Ja Rule Set My House on Fyre

When I first heard about the Fyre Festival, I knew that I would get stuck covering it. My editor knows this is exactly the kind of thing I don’t want to have to do, but those are always the projects I end up reporting on. This is a snippet from the loneliest weekend I’ve had in a long time. The weekend was supposed to the ultimate luxury and the price reflected that. It’s hard to believe that people not being paid to be there actually paid the full price. I guess the price of this weekend is what people were willing to fork over to show their friends how unique and interesting they are.

The minute I stepped off the boat, it was obvious something wasn’t right. The island was beautiful—crystal clear blue water, palm trees, really the whole nine yards on the scenery. But as I walked through camp toward the beach, all around there were panicked festival workers setting up makeshift tents with dirt floors as fast as they could. Another group was trying to get audio working for a stage that looked like it was being held together with bubble gum. None of the festivalgoers seemed to notice though. There was a “FYRE FESTIVAL” step and repeat and some fancy looking chairs on the beach, so people had loads of stuff to take pictures in front of. The roadies, if you could call them that, looked relieved that no one had noticed the state of the place.

I walked to the bar where the bartender was pouring Mai Tais like it was the end of the world. He was passing these things out faster than people could drink them. As he handed them over, he repeated to himself over and over, “If they drink, they don’t think.” I wrote that down in my notebook; should make interesting background.

“Excuse me,” I said to the man.

He looked straight at me and said, “If they drink, they don’t think.” He then handed me a Mai Tai.

Don’t mind if I do. If I have to be here with these people, I may as well try to enjoy it. I took a sip. It was god-awful. Like, really bad. “I’m sorry it tastes like this, it’s from a bottle.” He said nothing else, just continued handing out glasses as fast as he could. I looked down behind the bar, and sure enough, I saw one hundred bottles labeled Kirkland Mai Tai. Quite the shortcut for a weekend that was supposed to be the ultimate luxury.

I seemed to be the only one who noticed, though. Everyone else was wrapped up in a conversation with whichever pretty, rich person they happened to be standing next to. It was amazing to watch, really. The conversations sounded like background noise in a TV show: No one was really saying anything, it just happened so it was not totally silent.

Leaning against the bar, I realized that I’m invisible to these people. I’m a “shoes at the beach” guy and this weekend wasn’t really a shoes-at-the-beach weekend. I looked for someone to talk to but people stared straight through me. So I tapped the nearest person on the shoulder. “Excuse me.”

Nothing at all. No response. “Excuse me, are you concerned about the state of the campsite?”

Still no response. “Hello? Anyone?”

The day went on about how you would expect. Taking photos, retaking photos, finding ways to get back at their exes, all the stuff that happens when you let people drink on the beach. But journalistic responsibility pulled me back toward the camp area, where employees were frantically whiting out FEMA off the side of the tents they were setting up. They clearly had run out of their first kind of tent and were throwing something together for these people to sleep on. Looking around for someone to talk to, I spotted a guy standing off to the side, smoking a cigarette. He seemed more relaxed than the others. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot,” he said as he exhaled.

“What is going on here? None of this seems . . . correct, I guess.” He nodded. So I’m not the only one who feels this way.

“Yeah, man. I don’t know a lot about what’s going on. Last night I answered a craigslist ad in Orlando and they flew me here this morning. But from what I can tell, nothing is ready.”

Huh. The ultimate weekend of luxury sullied by a total lack of competency. I suppose it made sense though. It’s the perfect venture if you want money, fame, and to have a little fun. It’s just that the organizers got their money, fame, and fun but forgot about the private island full of people.

“I was supposed to fly out tonight and my flight got canceled. When people sober up, it’s going to get weird.” That’s not a good sign. “I have to get back to work, but know that if shit goes down, you’ll be on your own.”

An ominous prospect indeed. As the sun set, people began making their way into camp for food and music. When paying customers get in line for a five-star meal cooked by a celebrity chef and they get a piece of Kraft cheese on Wonder Bread, there is going to be hell to pay. The grumbling started almost immediately. “This is not what I paid for” and “you can’t do this, my dad is a lawyer” became rallying cries of sorts. It wasn’t long before they ran out of cheese and bread and factions began to form: The Haves and The Have Nots. Things were escalating at a rapid pace. The few employees left who hadn’t found a hiding spot for the night tried to put a band together to calm the rising tensions. But the band they formed sucked, to be perfectly honest, which only made things worse as word got out that every performing artist the festivalgoers were promised had canceled.

Night fell and there was an eerie Lord of the Flies vibe going around. Alliances for self-preservation were forming within the different factions. Men and women in their thirties calling their parents to solve this problem they got themselves into. At midnight, it was clear that no one was getting off the island, that—for at least the time being—they were alone.

At this point, they did what all white people do when they are trapped on a tropical island they paid to be on, or their favorite sports team won a championship: looting. I stopped a man who was rummaging through a backpack that clearly was not his. I tapped him. He turned to me, annoyed. “What?”

“Why are you stealing? Aren’t you all in this together?”

“I paid to be pampered and now I’m stranded on an island. I’m going to get my money back, one way or another.”

“Right, but how do you know that’s not your laptop?”

He opens up the laptop to look. “Ah shit, it is…”

At that point, it was time to go. I watched a guy steal his own laptop and several adults were in a fistfight over a cheese sandwich. Walking through the camp, it felt like a war zone—people stealing, people fighting, people lying on the floor crying. A small dock was gathering a crowd as a miniscule boat appeared out of the fog. There was a man standing on the bow.

“Hi, I’m Billy McFarlane. Sorry about the festival. We were pretty sure we could pull it off. I guess not. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that disaster relief is on the way.”

As it turns out, if you put enough people with money on an island, the United States will act quicker than if millions of poor people are drowning in a hurricane.

The people stranded were beginning to get angry. They threw rocks toward the boat.

“Listen, my lawyer told me I’m not allowed to say sorry, so I’ll just say, ‘no refunds.’”

And with that, the boat turned and sped off into the night, leaving everyone stranded until morning. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m not sure what on God’s green earth gave these people the idea that they should trust Ja Rule and the guy they base frat boys on to set up an entire festival in the middle of nowhere. And I’m not sure what made people think it was still a good idea to come. I read the reports. At the end of the day, these people wanted an experience—and at the price of their own dignity, they got one.