What is Fyre Festival? Guests who got scammed by Billy McFarland tell their horrifying stories

It's been two years since the unforgettable disaster that was the Fyre Festival, billed by the Netflix documentary it inspired as 'the greatest party that never happened.'

It was back in December 2016 when promotions for Fyre Festival first appeared on Instagram feeds, with the likes of Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and Hailey Baldwin frolicking in the Bahamian paradise of Pig Beach. To the outside world, it looked like any millennial influencer's dream weekend.

Guests were promised private planes, yachts, villas, wellness activities, free-flowing booze, and the chance of expanding their Instagram following by a few thousand.

Instead, they arrived to find the "exclusive villas" were FEMA tents and the promised meals by a celebrity chef were sad cheese sandwiches.


What had been described as the ultimate case of #FOMO immediately became a late-night punch line. "If you had thousands of dollars to go on a trip to see Blink 182 that's on you. That is Darwinism at its finest," comedian Ron Funches joked.

As the two-year anniversary of the festival is commiserated across social media, we asked people who were there what the scene was like on the ground. Buckle up...

"It looked like The Hunger Games. People were running around everywhere screaming, ‘Turn around, don't get off the bus!’"

Jon Dykert went with friends after buying tickets during the flash sale

I had a buddy who saw this Instagram marketing promotion and it just said "all you can drink, all you can eat, concert tickets," with a few of the headliners, all these things free, and it was a flash sale. Within two hours we had all Venmo-ed [our friend] $400 and he put it on his credit card.

The whole time none of us really knew what we were getting into. On the drive to the airport, all eight of us were making jokes that we were going to show up and no one would be there.


We arrived at the same time that almost everyone from Fyre Festival was showing up, so that was a good sign. But already it wasn’t quite how they had described it. They said they’d pick up the bags at the airport then drop them off at the luxurious cabin in the Bahamas. They promised charter planes, but it was just a normal airline with a bunch of kids on it. We were promised a limo but a really junky bus picked us up.

They had only two Fyre Festival employees telling everyone what to do, so it was just a bunch of rich kids trying to work out what they were doing.

We got to the gate and that’s when rumors started popping up. Blink 182 had apparently canceled, but we still figured some bands would be there.

We pulled up in this bus to what looked like a war zone. Our extravagant cabins were FEMA tents. It was just a bunch of igloos on a massive plot of land close to the water - not a great spot on the island at all.

Tents at Fyre Fest (Tyler)
Tents at Fyre Fest (Tyler)

It looked like The Hunger Games, people were running around everywhere screaming, "Turn around, don't get off the bus!"

Billy McFarland was standing on a table trying to delegate. All the furniture that was supposed to go in the tents was in Ikea boxes, it wasn’t set up yet.

They told us to pick our own tent and then tell [the organizers] our number. In the meantime, they were giving everyone free bottles of Casamigos tequila. They were trying to calm people down but it didn’t really work. Like the actual Hunger Games, people were fighting for tents, ripping mattresses out of them and bringing them to other tents to fit more people. We went back to tell them the number, but no one was there so it didn’t matter.

It got really rowdy as soon as everything shut down. There were a lot of kids ripping mattresses and throwing them into the ocean, floating on them, making fires on the beach.

We talked to some kid who loaded $11,000 onto his festival bracelet [to buy food and experiences guests were told to put thousands of dollars on their "Fyre Bands," since it was a cashless festival] that he was afraid he wasn't going to get back. Kids were going through withdrawal - they'd brought drugs in their luggage and lost it - they were freaking out. Some girl was freaking out so much she got completely naked on the beach and ran into the ocean.

Two trucks pulled up with tons of suitcases on the back that they then dumped in a pile on the ground. Everyone was sprinting over and looking through the bags. One guy was the security guard but he wasn't doing a thing. People were just scrounging, probably stealing things.

Even the bars and the snack shops that were supposed to be set up in a really cool way were halfway done. The food was in cardboard boxes. There were no people there so kids were ripping the boxes open and taking the candy, bags of chips, Gatorade, doing whatever they had to do.

A ton of people immediately left that day - their daddy flew them away on a private jet, or they'd come on yachts and left, or went back to the airport.

Late at night, we all got the first email apologizing from Fyre Festival, saying it was canceled and they were going to work as soon as they could to get everyone off the island. We had a moment of silence in the tent. We decided to stick this out until they kick us out.

Jon and his friends enjoying the island despite the let downs (Jon Dykert)
Jon and his friends enjoying the island despite the let downs (Jon Dykert)

We were the last eight on the island. We waited until they forced us to leave. They wouldn’t let us stay any longer. They said the government is issuing a shutdown for Fyre Festival and had to charter everyone home.

It made for a really good story. We ended up having a ton of fun. We had a free trip to the Bahamas, free drinks, and free food. We eventually got all of our money back too.

Unfortunately though, all eight of us did come down with food poisoning when we got back to the states - it wasn’t the sandwiches.

"I got a call from a publicist the night before and she basically begged me not to come"

Todd Plummer is a freelance reporter who was covering the festival for a national outlet

From the beginning, I was a little skeptical about the attention to detail. Originally, I was meant to stay in a hotel on site with all the other media. The people who invited me and were coordinating all the travel were from a huge reputable PR firm that does celebrity entertainment, not emerging music festival PR.

Two days before I was supposed to depart, I was notified that the accommodations were moved to a boat. The words they used were “luxury cruise liner anchored just off the main festival.” I’ve never met a luxury cruise liner I didn’t like, but changing accommodations three days before media is supposed to show up is a huge red flag that things weren’t planned.

I was supposed to be on a 6am flight out of JFK that Friday to Miami, then catch a plane to Exuma. I happened to be up late when I got a call from a publicist the night before at about 11:30, and she basically begged me not to come. She'd just got there and said it was not what I thought it would be.

My plus one had put money on her Fyre Band that I believe she has not been refunded to this day. About six weeks later in June, I was at St Ambroeus and saw Billy McFarland from across the room. I didn’t say anything but immediately after I left I emailed him [to ask for her money back], “Good afternoon, Billy, I hope you’re enjoying lunch” I wrote. He responded right away within an hour. Then there was no refund.

Billy did answer our follow ups four times - he did appear to be trying to make things right, but after a certain point, he just stopped.

(Forest Simon)
(Forest Simon)

"There’s absolutely no one in charge, pigs are squealing and pooping on people, and people are trying to take their picture"

Tyler went with co-workers after buying flash sale tickets

My group of friends is very fun and chill, so in full disclosure: we had a pretty enjoyable 36 hours on the island.

There was literally no communication beforehand. [I got frustrated and] emailed the people and basically lied, saying that I was some reporter who had questions. They responded right away very defensively. I also knew someone who worked for one of the architecture firms who had a last minute contract to build the site. He told me that it was a s*** show.

If the tents at the festival been spread out on a nice, grassy lawn, that would have been one thing. That’s what everyone was expecting, they were going to make them look nice, like glamping. In reality, they were put on an old construction site. There wasn't even dirt, it was hard clay, the tents were on top of rocks.

We were held on the tarmac because it was raining on the island and the airport was so small they couldn’t land the plane in the rain. New York socialite Dori Cooperman was on our flight. I sat next to her and she was making polite conversation, but she ended up getting out of her seat and going up to the front and asking the stewardess to make an announcement. She said, "Hey, everyone, I’m friends with Billy McFarland, everything’s fine."

The crowded airport at Fyre Fest (Jon Dykert)
The crowded airport at Fyre Fest (Jon Dykert)

We fly in and the airport’s a room. This festival guy says, "Hey, welcome to Fyre Festival, I should know more information but I don’t. Good luck."

They brought us all to this random beach bar and no one was there, so they dropped us off while they figured out what to do. There was no food, no water, nothing. All of a sudden, random festival people showed up with cases of tequila and champagne. You could tell they were under express orders to get everyone super f****d up. They ended up just passing out the George Clooney tequila, not even making margaritas.

Fyre Fest tents (Tyler)
Fyre Fest tents (Tyler)

We pulled in and it looked like a massive shitty parking lot with rows of unmarked white tents. We slept eight people in a tent meant for four.

To go to Pig Beach they were trying to charge $1,000 a person beforehand, but once we were there it reached a point where they were just trying to keep everyone happy. It wasn’t officially canceled but everything became free. All these boats showed up and everyone piled on and went over to Pig Beach super blacked out. I saw a girl get tusked in the forehead and she was bleeding profusely. I was dunking her in the water - it probably looked like a weird baptism. There’s absolutely no one in charge, pigs are squealing and pooping on people - and people are trying to take their pictures. We finally got the girl back to the main island, which wasn't that much better.

It became Lord of the Flies, everyone milling around without direction. That’s when people realized there was no one in control.

The bleak festival grounds (Tyler)
The bleak festival grounds (Tyler)

We stayed that night and the next day people were freaking out trying to get off on the phone with the embassy. There were no more workers at the festival because they weren’t paying anyone. They had brought in tequila, Veuve champagne, and you could take whatever you wanted. You could go behind the bar and take champagne to the beach.

There was someone wheeled off of our airplane with a sea urchin in his foot. To remove it you need a certain syringe that dissolves it because it has serrated blades. They had to leave it in his foot on the flight to Miami.

There was this three-ring notebook piece of paper floating around. We had to sign it for a seat on the plane. We thought that didn’t make any sense but we signed it just in case. We got to the airport, which was super disorganized, and they were calling names off of the three-ring notebook. There were people who hadn’t signed it who had to stay on the island.

“I don’t mean to say it was really sinister fakery, but it was a very sexy version of what an experience is”

Nicco Quiñones is the filmmaker behind Under the Influence, which documents first-hand Fyre Fest stories. He didn't attend the festival but was on the ground in Miami and interviewed attendees once they landed

When you give it a couple of minutes of thought, the mystical experience [Fyre Festival promoters promised] doesn’t exist. From a professional perspective, I’m a little more familiar with smoke and mirrors. I don’t mean to say it was this really sinister fakery, but [the promotion] was a very sexy version of what an experience is. It was a concept of an experience, not an actual experience.

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☀️✨🔥 #bahamas

A post shared by Gizele Oliveira (@giizeleoliveira) on Dec 11, 2016 at 9:21am PST

I think Billy [McFarland] said, "Let’s just do it and be legends," and that’s very emblematic of the times.

From what I heard from the crew who made the promotional video for the festival, Billy was very informal, he was talking about buying islands on a boat. It was just a joyride for this dude.