(We updated this article after being contacted by the original XOXO Fest in Portland. Following a brief trademark dispute, the Northern California festival shortened its name to XO Fest and is currently updating its social media pages, prompting us to update our story.)
A first-year festival planned for a small town in Northern California is drawing comparisons to Fyre Festival because of its lack of transparency, over-the-top promises and sketchy secrecy.
Last year Fyre Festival drew national headlines for its very public meltdown, as fans flocked to Grand Exuma in the Bahamas expecting a celebrity-filed paradise headlined by artists like Major Lazer and Blink 182 and luxurious accommodations catered by celebrity chefs. When fans arrived, they learned many of the bands would not be performing, the accommodations were far from luxurious and in order to get off the island, many would have to fend for themselves. Organizer Billy McFarland now faces dozens of lawsuits in the aftermath of the canceled event, as well as federal fraud charges that could land him behind bars for years.
XO Festival in Antioch, California bears a striking resemblance to Fyre Festival, with a website promising seven stages of performances, celebrity hosts and a culinary experience featuring some of the biggest names in Bay Area food and wine. The clip art and photos lifted from other events, like this photo of the fest’s ultra-cool XO Sky Lounge, were right-clicked and pasted from this event in Australia.
The links for the festival’s Instagram and Facebook pages are broken, their Twitter account only has 36 followers (less than one minute after following them yesterday they blocked my account). A person answering the email address on the site told me the festival relied on clip art because the festival was new and they hadn’t built their social media following yet.
But the person defending the festival in a series of emails with Amplify would not disclose their name or the names of anyone connected to XO Festival. Right now we don’t know who owns this festival, who is financially backing it, or who is on its staff or events team. The GM for the fairground site in Contra Costa Country where XO is taking place won’t disclose who signed the $27,000 contract for the site or paid the $1,000 deposit, and the event’s talent buyer Jerry Arbid with Essential Talent in Toronto told Amplify he couldn’t remember the name of the person who hired him to book headliners T.I., Magic!, Ludacris, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Fabolous and more.
“It’s one of those complicated names, it’s just not coming to me,” Arbid said during a brief phone call Wednesday.
We contacted the booking agents for the top headliners from XO who confirmed that participating artists did have booking agreements in place with Arbid, and said for the most part, Arbid was current on his deposit schedule. But privately, many booking agents are joking about what they describe as “amateur” antics from the festival, from using the wrong art for artists to changing stories about late payments and making last-minute requests for radius clause protection. Several agents told Amplify they are steering clear of the festival, while those who did book artists are watching it closely and making sure they’re being paid 100% upfront.
Perhaps the most curious element of XO Fest is the festival’s sizzle video, a carefully edited collection of festival b-roll and video taken from other events. While the XO lineup is mostly hip-hop, the music track for the one-and-a-half minute video is Twisted Sister’s “The Kids Are Back.”
The video is reminiscent of the Fyre Fest video, featuring supermodels paling around on jet skis through a hidden oasis of tropical islands and crystal blue water, while the viewer is promised “the actual experience exceeds all expectations.”
But at least with Fyre Festival, we knew who was running the event. Owner Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule were very public about their involvement in Fyre Festival, and had a team of employees through Fyre Media that would interact with the public. The organizers of XO, on the other hand, are going out of their way to conceal their identities and operate in secret.
To be fair, organizers did offer us two names associated with the event — “One of our executives is Peter Ho. He’s one of the main producers and executives,” a person using the email account [email protected] tells Amplify. “Our team manager is Veronica Marescal.”
Amplify was unable to find any information verifying the identity of Peter Ho or Veronica Marescal, and at this point can’t conclude if these names are valid or not. If you look at the event’s sponsor page, two companies listed may shed some light in to who might be behind XO Fest. One links to a site called VidFest which claims to produce festivals at Six Flags Theme Parks, but is mostly broken social media links. The other sponsor is Candy Clinic, which operated some type of candy business in the Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, California. A phone number for an expired Groupon for Candy Clinic matches the phone number used by the anonymous XO organizer who has been in contact with Amplify but refuses to share their name.
XO is being held at the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds in Antioch, and Amplify submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the contract between the fairgrounds and XO fest. Joe Brengle, CEO for Contra Costa Event Park provided us a redacted copy of the contract with the signatory for XO covered up by a sticky note.
“The promoter’s personal information is not public information. You can go to their website if you need additional information. www.xoxomusicfestival.com,” he told Amplify in an email.
So should you buy tickets for XO? Fans who purchase tickets for failed events often have a difficult time getting their money back and ultimately turn to their credit cards to try and chargeback expenses, which can have mixed results. Many Fyre Fest attendees still have not received refunds and had to charge back their cards, nearly bankrupting ticketing firm Tabelist who had to lay off 40% of its workforce. A similar situation unfolded for Pemberton when its owners filed for bankruptcy after selling $8 million worth of tickets. Fans were told they would have to apply as an unsecured creditor to get their money back if they wanted a refund.
The page also tells attendees “there shall be NO refunds or exchanges relative to Ticket purchases” and warns fans “if you commence a chargeback dispute with Your credit or debit card” then you wave all rights to any future legal claims against the festival.