In defense of Coachella, after watching Fyre Festival burn to the ground

Happy Coachella-goers, not stranded on an island.
Happy Coachella-goers, not stranded on an island.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Allegri
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The skeptics were absolutely right. Fyre Festival was too good to be true.

At up to $250,000 a ticket, the sold-out luxury music festival in the Bahamas slated to begin this weekend was meant to be an all-out bacchanal, complete with resort housing, jet skis, and yachts. What it ended up being was a Lord of the Flies-style disaster, featuring lost luggage, gourmet meals that turned out to be ham-and-cheese sandwiches, feral dogs, and cabanas that appeared to be disaster relief tents.

Frantic social-media posts from upset festival-goers started pouring in yesterday, and Blink-182 was the first band to pull out of the lineup. Now Fyre’s organizers have called off the two-weekend festival entirely, citing “circumstances out of our control” that prevented the group from creating the “high-quality experience we envisioned.” Early promoters of the festival, which included socialite Kendall Jenner and rapper Ja Rule, have scraped previous mentions of the festival from their Instagram accounts.

Hundreds of attendees are still trapped in the Bahamas due to canceled flights; it’s unclear whether the festival will be issuing refunds. The Bahamian Ministry of Tourism clearly knows where responsibility lies: ”The event organizers assured us that all measures were taken to ensure a safe and successful event but clearly they did not have the capacity to execute an event of this scale,” Billboard quoted from its statement.

Music festivals these days are so common, their lineups are utterly homogenous. In attempts to diversify themselves, many concert organizers are getting more and more gimmicky with their offerings. Coachella is the most oft-cited example of a festival that’s become almost a caricature of itself—this year, as we extensively ridiculed, it had such luxe absurdities as Marriott “glamping” tents, SoulCycle classes, and partnerships with private jet companies. But at least Coachella, unlike Fyre, actually delivered.

Coachella’s founder Paul Tollett explained to the New Yorker (paywall) last week—perhaps all too presciently—exactly how difficult it is to pull off a massive event like Coachella, and how the smallest misstep can cause a PR disaster:

I’m telling you, these types of things can kill you. There are big ships that go down over small things. You’re riding high, but one wrong thing and you’re voted off the island. It’s scary.

Was Fyre Festival a veritable scam—an elaborate hoax to dupe wealthy millennials? Likely not, given its high-profile promotion and genuine lineup partnership with artists like Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music. What it was, though, was a shameless attempt to push luxury music festival culture to the extreme. Fittingly, it failed.

Fyre’s failure may have been, as its promoters claim, more due to a heap of organization mishaps than a massive overreach of ambition. (To bring a celebrity-filled music festival in a foreign country on your first attempt was perhaps not the best idea.) But Fyre—and its social-media fallout, which seems, as many angry ticket-holders murmur about lawsuits, to be just getting started—also spells a lesson for any would-be concert promoter: This isn’t as easy as it looks.