The Meltdown at Fyre Fest Is Part of a Larger Problem with Festival Culture
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The Meltdown at Fyre Fest Is Part of a Larger Problem with Festival Culture

There’s a good reason why artists and fans are moving away from large-scale, three-day events.

The weather is getting warmer, classes are ending and music-festival season is in full-swing.

And with music festivals comes controversy galore. So far, 2017 certainly hasn’t let that tradition go to waste. By now, you’ve probably heard about the mess of Fyre Festival, a music festival that promised a relaxing, Instagram-worthy four days on a secluded island in the Bahamas.

It was supposed to be the next Coachella, but even better, because it was on an island! Celebrities like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid endorsed it, showing potential patrons that Fyre Festival could be the equivalent of living like a Kardashian for a few days. Though, if you could afford the ticket prices, your everyday life probably isn’t that far off.

Tickets cost as much as $125,000 for all the fixings, but thrifty shoppers could snag tickets for just $1,000. What a bargain! But, while the festival-goers dreamed of gourmet food and cocktail parties with models, they ignored the red flags that had been popping up months before the festival.

So, when everyone arrived, there were no bands, no staff, no caviar served on golden platters and certainly no models. As you can guess, things were not Gucci at all. Instead, guests’ amenities included disaster-relief tents, bread with a slice of cheese and some lettuce referred to as a “side salad.”

Music-Festival Culture: Fyre Fest’s Fiasco and Beyond
Photo of Fyre Festival (Image via SFGate)

Social-media users and news outlets immediately began comparing the situation to “The Hunger Games” or “Lord of the Flies” as the festival got worse. Some even called it a social experiment, used to teach rich millennials a lesson. In any case, these participants paid more than $5,000 just to see Blink-182 and go to the beach near a Sandals Resort.

A Festivus Not for the Rest of Us

Music festivals and concerts aren’t inherently awful. Yet, every time people try to outdo one another and create a bigger, better music experience, they take it too far. Some outcomes, like the scam that was Fyre Festival, are the organizers’ fault. But, there wouldn’t even be a festival if no one wanted to pay for the supposed experience of a lifetime.

Not all music events fail as hard as Fyre Festival or Woodstock ’99, but many other popular examples are pretty shady.  For instance, look at Coachella, Fyre Festival’s competitor and successful predecessor. Coachella may not take place on a secluded island, but it is in southern California, near LA, which is a popular location. It attracts a hefty crowd, like a record-breaking 125,000 people kind of hefty.

But, when you get so many people in one area, it sucks the fun out of the day. Packing people in like sardines usually isn’t conducive to an enjoyable experience, but that’s not where my beef with Coachella lies. Coachella is ultimately an experience reserved for privileged people. For many, it seems ridiculous to spend a month’s rent on a ticket, but that’s not all of it. The food, merchandise, accommodations and travel add up. Yes, some people can save up the funds, but it takes serious financial planning and corner-cutting.

Is Your Snapchat Story Worth it?

Though money plays a huge role in festivals like Coachella and Fyre, some problems persist in every large event, no matter how much you pay.

In an ideal world, it would be cool if music festivals hadn’t turned into a marker of social status. After all, Fyre Festival was built on the idea that you could take killer selfies for the ’gram. I love posting pictures of cool things and experiences, but if you’re snapping photos for the sole purpose of proving your worth or showing off, where are your priorities?

Though, when people critique these kind of events, they look at the superficial aspects, like girls that wear “too little” or take too many pictures. Context is so important when criticizing overpriced events. Why are crop tops and booty shorts the target? Screw outdated concepts of modesty; you’re in the middle of the California desert. No one’s going to be wearing a Snuggie.

Even within the festivals, people judge one another, which is about as cool (literally and figuratively) as wearing a plush robe in the desert. Wearing what makes you comfortable is okay, but telling people who don’t fit your standards of beauty to cover up is not a good look.

Fashion and aesthetics play a major role in music-festival culture, so it’s natural for trends to pop up. However, appropriate “trends” are crop tops or cool sunglasses, not culturally significant items or looks that have been around for centuries. On a normal day, a girl wouldn’t wear a full Native American headdress, but apparently, some rules don’t apply when you’re popping and locking to Drake.

The Cost That Keeps Taking

Music festivals are so far from everyday reality that people tend to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Fyre Festival devolved into panic and mayhem because the magical curtain was ripped away, revealing the fraud for what it was. But, when guests follow the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality, even more insidious things can happen without anyone truly acknowledging them.

Such a high concentration of people leads to awful behavior, like sexual assault and violence. Band members often take advantage of young, often underage, fans. Vans Warped Tour, a popular alternative and pop/punk music festival, is notorious for sexual-assault cases. Sexual assault at large events is nothing new, but it’s something people usually sweep under the rug to maintain appearances. The lack of consequences is the core of my qualms with music festivals.

Although the guests at Fyre were stranded on an island, they’ll probably get a refund. The organizers will most likely give it a go next year, perhaps with better success. But, seeing what a bungle the situation was, hopefully people will think twice in the future.

I don’t mean to paint music festivals as the pits of hell. Plenty of people have a great time without being dicks. And there are many music events outside of Coachella and Warped Tour. Luckily, many artists, like Chance the Rapper, want to make concerts and musical experiences more accessible to fans. Smaller music festivals with more independent artists are also a great alternative.

In any case, large-scale music events need to evolve if they want to survive. Sooner or later, the cons will become too large to contain, and people will realize there are much better things to spend thousands of dollars on.

Writer Profile

Ashley Wertz

University of Pittsburgh

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