Music fest organisers face $139m lawsuit

The Fyre Festival had been promoted as a pair of luxurious concert weekends in the Bahamas.
The Fyre Festival had been promoted as a pair of luxurious concert weekends in the Bahamas.PHOTO: FYRE FESTIVAL/FACEBOOK

NEW YORK • Last Friday, the music industry woke up to the news that the Fyre Festival, promoted as a pair of luxurious concert weekends in the Bahamas, had been abruptly cancelled, with attendees taking to social media to post images of shoddy beach accommodation and far-from- gourmet meals.

And then, for the festival organisers, the legal and financial reckoning began.

Over the weekend, one disappointed ticket buyer filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and the Bahamian government sought to reassure travellers of the safety of the islands.

The lawsuit, which seeks US$100 million (S$139 million) and class- action status, was filed by Mr Mark J. Geragos, a celebrity lawyer who has represented singers Chris Brown and Kesha, on behalf of Mr Daniel Jung, a Los Angeles man who, according to the suit, paid US$2,000 for a ticket and airfare to the festival.

The event, promoted by Instagram influencers and models such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, was advertised as including popular acts such as Blink-182, Major Lazer, Migos and Rae Sremmurd.

Rapper Ja Rule and his business partner, technology entrepreneur Billy McFarland, were behind the festival. Attendees were promised music, catered meals and VIP accommodation in a beach paradise.

But once the first fans arrived on flights from Miami last Thursday, it was clear that the festival was not what it was promised to be. According to Mr Jung's suit, the scene "was closer to The Hunger Games or Lord Of The Flies than Coachella".

In an e-mail, Mr Geragos said that "we have been inundated with people distraught over what happened" who wanted to join the suit, filed on Sunday in federal court in California.

The organisers issued a statement saying: "The Fyre Festival is a dream and a vision that we regrettably did not see come to life how we imagined in 2017, but our main priority now is rectifying the situation and helping all affected guests."

It is still not clear how, or when, the event fell apart. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that some of the performers had not been paid advances, but talent agents representing acts on the bill said the fees were eventually paid.

Blink-182 withdrew last Thursday afternoon, telling their fans: "We're not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give."

In a lengthy statement, the director-general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, Ms Joy Jibrilu, defended Great Exuma, where the festival was to be held, as a developed island with a fully functioning infrastructure. And one more thing: "Despite reports, the waters surrounding Great Exuma are not shark-infested," she said.

The festival organisers have cited rough weather as one cause of complications at the event site, but also admitted in a statement: "We were simply in over our heads."

An e-mail sent over the weekend to ticket holders included a link to an online form for requesting refunds. It also promised that Mr McFarland would make a personal apology by telephone and asked ticket holders for the best number to use to contact them.

"We are now one of the world's most famous festivals," the note stated, "for all the wrong reasons".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Music fest organisers face $139m lawsuit'. Print Edition | Subscribe