I don’t know about you, but the best thing to happen to me all year was Ja Rule’s refugee camp for rich kids known as Fyre Festival. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced schadenfreude that good. I managed to get ahold of William N. Finley IV, the man who live-tweeted the shitshow in the Bahamas. And through the magic of video chatting and day drinking, we did a long distance drunk interview about his harrowing festival experience.
We’ve already heard in detail what went wrong from festival-goers and employees. So I got the chance to ask the real hard-hitting questions. What we all really want to know…
Gnometrotting: What the fuck is wrong with you? Who spends $12,000 to see Blink 182 headline a festival?
Not me. Because I spent $4,000. We bought our ticket before the lineup was announced. So we were under the impression that this would be Coachella in the Bahamas, that it would be A-list talent. So it was interesting to see who they chose. But they’d also explicitly stated that surprise headliner acts would be added. So when you say that and you have GOOD Music– Kanye West’s label – that can be a lot of different people. Our original reason for signing up was because it was a private island, you’re getting there on a private plane. There’s a million dollar treasure hunt. It just seemed like a cool experience and trip to go on.
GT: Did you ever see the website and think “Hmm if they can’t afford web designers, how will they be able to afford luxury tents?”
Yea, it changed a couple of times but when we first saw it there were depictions of where we would stay, and while they were hand drawings, we assumed they would be real. I don’t know why they didn’t go take pictures, but that’s sort of the look that it had. So we bought it. We believed what we were sold.
GT: At what point did you realize that this wasn’t going to be luxurious exclusive getaway you were promised by Instagram models?
I think when we got there. When we got off the plane, got on a little bus, got to the site of the festival, and it was totally different than what we expected. There were tents everywhere, shipping containers everywhere, mattresses were strewn on the ground, big pallets and Amazon boxes all over the place. So immediately when we got there, we were like “This is not what we signed up for.”
GT: But I got the feeling that you suspected it was gonna be a mess before you left.
You can’t believe everything you read on the internet on both sides. We had good reason to believe this was a real thing that was happening, and it was gonna be exactly like what it was supposed to be because there were so many people attached to it. When you see one article, that’s like “Hey it might be a scam,” you don’t know if it’s a disgruntled employee or something. This could be anyone. And all this stuff was coming out a week or two before the event. We would come across one or two articles that was like, “It might not be what was advertised…” But we thought, “Okay, says who? This one internet article?”
We kinda believed all the influencers, the celebrities, and the websites. There were a lot of people who put their name on it, so we thought it was probably legit.
GT: Yeah, a lot of people that are going to get sued to shit at this moment. So tell us a little bit about your experience. Did you get your luggage? Did you manage to get a tent?
We got there, and we got in this line at around 6 or 6:30 pm, and we didn’t know what the line was for. There was no one around to help us or tell us where to go. Billy McFarland was standing on a table answering questions. So we asked him, “Where do we go if we have a lodge? We have a 4-bedroom lodge with a living area. Where is that?” He said, “Everybody with a lodge, just grab a tent.” And we knew that wasn’t the right answer. Because two of our friends had the tents, and they’d been given a tent number. My friend and I had the lodge, and our tent number said Villa on it. The Villas were $50,000 houses that were supposed to be near the artists. So we knew we didn’t get that.
So we grab a tent, and we eventually get kicked out of it. Two of my friends didn’t have our bags and two of us did. So we found another tent, and the two with their bags stayed there cause you had to stay with your stuff. There was nowhere to put it or store it. They had lockers but no locks. So I see the shipping container where they have the bags and they’re unloading it… that’s considered the white glove concierge service that they advertised. Everyone’s looking around on their phones with their flashlights cause there were no lights. So I started helping to unload, and I grabbed my bag by luck, and we went back to our tent. By that point it was probably 9 pm or so.
— William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
I dropped our stuff off and did a Periscope livestream just to show everybody what it was like and to investigate. Where do we get food? Where do we get water? Are we going to stay here? We had a tent but we knew it wasn’t ours, and we’d run the risk of getting kicked out again. So I started seeing all the food court stuff, grabbed some food and took it back to our tent, and as were about to eat someone came and claimed the tent. So we just went back to the main area where we had been dropped off. And we kept asking people, “Where’s our lodge? Where do we go?” And they said, “The lodges are on that side.” And that was a pretty long hike, so we didn’t wanna run the risk of walking all the way over there and not have anyone to tell us where our actual tent was.
Then we started seeing these buses full of people leaving. Apparently, all the flights that were coming in had been stopped. People were in Miami, and they were taking them off planes because they couldn’t accept any more people to the site.
So at that point, we didn’t have anywhere to stay on this island. We called hotels in the Bahamas and there weren’t any. So we decided to sleep at the airport. I didn’t like that idea. I thought, “This airport is smaller than my condo, and I have a one bedroom condo. It’s a small airport. I doubt they’re open. We might sleep outside tonight.” Somehow my friend gets us on the manifest to leave, and we get on these buses and some random people just hop on desperate to leave.
GT: It’s like the Titanic.
Yeah it really was. I mean, some people arrived at 5:30 am and had been there all day. We heard that when they arrived, their tents weren’t ready so they were taken to another part of the island and given drinks and food. We weren’t interested in drinking or being there. We just wanted to get off the island. We had no tent, no place to stay. We were seriously wondering how they would handle food and water the next day.
So Fyre Fest is a complete disaster. Mass chaos. No organization. No one knows where to go. There are no villas, just a disaster tent city. pic.twitter.com/1lSWtnk7cA
— William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 27, 2017
So we just decided to get out. We got to the airport at 11:30 pm or 12. And the flight got there at about 1:30 am. We got on the plane and the manifest did not match up with the people on the plane since some people had just hopped on. The pilot is saying, “If your name’s not on, you need to stand up.” But people were asleep already, and no one wants to say “My name is not on the list. Kick me off the plane.” No one could figure it out.
So we had to get off, and that’s when we got back on one by one. By then it was 3 or 4 am, and they just turned the lights out for about 2 hours. By about 6 am, they said the flight crew could not fly any longer because of FAA regulations. We had to get off the plane again and go into the airport. That’s where they locked us in. Apparently those are the rules, but it was really hot. A guy passed out, and I think he had to be taken to the hospital. We finally got on a plane at about 9:30 am. And got home by 10:30 am or 11 am.
GT: What was the bathroom situation?
I saw a couple of porta potties randomly scattered about. They had these trailers for showers. I saw a girl who looked like she had just gotten out of the shower, so I asked her where she took a shower. She said “Oh, it’s over in one of these trailers. There’s no power and the water is yellow, so be careful.” I only saw two of those. I don’t know if they had more.
GT: Were local Bahamians actually stealing stuff from festival goers?
Didn’t happen to me. I didn’t see any of that. And if it happened, I don’t know if it was the local people or the people on the trip. All the local people I encountered were extremely nice and professional. They were the ones operating the food tents, and they were just doing their job and doing their best to make the best of it. I feel the worst for those people. They’re probably on the bottom of the list of people that are gonna get paid. But they were super nice.
GT: What was the absolute worst part about the whole thing?
The whole thing is ridiculous. We were just trying to take a vacation, trying to do something different. And it turned into the worst trip ever. It wasn’t safe, and it was 30 hours of essentially just traveling. And trying to make it back home. I can’t name one thing but the whole experience was physically draining from being up for 30 hours, and you’re pretty emotionally drained from the up and down. You go from having this great trip planned to going on it and it’s terrible. And you really are concerned you might not get off the island.
And then also, I don’t really care how people portray me, but there were a lot of people there who weren’t rich white kids of Instagram. There were people of all walks of life – ethnicities, genders, everything. They were all just trying to have a good time. A lot of people bought tickets for $500. Towards the end they were opening packages that were $500. We saw a lot of younger people there. Some people looked like they just got out of college. It was a wide mix of people.
GT: Yeah, this isn’t as funny as I thought it was gonna be. At least you’ve managed to laugh about it.
At the time, what else could I do? I was so tired and overwhelmed. And people were loving my Tweets. But the more I talk about it, the more I realize it was a really serious situation and a lot of things could have gone wrong. People had to stay there overnight, and they experienced theft. There were fights, and they did wake up and not have access to water, I’ve heard. Those people were even worse off. It could have gotten dangerous. I’m surprised more people were not hurt, because there was a lack of everything.
GT: I’ll ask a more lighthearted question. With all the model-heavy advertising, did it turn out to be a sausage fest?
No, it didn’t. There were a lot of girls there. I would say it was 50/50 or 60/40 girls. If you do YouTube digging, you’ll see that a lot of the influencers were on that trip but in a different capacity. One said she had been put on a boat and she documented the whole thing. She said, “They’re driving us by the island, but it looks like a bunch of disaster tents. We’re not going there. We’re not getting off this boat” In general, there were a lot more girls there than I thought there’d be.
GT: Did you hook up?
No. We spent the 5 hours on the island trying to get off the island.
GT: Have you ever traveled for any kind of festival before?
I’ve not. My friend, whose idea this was, has been to Coachella twice. He was leading the way, and I just trusted him because he said Coachella was awesome. I had seen his videos and it looked great, and I thought, “If that’s in the Bahamas, even better!”
GT: So festival organizers are asking disgruntled attendees to forgo a refund in exchange for a VIP ticket to next year’s event. Are you considering going back?
No… I’m not. There were a couple of options. I think everybody that went is allowed a ticket for next year. If you forgo your refund, you’ll get double the number of tickets you got this year and VIP. It was so interesting how they were doing so much to make the refund process difficult. First, you had to apply for a refund. And then they said, if you apply for a refund and you’ve disputed the charge with your credit card company, please cancel that, because we don’t wanna refund you twice. Ok, am I going to believe you after everything that’s happened?
GT: What are the top 3 things that you’d be better off spending four grand on?
A beach weekend in Wilmington, a place that you know is safe. A destination you’ve been to before probably. That was our point, that we needed a vacation. Not only did we go through that experience, but because my Tweets were used everywhere, I spent the last week doing interviews from Good Morning America, CNN, New York Times, TMZ Live, you name it. If you look up TMZ Live, I’m delirious. I’m just laughing about everything. But yeah, a real vacation would be a better use of $4,000.
GT: When I was putting this together, it was actually really hard to find other people who were there. Do you think that most people were ashamed after how the internet reacted?
If there’s one thing that’s confusing or off about the whole thing is that the people who were attending this trip were all social media savvy, influencers. It’s obviously geared toward a particular age range, and there were a lot of people doing that on the plane. And I’ve seen so few people represented after the fact. Other than the cheese sandwich picture, every single article is using my stuff. And I’m like, did no one else take a picture? Did no one else have cell service?
Maybe I just went overboard, and I started documenting everything. But I was like… well, I’m not doing anything. I might as well just walk around and report on how absurd it is. I had no idea it would turn into what it did. I had no idea that CNN would call me on the plane at 2 am. And then Billboard. And then the Washington Post. NPR. LA Times. Buzzfeed. And People. And BBC. And that was Friday. But I normally get about 400,000 impressions a month on Twitter. And I got 50 million in like 10 days from that trip.
GT: People were riveted. And you had this tongue-in-cheek way of describing everything, which was hilarious to people.
That was kind of the goal. That’s what I do with ITB Insider. It’s this tongue-in-cheek look at that kind of lifestyle. A lot of people didn’t get that it was satire. People were like “Pfft, William N Finley IV sounds like a made-up rich white guy’s name.” Ding ding ding! You got it. (His real name is Seth Crossno, and he’s a local blogger in Raleigh, NC.)
What happened was that people interviewing me would ask if my name was William. And I would just say yeah. I would think, “Do I really have the time to explain what this is? We’ll just go with it.” When NPR asked me point blank if that was a fake name, I told them it was. So people started finding out that was a pen name. Billboard printed a story about “the man behind the Fyre Festival tweets.” Nobody cares who I am. Is that the angle you’re going with? You need to be paying attention to the Fyre Fest story and the possible fraud. Plus nobody fucking reads Billboard.
GT: Are you suing for damages or taking part in any class action lawsuit?
Not gonna be part of the class action lawsuit but my attorney, Stacy Miller, is working on our own suit. My attorney thinks it’s better to go that route.
GT: How did your Cole Haans survive after the whole thing?
There’s still some remnants of sand embedded into them. I don’t know if I’m gonna have to get some new ones or bronze those and keep them forever.
— William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
Media credit: William N. Finley IV/Seth Crossno