Editor’s Note: We incorrectly stated that Ja Rule and Billy McFarland screened their teaser video for Fyre at last year’s XLive. That is incorrect and we have updated the story to reflect what took place. We apologize for the error.
It’s been one year since rapper Ja Rule took the stage at XLive to share how his new media company would attempt to put on a music festival in the Bahamas with business partner, Billy McFarland, who was not in attendance. The discussions were part of a larger panel discussion on festivals and following XLive, the pair screened a decadent teaser video for Fyre Festival featuring super models, social media influencers, and luxurious beachside scenes on a private island once owned by Pablo Escobar with promises of treasure hunts and clues to $1 million worth of loot.
That’s not exactly how it went down. As everyone remembers, the April 2017 festival on Grand Exuma in the Bahamas was a spectacular flameout broadcast over social media, with accommodations way below par, patrons forced to survive on sweaty cheese sandwich and tequila while they waited for a ride off the island.
One year after Ja Rule’s panel, attendees were back in Las Vegas for XLive 2017, reflecting on what the high-profile combustion of Fyre Festival meant for their industry.
“You have a little stain on the destination festival that was Fyre Fest,” said Russell Ward, Founder of The Confluence which handles publicity for XLive during the We Want More panel. “If you’re dealing with a proper provider and a team that knows what they are doing you should be able to insulate against this.”
“It is amazing how much power this one spectacular failure has had over our industry as a whole,” said The KRET Group President Ryan Kruger on the We Want More panel. “It’s the one festival, oddly enough, that everyone in the world, whether they go to festivals or not, has heard of.”
Panelists spent most of the conference referring to Fyre Festival as “that festival” or “the festival that should not be named.” Founder of DLH Strategic Marketing, David Hazan, called Fyre Fest the “over-discussed, unmentionable festival” as the moderator of the We Want More panel.
“As a promoter who is throwing a festival on the Caribbean island, I can’t tell you how many times Fyre comes up in conversation,” said Kruger. “It is the first thing that gets mentioned in every sponsorship meeting and every government meeting, every time we post something online it is ‘Oh, just like Fyre.'”
The KRET Group is a leader in Canadian nightlife’s electronic music scene. Kruger and Ward are currently working as co-founders of Vujaday Music Festival set to take place in Barbados in April 2018.
When Co-Founder of XLive, Waco Hoover was asked if Fyre Fest was having an impact on this year’s conference and the festival market, “The short answer is yes.”
Hoover added “As far as repercussions go, it has made people more vigilant about launch festivals that sound too good to be true and the way they used influencers for marketing. There are some interesting laws and regulatory issues around that. It will continue to be interesting to see how the live event community evolves and is impacted by that, especially since the federal government was involved.”
“To be completely honest, the marketing campaign (for Fyre) was really good,” Kruger added. “They were able to take a first year festival, which is always traditionally hard, in a destination that was relatively expensive and hard to get to, and were able to generate a massive amount of buzz in what was really a new way.”
“What happened with Fyre Fest is that they had this incredible budget to get big people to share all this stuff at once, but it was a bit of a ponzi because they didn’t have the backend to fulfill the production requirements later on,” said Ward. “It is much smarter to start thinner and go wider so that you don’t quickly crash.”
“It’s about not doing too much too fast. If you’re to roll out nine different experiences in a first year destination festival and expecting to recoup that’s hard,” said Kaaboo festival’s Chief Brand Officer, Jason Felts at the We Want More. “You’re trying to be all things to everybody. Starting slow and ramping up and doing market research and determining what you need to add is key.”
While attendees at the 2016 XLIVE conference spent a lot of time discussing the over-saturation of festivals in the market, this year they focused a lot of dialogue on the demand for more experiences that fulfilled a specific niche. With high profile flameouts like Fyre Festival and Canada’s Pemberton Music Festival, various panels stressed the need to appeal more directly to target audiences.
“I work for the New Orleans Jazz Festival. That is an amazing festival. That’s going to be around for my grandchildren. Those kinds of things are going to make it,” said AEG Rocky Mountain’s President Chuck Morris at the Iconic Retrospective on Festivals and Touring discussion. “The other ones, I’d be real nervous about. There has been a saturation point, unless you have something really special.”
“The traditional problem with any festival is that when you start and you haven’t actually done one before, you’re essentially selling air,” Kruger said. “You have no proof of concept and you have a great idea and you have to sell people on your track record.”
In response to constant inquires about Fyre Fest when throwing a new and/or destination festival, Kruger said has to tell fans and investors, “‘That’s why you work with people with a long history of success in this business.’ That kind of shuts it down usually.”