Three clear conclusions must be drawn from a viewing of the shocking and disturbing Netflix documentary “Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened”: extreme hubris, magical thinking and minimal discernment from the pajama people who were grifted.
On Oct. 11, 2018, 27-year-old Billy McFarland, the main force behind this fiasco, was sentenced to six years in federal prison. He was ordered to pay back investors into his scheme $26 million. In addition, the Frye Festival employed hundreds of Bahamian citizens in a mad scramble to build infrastructure, such that there was. In the final stretch, these people were also grifted.
Instead of luxury, attendees were forced to sleep on rain-soaked mattresses, the gourmet food was in fact sandwiches made from cheese slices, and luggage was hurled into an unlit car park. It was described as being “like something out of ‘The Hunger Games.'”
Seth, who writes on Twitter as “William Needham Finley IV,” said, “Fyre Fest is a complete disaster. No organisation. No one knows where to go. There are no villas, just a disaster tent city.”
Luggage dumped in the car park couldn’t be reunited with owners, and even the bars and the food stalls hadn’t been set up. It has been reported people started looting the boxes of food and drink, and even the piles of luggage. But then things got even worse.
Organizers sent an email saying the festival was cancelled and everyone would have to be flown off the island.
Incredibly, McFarland launched yet another grift while out on bail awaiting trial. McFarland admitted in court that he intended to defraud customers by selling bogus tickets to the Met Gala, the Super Bowl, Burning Man and Coachella, which pocketed him $150,000.
Prosecutors said McFarland launched the scam following his June 2017 arrest, targeting the same people who had attended the disastrous festival, especially those with high salaries.
Studies show that millennial pajama people who are sucked into “exclusive experience” scams such as Frye Festival are tuned into social media “influencers” or celebrities. McFarland created social video content around 10 well-known models who were flown into the Bahamas for a photo shot. They crafted a slick narrative of exclusivity and opulence all from leveraging social media. Then 400 in-demand influencers with millions of followers posted an orange tile on Instagram leading to a promo video. They included the hashtag #FyreFestival that garnered over 300 million impressions in 24 hours.
Here is the promo video. From this came a buzz hysteria that sold millions of dollars of advance tickets. VIP packages included airfare, gourmet food and luxury tent accommodations for $12,000. Social Darwinism was in full throttle.
Fyre Festival was intended to be a promotional event for Magnises — McFarland’s primary business, which charged $250 a year for its Black Card. The Black Card looked like a metal credit card. It had a magnetic stripe, but it tied to a preexisting bank account or credit card. What customer’s paid for, however — aside from a less-pedestrian-looking bank or credit card — was access to Black Card social events for status-oriented millenials in certain big cities.
In the magical-thinking promotion phase of Aug. 19, 2014, Bloomberg ran a story called “The Mastermind Behind NYC’s Newest Black Card.” With the fall of McFarland, this article has been removed. This Black Card, launched before Frye Fest, enjoyed lots of favorable press from the usual suspects and the free publicity gave him reputation:
Billboard magazine, March 18, 2014, “Musicians Embrace Magnises, a Black Card for the Younger Set”
New York Post, April 20, 2014, “Techie creates starter ‘black card’ for 20-somethings”
McFarland hooked up with rapper Ja Rule (aka Jeffrey Atkins). Atkins had just been released from prison for a two-year sentence for gun possession and tax evasion. In the earlier promotional part of the documentary, the two can been seen reinforcing each other’s hubris, calling the other “great,” “my man” and “genius” and stroking egos.
McFarland, to this observer, seemed totally caught up in his own magical thinking and perceived omniscience. He drank his own “Build It and They Will Come” Kool-Aid. The delusion persisted down to the bitter end. Mostly, what the viewer observes with the leadership and staff is an astonishing degree of wasted motion and extreme attention deficit disorder. It is unclear how much drugs like cocaine or strong stimulants played a role, but alcohol flows freely throughout.
Although the youthful energy is high, the con artists are way in over their heads. There are endless scenes of the main characters buried in devices and cell phones. Much of the documentary dwells on their fantasy world of texting to each other. The same is true for their conned customers. They can’t sit still; but in reality, they are very ineffective.
The process of fraud consisted of a nearly endless series of smaller grifts. Each grift separately would make it on the radar of those awake to psychopathic evil; but for naive pajama people, separate grifts look too small to really get their attention. Plus, widespread moral relativism has lowered standards of discernment. As the documentary well demonstrates, it was the totality of multiple compartmentalized grifts that tells the story.
The early big investor was the late Aubrey McClendon, co-founder of Chesapeake Energy, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring “to rig bids for the purchase of oil and natural gas leases” in March of 2016 and died the following day in a single-vehicle collision. McClendon was quickly replaced by Carola Jain, wife of Credit Suisse hedge fund manager Bobby Jain, who became Billy’s new core investor.
Before seeking new investors, McFarland engaged in his typical bizarre management steps and ordered $2 million in booze. They now owed the Bahamas a duty of $900,000.
Next, he arranged a loan from an individual named Ezra Birnbaum for $3 million with a maximum interest rate of 120 percent and a payment of $500,000 needed within 16 days.
In the documentary, we see parties extorting McFarland and threatening to spill the beans on what was really in play in the Bahamas.
Just who the other eighty investors were and how McFarland got access to them is lacking in the media and is an unanswered question. And what responsibility do investors have in vetting out criminals?
McFarland in earlier “ventures” stated, “The majority of our investors are either located in New York City or have a good portion of their portfolio companies there.”
And last, but not least, what about social media firms, and their culpability in deluding the pajama people?
The release of Netflix’s documentary on the Fyre Fest coincided with Hulu’s documentary on the same topic called “Fyre Fraud,” which Torchy will cover in a subsequent post.
Winter Watch Takeaway: What happened to all the investor and attendee money? We can only speculate, but it seems there is a grifting layer even beyond McFarland. This story may go far deeper than the softer documentaries revealed.