On Friday morning, around 9 A.M., I spoke to Maude Etkin, a twenty-three-year-old interior designer who lives in Manhattan. She was sitting on a plane at Exuma Airport, hoping she would be able to leave. Etkin had decided to go to Fyre Festival in December, when a friend had told her about an early-bird ticket deal: they could get an eight-person lodge—a furnished place with king-size beds, couches, and air-conditioning—for five hundred dollars each. “In reality,” Etkin told me, “there were white emergency-relief tents and nothing else. The site was barren and disorganized. The tents had holes in them, beds were missing, there was no way to secure your belongings. As soon as we got there, we knew we had to leave.” Her account below has been condensed and edited.
On Thursday night, as the festival’s first weekend was about to begin, accounts began to surface on social media of stranded passengers, disaster-relief conditions, and no food. The private island turned out to be a beach adjacent to a Sandals resort. Blink-182 pulled out. By early Friday, all inbound flights chartered by the festival were cancelled. In a statement on the festival’s Web site , organizers announced that they were working “as quickly and safely as we can to remedy this unforeseeable situation.” (A spokesman said that the organizers were not immediately available to offer additional comment.) In the meantime, attendees who made it to the Bahamas were frantically trying to get off the island.
The Fyre Festival was announced in December, advertised as a dreamy, deluxe, and highly Instagrammable music-festival experience that would take place over two weekends in the Bahamas, on a purportedly private island called Fyre Cay. The organizers—including Billy McFarland, the founder of the troubled millennial-élite social club Magnises —promised attendees buried treasure, yacht parties, and concierge packages that cost up to fifty thousand dollars per person. Models including Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Kendall Jenner promoted the festival with a series of swimsuit shots on social media; Ja Rule would serve as host. The lineup, which eventually included Blink-182, Major Lazer, and Migos, hadn’t yet been solidified, but the festival sold out quickly nonetheless.
“Leading up to the event, Fyre Festival had stopped answering e-mails. We had sent them questions before paying in February. Would we have bathrooms in the lodges? We were told that we would. They wouldn’t provide pictures, but they told us we had to pay up front. I felt uneasy, but my friends and I were excited to see each other, to get out of our comfort zone. In the worst-case scenario—if the music was bad, if the festival wasn’t as advertised—we’d still be on an island with our best friends.
“Part of the festival’s package was a chartered flight between Miami and the Exumas. The flight to Exuma was just eighty minutes on Thursday morning, on an airline called Swift. When we arrived, instead of taking us to ‘Fyre Cay,’ or whatever they had been calling it, they said they had to take us somewhere else, because the housing wasn’t ready.
“There were about two hundred of us. We got on a bus, and they took us to a place called Exuma Point. For the first hour, they had some food—chicken, stuff like that. They were loading people up on alcohol. I don’t drink, but I actually had a lovely day with my friends. We met a really nice local guy who had a boat, and we went out on the water with him. Our friends were at the airport, asking us, ‘Should we come? We’re getting a little worried.’ And we were saying, ‘Yes, it’s a little weird, but the beach is beautiful.’
“It gets to be around 6 P.M., and people are really, really drunk. No one has their luggage: I had said that I had medication in my bag, so they let me keep mine, but no one else could. They brought around a rickety bus at about six-thirty and drove us to the so-called festival site, where there were more people, maybe about a thousand, who had been brought directly there. The conditions were disgusting. No one would talk to us or help us. We were e-mailing Fyre Festival from the site because these rickety concierge booths were all empty. They gave us pieces of bread with cheese on them, and lettuce on the side. There were two guys at a little table giving out wristbands by checking names off a Google spreadsheet, on a Mac laptop at twelve per cent battery. There were girls in teeny outfits running around with tequila and vodka bottles.
“In the meantime, everyone’s luggage was still in this huge red shipping container. The mood was getting very hectic, a free-for-all situation; it felt scary. People’s stuff was getting stolen; people were dragging mattresses from tent to tent across the sand. It was just all these white domes, these tents, and in the middle of them there was a huge villa, where all these wealthy white men were hanging out—presumably the organizers. They wouldn’t speak to us. They told one of my friends just to figure it out. They were assholes.
“So my group of friends and I went into fight-or-flight mode. We dug through the shipping container and found our bags. We tried to find hotels in the area, and we couldn’t: there was a regatta happening simultaneously, so there were no rooms anywhere. We found a kind local guy who had a school bus. The sixteen of us got on it, and he took us to Exuma Airport, where there were about a hundred people who had been able to make it off the site. We were told we’d be able to get on a plane that was landing at 10 P.M.
“Around 2 A.M., we got on the plane. Then the crew told us there were issues with the manifest, and they had us get off, and then get on again, and then get off. They kept taking our passports and then giving them back; they had people stand up, sit down, yell out their names. At 7 A.M., the Bahamian airport workers locked the whole group, with a huge chain and a padlock, into a room in the airport—a single gate. We watched the sun rise. Everyone was hot and sweaty and dehydrated. A couple of people threw up. There was no water or food, and even the vending machines were locked. We were getting scared because we couldn’t reach the embassy. There was certainly no conversation with Fyre, which was basically sending us spam e-mails: ‘The festival is being postponed until we can further assess if and when we are able to create the high-quality experience we envisioned.’ Around 8 A.M., a guy fainted. That’s when they brought us water for the first time.
“It was such a shit show. I’m sorry—I’m delirious from not eating, I’m still in my bathing suit, I’ve been stranded in the airport for ten hours—but I truly can’t think of a better word. We were laughing, because what else can you do? We were making jokes, like, ‘When is Kendall Jenner going to bring us a Pepsi?’_ _My friends and I kept reminding ourselves that we were all together, that things could always certainly be worse. But when you feel unsafe, when you’re locked in somewhere, and you get woken up from sleeping on the floor on your backpack by people who are screaming for an ambulance because a guy just fainted, it’s hard to keep your cool. And, even with that, I’m just grateful that someone was kind enough to take us to the airport, because people are still stranded on the site. Fyre sent out an e-mail, saying, ‘We ask that guests currently on island do not make their own arrangements to get to the airport as we are coordinating those plans. . . . The safety and comfort of our guests is our top priority.’
“Do you hear that applause? The pilot just got on the plane. I’m just hoping we finally get out of here. I know the situation sounds funny to people who are watching it on social media, and I get it. At first, we had the same reaction. But when there’s no correspondence, when it doesn’t seem like Fyre will take any sort of responsibility for their actions, when we don’t know what’s happening to us—it’s not funny anymore.”
*Correction: A previous version of this post mistakenly featured an image that had been digitally altered.
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