With two competing documentaries, released in the same week by streaming giants Hulu and Netflix, Fyre Fest is, once again, all anyone can talk about — over a year and a half after the fiasco happened. While both documentaries shed a light (and an onslaught of behind-the-scenes details) on the chaos that ensued during the 2017 “luxury” festival that turned out to be a scam, and nothing at all resembling a music festival, these films offer a lot of rapid fire information. From the conception of Billy McFarland’s first business ventures to his conviction for defrauding investors in order to fund the event, the Fyre Festival timeline is a long and twisted one. Whether you’ve binged the documentaries yet or not, there’s a wide array of puzzle pieces that make up how exactly this Fyre Festival disaster happened. So to help you organize all that swirling information in your brain, let’s go through the whole process, from where it all began to where the dust has settled today.
The Creation Of Magnises: 2014
Billy McFarland, the co-founder of Fyre Fest, was a born entrepreneur (or con-artist, according the interviews in Hulu’s Fyre festival doc). In grade school, he started out with a crayon-fixing business before upgrading to a failed social network called Spling, after dropping out of college as a freshman. But his first noteworthy venture was something called Magnises, which launched in 2014. The intention was to make a “millennial” version of the AmEx black card that also served as an elite club membership. Members paid a $250 fee to have a card, which essentially carried the information from their existing debit or credit card and also got them invited to private events, gave them access to a 24/7 concierge, and offered tickets to the biggest events in town (see: Hamilton, Beyonce concerts).
The Ja Rule Connection: 2015
McFarland met rapper Ja Rule when he attempted to book him for an event. The story, which McFarland told at The Web Summit in November 2016, goes that he had to go through numerous people (and a helicopter?) to get in touch with the rapper. But once he did, apparently minds connected and he made Ja Rule a celebrity ambassador Magnises, a role he touted on Fox News in May 2015. It should be noted that Emily Boehm, a former employee for Magnises who was featured in the Hulu documentary Fyre Fraud, said that Ja Rule had nothing to do with the business side of the company.
The Dawn Of Fyre Media: 2016
After Magnises, McFarland created the Fyre app and Fyre Media. The app was meant to operate sort of like Tinder, pairing up users with artists, who could deny or approve a request to be booked for an event and set their own booking fees. And this is where the Fyre Festival was born: McFarland and his team wanted to promote the app by throwing a music festival.
The First Sign Of Trouble: Early 2016
According to Billboard, McFarland and Ja Rule scouted locations for the festival in the Bahamas in early 2016, where they met Delroy Jackson, a local fixer who was later associated with Fyre, as seen in the Hulu doc. In the film, Jackson said that he told McFarland at the outset that a festival was not going to be possible in the area he was looking at. But, as we know, that didn’t stop McFarland.
The Models Arrive: December 2016
In December a gaggle of supermodels and influencers started posting lavish Instagrams from what seemed to be the same Bahamas trip, but because they tagged many of the images with Fyre Festival, people quickly caught onto the trip being a viral marketing tactic. While in the Bahamas, the models (including Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Hailey Baldwin) also participated in the now-infamous marketing video for Fyre Festival (below) that raised awareness of the event.
Kendall Jenner Hypes Fyre: Jan. 4, 2017
Kendall Jenner was paid to promote the festival via a since-deleted Instagram — though Jenner of all people should know that whatever lives on the internet never dies. Jenner posted that she was “hype” to announce that her G.O.O.D. Music Family were going to be headliners at Fyre. G.O.O.D. Music Inc. is a record label founded by her brother-in-law Kanye West and currently includes artists like Pusha T, West, and Teyana Taylor — none of whom ever appeared at Fyre.
Trouble Rears Its Head Again: January 2017
In Fyre Fraud, the Fyre team is shown at a New Year’s Eve party in 2017. One of the festival contractors involved says that they hadn’t done much, despite being four months out from the festival’s launch. In the documentary, Delroy Jackson, the fixer, brought up the need to go into overdrive to fix it in time and was met with apathy.
@FyreFraud Launches A Public Investigation & No One Listens: March 2017
The same month that the supposed headlining acts for the event started to leak, the very first tweet was sent out from the account @FyreFraud, run by venture capitalist Calvin Wells. In Fyre Fraud, Wells said that he got so fed up with trying to warn people that he just started posting his findings that proved Fyre was going to be a disaster and was a scam. A month before festival guests arrived, he tweeted evidence that the festival wasn’t on a private beach, but in an undeveloped lot next to the Sandals resort.
The Warning Signs Start Dropping To The Public: April 2017
Less than a month before the festival, one of the first articles detailing issues with the festival came out. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 2 of 2017 that artists hadn’t been paid, VIP guests didn’t have their travel itineraries with flight information, and claims that the festival was “wooing the wealthy” just to make ends meet.
Blink 182 Becomes The Smoking Gun: Early On April 27, 2017
The day that people were supposed to start arriving at Fyre Festival, Blink-182 pulled out of the lineup. In a tweet, the band wrote that they weren’t “confident” that the stage and all they needed would be set up in a way for them to give a good performance. And that was just the start of the day.
The Fest Hits The Fan: The Afternoon Of April 27, 2018
When visitors arrived at Fyre Festival, the first three planes were sent to a neighboring resort while other visitors arrive at the site to find the tents, plastic-wrapped mattresses, and kiosks left unattended with crates of alcohol left out in the sun. Chaos ensued as visitors discovered a lack of running water in addition to the shoddy accommodations, McFarland stood on a makeshift stage to “answer” questions, and the infamous cheese sandwiches were served to visitors who’d paid for luxury meals.
Everyone’s Statements Pour In: April 28, 2018
By the wee hours of the morning, Fyre Festival was officially canceled. “After assessing the situation this morning and looking at best options for our guests, we cannot move forward as we hoped we could (con't),” the official Fyre account tweeted out at the time. People coming in on later flights had them cancelled, and empty planes were sent to the Bahamas to take people home.
The Consequences Begin: May 2017
May is when all the repercussions came pouring in for Ja Rule and McFarland (though more so for McFarland). They were both banned from visiting the Bahamas for life. Numerous lawsuits named both McFarland and Ja Rule and included claims of illegal wire transfers, “tricking” people to come by paying influencers to market the fest, general negligence, and violation of consumer protection law.
McFarland Is Arrested: July 2017
McFarland was arrested a few months after the event, taken by FBI agents for wire fraud that could have ended up costing him 20 years in prison, then set out on bail. At the time, he was also being sued for $100 million class-action lawsuit. The court documents actually included the line that it “was closer to The Hunger Games or Lord of the Flies than Coachella.”
Another Scam Arises: December 2017
In the Hulu documentary, Seth Crossno says that he and others who attended the failed festival started receiving emails with the subject “NYC VIP ACCESS” from someone named Frank Tribble. The emails offered tickets to big events like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, The 2018 Masters, Burning Man, and The Met Gala (an event that does not have tickets for purchase). It turns out that NYC VIP ACCESS was another McFarland venture and according to BuzzFeed News, he allegedly sold over $100,00 worth of fraudulent tickets via the email scam.
McFarland’s Fate Is Sealed: Oct. 2018
In October, McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison (a term he is currently serving) for charges involving the Fyre Festival, NYC VIP ACCESS, and defrauding festival goers and investors. McFarland pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud, and did so twice (again) for the fake tickets. As Refinery29 has reported, dozens of lawsuits still await him as well. For now, this is the end of the line of McFarland, but with these dueling documentaries, the death of Fyre Festival and his entrepreneurial career before prison will be fresh in people’s minds for a while.