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After tapping a handful of Insta-models, such as Emily Ratajkowski, Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Elsa Hosk, to promote Fyre Festival on Instagram in December 2016, the music festival in Exumas, Bahamas is being labelled a “hoax” and a “scam.” According to reports, organizers left festival-goers stranded at the Miami and Exumas airports and failed to provide other accommodations as promised in its pricey weekend packages before cancelling the festival in its entirety after guests arrived on Thursday evening.

Set to take place on a remote island in the Exumas on Fyre Cay, Fyre Fest was the brainchild of rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland. But the event – scheduled to make its official debut on Friday and for which tickets cost between $1,500 and $250,000 – got off to a rough start as soon as guests began to arrive.

The festival grounds were littered with barely-erected, unfurnished tents and piles of trash. The gourmet meals that festival-goers were promised consisted of sad-looking cheese sandwiches. (Starr Catering Group, the company originally contracted to cater the festival, has since confirmed that the parties terminated their contract for the festival on April 2, 2017). The guests’ luggage was thrown from the back of a truck onto the ground, and security was nowhere to be found when attendees began engaging in verbal and physical confrontations.

Blink-182 announced that its members were pulling out of the festival, telling fans on Twitter that they were worried that festival organizers would not be able to provide the production needed for their performance. This is just the latest blow in a series of setbacks for the festival, which was supposed to last for two weekends, and be headlined by musicians from from G.O.O.D. Music, including Tyga, Desiigner and Pusha T.

A First-Hand Account

According to one festival-goer’s account: So, Fyre Festival was a complete scam. We arrived at Exuma International Airport and were told to get on buses if we are staying on site. So, Megan, Tobi and I get on our bus to go to what we think will be the ultimate glamping experience – king sized beds, solar powered lightbulbs, furniture, etc. What actually happened is that we go to a semi-constructed tent, a tiny stage and a huge line of very worried looking people who needed to check in to find their bags. 

Unfortunately, they did not let us pick up our bags at the airport as we were told they would be waiting for us in our tents. That was a lie and it took us from 6:30 to 9:45pm to get our luggage back. Aside from this, the tents weren’t even built yet, so of course there was not furniture inside (as promised). I spoke to a woman who had paid 10k for a VIP Villa Package – she was promised an exclusive villa, VIP access, and an upgraded culinary experience – instead she got a partially constructed tent and all of the stuff she put inside it was stolen.

Every single staff member had no idea what was going on which meant that all information we were told was wrong or contradicted what we had been told before. I didn’t see any food but there were people going around encouraging people to drink. Obviously right off the bat we tried to leave but since it took us almost 4 hours to find our bags, we were stuck there and then lost the staff member who promised us a full refund as he (rather conveniently) did not pick up the phone.

So, now we are at Exumas International Airport waiting for a flight to Miami to arrive that was supposed to be here 2 hours ago. All of the flights from Miami to Exumas have been cancelled due to the deception, and the ones that are coming to Exumas from Miami have been labeled “rescue missions.” 

An article earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal stated that as of late March, Fyre’s “organizers missed a series of deadlines to make advance payments to performers. Last week, some artists still hadn’t been paid what they were owed based on the terms of their contracts, according to people familiar with the matter, but the event’s promoters in recent days made progress in catching up with payments, and in some cases have paid acts in full.”

The publication also reported that fans who had purchased VIP ticket packages, including airfare to and from the festival, were “nervous as the festival’s ‘concierge’ team has been slow to provide them with logistical details.”

A source told Page Six, “It feels like [the event’s organizers] have good intentions, but are out of their league … Several companies bailed on working with them because they were very disorganized. They don’t return calls.”

According to a statement provided by Fyre Festival on Thursday evening, “Due to over capacity on the island, we need to cancel all existing flights to ensure the safety of our guests. Fyre will reach out to every passenger individually to sort out details.”

Refunds and Potential Class Actions

As for what festival-goers can expect in terms of a refund, the Fyre Festival website states, “All sales are final. There are no refunds.” However, according to those in attendance, Fyre organizers were having guests write down their names and contact information for refund purposes.

Nonetheless, Reddit posts and tweets began circulating amongst festival-goers on Thursday evening regarding a potential class action lawsuit, which will almost inevitably be filed against the festival’s organizers if they refuse to issue refunds to ticket holders.  Others have stated they plan to contact their banks and credit card companies to initiate charge back procedures.

Despite Fyre Fest’s “no refunds” policy, chances are, ticket holders might be able to get their money back. That is the industry norm, at least. Ticketmaster’s policy, for instance, states: “If you bought tickets online or over the phone, you won’t need to do a thing. We’ll let you know the event is canceled and automatically refund your order (except UPS fees) to the same card used for purchase. Your refund should hit your account within 10 business days after we learn the event is canceled.”

StubHub observes a similar policy: “If an event is cancelled and not rescheduled, we will provide you with a full refund (including any fees and shipping/handling charges). We will notify you that the event was cancelled and provide instructions on how to obtain the refund.”

The process of collecting such refunds will almost certainly not be as seamless as if you were dealing with an established (and reputable) entity, such as TicketMaster, though. Moreover, this assumes that Fyre’s promoters have the money.

The event’s organizers very well may be unable to refund ticket purchases. That is exactly what happened in August 2010 when a Bret Michaels show in Syracuse, New York was cancelled. In that case, the promoter failed to make the advance payments it owed Michaels under his contract, and so, Michaels refused to perform.

It took seven months and action by New York’s Attorney General before at least 100 ticket buyers stood to receive refunds. And even then, it was not guaranteed given the financial state of the promoter.

However, according to our sources, ticket holders that cancelled prior to the event have, in fact, been refunded.

UPDATED (4/28/2017): Fyre Festival has since provided a statement by way of its Instagram, which reads:

CURRENTLY ON GREAT EXUMA We are working to comfortably accommodate guests and deliver a great experience. If you have needs, please head to the “BLUE HOUSE” on the main festival site. Security, first aid, and Fyre Festival staff are here to assist immediately, 24/7.

FOR THOSE WITH PENDING TRAVEL TO THE EXUMAS TOMORROW Due to circumstances beyond our control, and in line with a culture of safety, all inbound charter flights to the Exumas have been canceled. Your ticket and any funds uploaded to your RFID band will be refunded. Thank you for bearing with us as we work through the growing pains that every first year event experiences. Revised itinerary information will be shared soon for the remainder of this weekend and weekend two.

More to come …