also take a look at the major players involved in organizing the Festival.

Billy McFarland and Jeffery Bruce Atkins (a.k.a. Ja Rule) were the main organizers of the Fyre Festival. McFarland intended the Festival to be a promotional event for the Fyre App, an online application for booking music artists and other entertainers. To market the Festival, the pair hired Jerry Media—a marketing company formed in 2011 an Instagram account gained widespread popularity. In addition to Jerry Media, McFarland hired Instagram models to promote the event through their own accounts and star in a promotional video for the Festival. The models that signed on to assist McFarland include Emily Ratajkowski, Kendall Jenner, Jen Selter, and Bella Hadid. These social media “influencers” were hired to specifically target millennial and Gen Z Instagrammers.

The Festival was scheduled for two weekends in spring 2017. Described as an “immersive music festival,” McFarland promised a decadent experience complete with luxury villas and gourmet food. Indeed, the private placement memorandum for the Fyre Festival asked potential investors to “[c]ome, seek, for searching is the foundation of fortune” because “[t]he actual experience exceeds all expectations and is something that’s hard to put to words. It will ignite that type of energy, that type of power in our guests.” McFarland envisioned the Festival as “referencing the five elements of the earth,” so that they could change the location of the Festival each year.

The origins of the Fyre Festival show that it was initially intended as a tool to promote a legitimate business venture. Ostensibly, the goals of the Festival were no different than major companies using concerts and sporting events to promote their own products. So where did things go wrong? Join us for the next installment to see how the Festival warped into a fraudulent investment that led to the conviction of one of its founders.