On December 12, 2016, 25 year-old entrepreneur Billy McFarland and New York rapper Ja Rule introduced us to a worldwide phenomenon. With a simple orange square shared by some of the world’s biggest social media influencers, Fyre Festival was an instant hit, promising two weekends of dance music, luxury living, and swimming with pigs, all in less than six months' time. What could possibly go wrong?
Answer: everything. Despite regular social media reassurance that everything would go according to plan, festivalgoers arrived on the Bahamas island of Exuma with nothing to greet them but FEMA relief tents and cheese sandwiches. After a disastrous fallout (all captured, ironically, on the same social media platform that propagated the event), Fyre was hit with multiple lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. McFarland promised a make-up festival the following year, but with an FBI investigation breathing down his neck, it was a hard sell. McFarland was convicted for fraud, and Fyre Festival was doomed to go down as one of the biggest hoaxes in millennial history.
Thankfully, the good folks at The Van Buren plan to redeem Fyre in unparalleled ways.
“We had an open day and started spitballing ideas,” says Stateside talent buyer Blair Brejtfus. “We had all watched the documentary … it was a hot topic that week.”
On February 20, 2019, a familiar orange square popped up on the Van Buren Instagram. “Something is coming,” they promised, “Something immersive, transformative, and ... lit *fire emoji*.” Days later, the announcement came: Phyre Festival, one #transformative night at The Van Buren with DJ Hartbreaks and DJ Kim E. Fresh spinning the soundtrack to the fest that never was. Furthermore, the event will be hosted by Ja Rule fanatic and This Week Sucks Tonight host Anwar Newton.
“What if we just did a fake Fyre Fest and did photo ops and made it ridiculous?” Brejtfus laughs. “We got a legit FEMA tent ... a jet ski — a lot of props.”
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What started as a silly idea to fill a free night turned into one of the most anticipated dance nights in the venue’s history. Brejtfus, along with Van Buren director of marketing Kyle Dehn, came up with ideas for how to promote the night. “We donated some money to a pig rescue and got some pigs to come down and do a photo shoot with one of our influencers,” Brejtfus says. “A few of the Instagram posts we’ve had so far [for Phyre Fest] are the biggest posts we’ve had.”
The night will go beyond dance music and photo ops, as Van Buren staff plan on giving Phyre attendees the full experience. “There’s going to be a ‘How fast can you eat a cheese sandwich?’ contest on stage,” says Dehn. “There's a treasure hunt going on inside the venue as well,” says Brejtfus, “Also, plenty of Evian water.”
Last but not least, $2 of each ticket will be donated to benefit the Exuma Foundation, set up to benefit Exuma locals affected by the devastating losses the festival incurred on the island and its community.