In retrospect, Gunnar Wilmot, who works in New York commercial real estate, should have known something was wrong with the Fyre Festival when organizers in the Bahamas immediately served tequila and rosé. "I think they wanted us to be drunk enough to not complain," says Wilmot, 28, who arrived at rapper Ja Rule and entrepreneur Billy McFarland's festival on a private island in the Bahamas early Thursday morning. "Yesterday was fun. We were just drinking on the beach, until we realized what happened, and it was just a nightmare."
The entire festival, which promised performances by Blink-182, Migos, Major Lazer, Lil Yachty and "first-class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere" for guests who'd paid thousands of dollars for tickets and chartered yachts and planes, collapsed Thursday night in what Wilmot calls "one shitstorm after another." Wilmot and his three friends, who'd paid $500 apiece for what organizers called "villas," found themselves in refugee tents. One by one, each of the performers canceled, including Blink-182 last night, announcing in an online statement, "We're not confident that we would have what we need to give you the quality of performances we always give our fans."
Wilmot and his friends were relatively lucky. They saw festivalgoers on the grounds, stranded, surrounded by luggage with nowhere to sleep for the night. They watched in horror as festival employees tossed visitors' bags off a freight truck and "people were just rummaging through them." They decided to escape early this morning, bathed in the ocean, brushed their teeth with bottled water and paid a festival employee $100 to return them to the airport in a flatbed truck. When they arrived at the airport gate, an official told them they couldn't access the airport unless they were on one of the two festival school buses – but Wilmot and his friends paid $40 to move past the barricade.
"We were sold on villas with beds and furniture – they had renderings of what it was going to look like. It could not have been more different," Wilmot says. "The fact that these were the same tents as a refugee camp was a running joke. That's what it felt like."
Festival organizers said they "set out to provide a once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences on the Islands of the Exumas" and blamed "circumstances out of our control" for the problems. The festival chaos appears to have backed up the local airports, stranding guests in terrible conditions, including understaffed kitchen tents jammed with random pots of uncooked food, all of which visitors have documented via social media. In a statement, Ja Rule said he was "heartbroken" and insisted Fyre was "not a scam," adding that his first priority was to make sure stranded festivalgoers could leave the Exumas islands safely.
Some who helped organize the festival took issue with the "out of our control" portion of the festival's statement. In early March, former Saturday Night Live talent associate Chloe Gordon traveled to the Bahamas to tour the site as a producer hired to work with the talent. "It was about two months out, and it was a mess," she says, adding that she quit after returning to New York. "They had already, when we got down there, hired and fired two full production teams. And they hadn't started planning anything. They basically just fired everyone along the way that told them it wasn't feasible."
As of Friday afternoon, Wilmot was waiting for his flight to take off, after he spent 25 hours in the Bahamas. He and his friends were the first to arrive at the airport for return U.S. flights, and observed one or two planes, part of one airline, shuttling passengers back and forth. "Everyone's left [the festival]," he says. "The airport is an absolute zoo."