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'FYRE': A cruel hoax for many

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While millennials are often thought of as “entitled” — a generation coddled by technology, spared the struggles of previous generations and believing life is one big party — there is one who stands out as the grand master: Billy McFarland.

A self-proclaimed marketing genius who invented a luxury, metal credit card for millennials, the man (boy?) proved to be far out of his depth when he embarked on what was supposed to be the party of the century in the Bahamas, the Fyre Festival.

After watching Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,” one of two new documentaries on the fiasco (the other is “Fyre Fraud” on Hulu), you’ll be left with a burning question that may never be answered: What happened to common sense?

The Fyre musical festival was the brainchild of many nights of drinking between Billy and rap star Ja Rule. It was a promise of the most elite of music festivals in the most elite of locations for a select group of people. It was a promise of an experience of a lifetime, a true Woodstock of the millennial generation. It was a promise crushed, however, stranding attendees and leaving behind a hostile island of locals who were never paid.

McFarland made his start with a credit card marketed for elite preppy people with loads of cash wanting to show off their wealth with a weighty stainless-steel card and an exclusive lounge to spend it in. In a flourish of Barnum and Bailey showmanship, McFarland found himself amongst those with both money and swagger. The lifestyle either went to his head or his pathology for showmanship blinded him to his own naivety, probably the former.

Ask those who knew McFarland at that time, and they would tell you he was the hardest working man they’d ever met. The proof was in the number of investors he could get whenever funds were an issue. But bloated estimates and exaggerated claims led a group of talented people to believe in the pipe dream to end all pipe dreams: A music festival on a privately owned island loaded with super-models and heavy drinking.

It all started when McFarland and Ja Rule held a party with some super-models on an island reportedly once owned by Pablo Escobar. It was for all intents and purposes a location scouting trip and ended up as the dream vacation. In a haze of alcohol, a group of models, a rap star and a marketeer blithely rode around on jet skis, prop planes and yachts while shooting massive amounts of film footage in a tropical paradise.

Upon return to reality (the mainland), McFarland attempted to re-create this experience for the most elite — and, it turns out, the most gullible. He and others created a website, an app and a promotional video from the island footage, and, without the slightest idea of what they were doing, created a viral buzz about a super event. Massive interest was generated for an exclusive experience that would have made Donald Trump envious.

Gourmet food, top-notch music, five-star amenities, endless alcohol, first-class flights, beaches, sand, jet skis, hobnobbing — you name it, it was promised. All for the hefty price tag of $8,000 or more. In the end, it was a viral photo of a cheese sandwich in a Styrofoam container that captured what became of the promised land. It was the cruelest joke for the most entitled people on Earth. The hundreds who made the journey did so with a faith in McFarland better reserved for church.

What makes the documentary so compelling is how the story continues after this festival that rivaled “Lord of the Flies.” How a defiant McFarland handled his affairs and left a trail of damage that proved there really is a sucker born every minute. For many of us this cruel hoax will be a cautionary tale of the greatest party that never happened and a gratitude that we never had to find out for ourselves.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

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