The rise of disaster music festivals and how to avoid them

disaster music festival

Two years ago, the epic fail heard around the world was the disaster at what would have been the very first luxury Fyre Festival in Exuma. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that didn’t go over very well. And if you don’t know, you can check out one of the two documentaries about the event or read my interview with someone who was there to get the lowdown. Last year, XO Music Festival in the Bay Area was cancelled at the last minute. And just this past weekend, in Belgium, another music festival named VestiVille came to a screeching halt after festival-goers were already arriving to the grounds. It seems like these disaster music festivals are becoming more and more common. Why is this happening and how can you spot and avoid these shady festivals?

Why are these fake festivals happening? Is nothing sacred?

Instead of serving as a warning to other festival producers, it seems like Fyre Festival just inspired a slew of inept entrepreneurs who think they can get easy money from a few hundred thousand festival-goers without having to deliver the goods. Right before XO Music Festival was supposed to take place, the City of Antioch, where it was to be held, shut down the festival because the promoters had failed to live up to their contractual obligations. meanwhile, the promoters had the audacity to claim that it was cancelled (ONE DAY BEFORE TAKING PLACE) because of “lower than anticipated ticket sales.”

VestiVille was a little more similar to the disaster at Fyre Festival because at the time of the cancellation, concert-goers were arriving at the festival grounds, only to be blocked from entering by local police. According to the official statement, the festival was cancelled due to security reasons, but court filings involving fraud and breach of trust tell a different story. This also wasn’t some a festival with third-rate acts from 2001. The star-studded hip-hop lineup featured A$AP Rocky, Cardi B, and Migos. Since this just happened, it’s hard to know for sure where the festival producers went wrong, but what we do know is that people who flew to Belgium from all over the world for this festival are out of luck on what they expected to be a fun “Urban Oasis of Music, art and wonder.”

Perhaps the problem is that social media has made it so easy to legitimize something that promoters simply don’t have the ability to deliver. Sometimes influencers are able to drum up hype for something completely fake. For instance, certain artists in the line-up for XO Music Festival denied having any knowledge of the festival or their participation in it. They also left names in promotional materials of artists who had originally signed on and subsequently dropped out. But unless an artist speaks out, how could a concert-goer know that a lineup is fake?

In other instances, the minds behind the festival have every intention of going through with the festival and creating a successful and long-lasting cash cow. But like Billy McFarland did in 2017, they run into production issues when they realize how much it costs to actually produce a successful music festival that isn’t a sham. These cases end up being the worst for festival-goers, because these fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants guys will ride it out hoping for the best until the wheels fall off and everyone riots on the day of the show.

How can you avoid being duped by a fake festival?

It may not be easy to tell every time, but no disaster festival goes down without first flying a few bright red flags. There are some things you should look out for and avoid when buying tickets to a music festival, especially one that you have to travel for.

Is this a first time festival?

Not all new festivals are scams. Small and regional festivals pop up all the time, sometimes bringing stellar lineups to cities that don’t get a lot of concerts or festials. If there is a new festival in your city or maybe an hour drive out of it, you’re not putting yourself at any significant risk by buying tickets. But if you have to fly to a remote island in the Bahamas or to Belgium for something that’s never happened before, maybe wait until the second year.

Have there been rumored issues surrounding the festival?

Just because a festival has a big name, doesn’t mean you can trust it. Sure, Coachella and Lollapalooza have been around for years, and they probably won’t end up stranding you without food, water, or music, but even the legendary Woodstock is having trouble getting off the ground for its 50th anniversary festival. If you’re interested in attending a festival, even a huge long-standing one, you should be following suspicious news like about bands dropping out of the line-up or sponsors pulling out their investments.

No news is sometimes also news. A successful festival involves the mobilization of local operations including transportation, police, vendors. Typical stuff that would be in local news include planned closures, signed contracts with vendors, etc. Are there pictures of a real stage or festival grounds set up before you get on that plane to the Bahamas? Or are you still seeing vague promotional videos two days before the festival?

Have there been changes in the producers or venue?

Sometimes even an established festival goes through growing pains. There may be new people at the helm or it might have recently moved. For instance, though Ultra is one of the most popular and well-known electronic music festivals in the world, it also became a disaster when it moved for the first time from Bayfront Park in Miami to Virginia Key. In what everyone in Miami but the festival producers anticipated, the first night ended with thousands of tired festival-goers waiting for hours for shuttles and eventually walking over the Rickenbacker Causeway to get back to the mainland. Needless to say, they won’t be returning to that location.

If you want to be on the safe side, let the festival get used to new accommodations or new management before packing your bags. The only way to know if it will be successful or if a new city can handle the festival is to let it happen, without having to be the guinea pig that finds out that it’s a mess.

Is the location somewhere you’d be happy spending a week without the festival?

A lot festivals – particularly camping festivals – are in the middle of nowhere. Not only does this create greater logistical challenges for the festival producers, it also puts festival-goers at a greater risk of paying a lot more to get there, and subsequently getting stranded if the festival doesn’t go off as planned. If you’re traveling for a music festival, I suggest you’re heading to a destination you would otherwise be happy visiting. Remember, you can get a refund for the festival tickets, but you’re on the hook for airfare, accommodations, car rentals, etc. So if the Life is Beautiful festival ends up getting canned at the last minute, you can still enjoy Las Vegas. But maybe hold off on taking a charter flight to an abandoned island that doesn’t even have running water.

What you can do if your festival was cancelled

If you already got conned into one of these disaster music festivals, you should know your rights. For one, you’re definitely entitled to a refund for services not rendered. Most of the companies that failed at producing a major festival are probably so deep in the hole that the money won’t come from them. So if you’re sick of waiting for the refund promised by Billy McFarland and Ja Rule, you should file a dispute with your credit card company. Typically, for any product or service you paid for and didn’t receive, you’re in pretty good shape as far as winning this dispute and getting refunded by your credit card company.

That being said, a flight, hotel or any other related expenses are not going to be eligible for a refund. Not from the festival and not from your credit card company. So I’ll say it again, be absolutely sure you want to go to that destination before booking a trip to some shady festival. To prevent losing all the money on related festival expenses, you can also get travel insurance that covers cancellations such as these. Just make sure you read the fine print.

But in lieu of going through all that hassle, it’s probably just best to avoid festivals that aren’t a sure thing. Don’t risk losing a ton of time and money just to become the butt of every joke on Twitter.

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