Picture this: 5,000 party-goers at a first-time music festival, dropped in at a scenic location. Then imagine it’s orchestrated by two dreamers, music fans with little to no experience in running a monster event. They’re way in over their heads.
Then consider the dream turns into a nightmare. Nothing runs to plan. Torrential downpours mess with infrastructure. Performers don’t show, the booze runs out.
Costs spiral, money is torched, contractors aren’t paid. People are angry. The organisers go into hiding. ‘
‘We were so high-spirited and wanted to do this amazing thing and … it’s wrecked my life,” says one of those dreamers, speaking soon after from a hideaway, somewhere.
In the washup, it’s a wreck. Unsalvageable.
”I’ve got nothing, I’ve got no job, I’ve got nowhere to live,” claims one of the co-founders, counting the cost of this shocker. And to those owed cash, ”I’m sorry… I never thought it would turn out like this.”
Take a brief moment and visualise this all going down, not in the Caribbean but in Australia. Because it did.
By now, you’ve either seen the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix, or it’s on your to-do list. It’s a jaw-dropping account of that most epic of fails ever witnessed in festivals-land, a journey through hubris, stupidity and ruin made so much more incredible by the fact it was all caught on camera, every daft step of the way.
It’s a tale of two guys, ideas men, with a vision to deliver a festival in paradise, the Bahamas. Between them there’s little to zero experience with this ultimate challenge. But hey, what could go wrong? It’s just a big, old party, right?
But yeah, everything goes wrong, with the exception of its slick marketing campaign, spiced up by social media “influencers” and streams of images of babes in bikinis.
The lads burn through money (Kendall Jenner was reportedly paid US$250,000 for a single Instagram post spruiking the event) and time. When the punters fly in for the big day, it’s a fiasco.
The site is unfinished, nothing works, everything is soaked. Disorganisation rules. This festival is not the bomb, it’s like a bomb was dropped on it.
You’re left mortified by the recklessness and ineptitude of it all, and you can’t help but giggle at some of these poor little rich kids who didn’t do their research and got royally swindled. They’re now all characters in one of the greatest, most ridiculous stories of this decade.
If you figured this could never happen here, think again
The blueprint for a disaster was set back in September 2009 when brothers Tristan and Aaron Gray tried their hands at the party business.
A 200-hectare field near Ararat in Victoria was meant to be their field of dreams, the site of a three-day camping adventure with all the good stuff: 53 bands, drinks and, at about $110, cheap entry.
Their intent wasn’t malicious, they said. It was naivety and ambition that had them unstuck. Death threats followed, and bankruptcy.
”There’s only so much abuse you can take,” he explained. “What do you tell people? I’ve got no money to give anyone.”
So what to take away from it all? For punters, listen to your mum: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Those supermodels you thought you’d party with on a desert island, dream on. If you’re an early adopter of technology or events, do your research.
There’s no excuse: the world’s virtual libraries live in your pocket. With Fyre Festival, the stink was obvious months before the big day.
And for anyone keen to dabble in producing festivals, start small. The bigger they come, the harder they crash.
Your own backyard is a good place to warm up. And reconsider your mum’s message about learning from your mistakes. Instead, learn from others’ mistakes. A full-scale festival is absolutely a year’s worth of work if you hope to execute it well.
The old-school music promoters despise fly-by-night promoters, who can pull the whole thing down with a single, terrible event. Rogue promoters, they’re worse than scabies, the experience pros will say.
All of them have studied the story of Blueprint. They’ve watched the Fyre documentary, or they plan to. So should you.
Lars Brandle has reported at the frontline of the international music industry for almost 20 years. A former musician, Lars joined the American music trade “bible” Billboard in 2000 and went on to serve as Global News Editor, based in London. Now Billboard’s Australia correspondent and senior writer with The Industry Observer, Lars’ voice has been heard on CNN, the BBC and ABC, American Public Media's Marketplace and South Africa's EastCoast Radio, and he has spoken at Midem in Cannes, Music Matters in Singapore, Amsterdam Dance Event, London's City Showcase and at industry gatherings on both sides of the Tasman. His works have been published by Reuters, Media Week, Spin, and The Hollywood Reporter, and he has featured as a pundit in the Australian Financial Review, Business Review Weekly and Britain’s The Independent.