Fyre Festival attendees were promised paradise on a private island, only to arrive in the Exumas, Bahamas, on Thursday (April 27) to find a half-finished festival site, uninhabitable accommodations and hundreds of fans pleading to get out.
The images of what was promised and what was actually delivered have dominated coverage of the failed festival, with many in the media turning to a Twitter feed run by a 32-year-old blogger named Seth Crossno from Raleigh, N.C., who uses the pen name William N. Finley IV. Crossno's photos on Instagram and Twitter were some of the most widely shared images from Fyre Festival, giving the rest of the world a peak at the train-wreck festival that vastly under-delivered and was eventually canceled.
Billboard tracked down Crossno to discuss his experience on Exumas and learned how his images and social media posts resonated with hundreds of thousands of people watching from afar.
Why did you decide to attend Fyre Festival?
I needed a vacation. I haven't been on one in a year and thought, 'Cool, look at all this stuff I get to do at Fyre Festival.' I think of myself as an influencer through my blog, which started out as a satire on the whole Raleigh scene. But once I landed at Exumas and saw the festival site, I was like, 'All right, there's no satire here. This is all real.' So, I just started reporting what I was seeing. Then the media started reaching out, like rapid fire. I was just like, 'Yeah, you can use this.' I didn't think my photos and tweets would pop up on the front page of every single site covering Fyre.
This sums up Fyre Festival. #fyre #fyrefestival #fyrefest pic.twitter.com/x4xcFBL8Yg
- William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
Your photos were everywhere. At times it seemed like you were the only one there posting images.
That's what I don't understand. When we first got there, I asked myself, 'Am I the only one who had higher expectations for this event?' but it wasn't long before my friend turned to me and said, 'We're getting off this f---ing island.' I was like, 'No, let's give it an hour or two' before admitting, 'Okay, this really is terrible.' Why did nobody else tweet out that this was such a shit hole? I don't know.
Did you feel a sense of responsibility to report what was happening on the ground?
Yes, eventually, after I realized that a lot of my tweets were getting picked up by the outside media.
But everyone was reporting the wrong name for you since your account has you listed as William N Finley IV.
Well, that's the thing. I use that account for satire, but this was real and I didn't have time to explain that because so many people were following me.
Your Periscope video has now been viewed over 175,000 times. Were you surprised that many people were tuning in?
Not really. People love a train wreck, especially if they're people you both envy and want to be given a comeuppance. There was a lot of misinformation. It wasn't $12,000 a ticket like many in the media were saying. I paid $4,000 - the VIP Artist Pass I purchased was $2,700 and I owed my buddy another $1,300 for my share of the $8,000 VIP villa we were supposed to be staying in. Yeah, that's a lot of money, but that's what I thought it would cost to spend four nights in the Bahamas hanging out with A-list celebrities. I was supposed to be flown in on a private plane with Wolfgang Puck making me omelets for breakfast. For $4,000, that's pretty damn cheap.
Did they have a VIP villa ready for you when you arrived?
No, and when we landed we could tell immediately we weren't on a private island. We were on just a part of a larger island. It felt like a rock quarry or something. And you pull in and there's just cars everywhere and trucks and people, and you just come up on all these disaster relief tents everywhere. We thought, 'What the hell is this?' And then, they dropped us off right in the middle of this crowd. And there's just a huge line, and nobody's telling you anything. And you're standing in line, and that Billy McFarland guy is standing on a table trying to answer questions. But nobody can hear him. He looked like an idiot standing on this table, telling the people who rented villas to just go grab a tent. Any tent. And then people started running to the tents, grabbing up tents that had been assigned to someone else. It seemed like no one was in charge.
At what point did you just decide to get out and head to the airport?
Around 11 p.m. We had been kicked out of multiple tents and never actually shown the location of our VIP villa. We headed to the airport having no idea if it was actually open. Thankfully it was. We got there at 11:30, and the flight came in at 1:30 in the morning. And we got on and they were manually writing names and passport numbers down, but the manifest wasn't checking up with the head count because a couple of people were still drunk and not listening for their names to be called. So they made us all get off the plane and get back on, checking us one by one. By that time, we sat on the plane again for another couple hours and then we had to deboard again because the crew needed a break. By this point, we're now locked inside the airport because people kept walking outside to smoke, and because the place was so small, accidentally walking on the runway. So they put a chain and bolt lock on the door, and it go so hot that this guy passed out. Then we finally got a plane at 7:30 or 8:30. Around like 9:30 or 10:00 we got on, took off, and finally got in about 11:00.
At one point while you were still on the island you tweeted out a picture of a notepad that appeared to belong to one of the festival organizers. Where did you find that?
Billy McFarland was standing on this table to try and tell people what was going on and the notepad was on that table, and then it fell on the ground. I took a bunch of pictures of the notepad - what I didn't show were pages with hundreds and hundreds of names, all hand-written.
Also, we found a notebook from one of the Fyre Fest planners on the ground. It is amazing. #fyrefestival #fyre pic.twitter.com/jFib0nO2RW
- William N. Finley IV (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
Yesterday Ja Rule issued a statement promising fans that Fyre Festival was not a scam. What did you think when you heard that?
I never thought it was a scam - that implies there was some intent to defraud. I honestly think it's a mix of total incompetence and the people putting it on really sucking at their jobs. But I will say there was a lot of things that changed as the event approached. At first it was supposed to be on a private island, but then it was moved to a section of an island next to a Sandals resort. I kept giving them the benefit of the doubt, probably to subconsciously talk myself into still going. I mean I was in $4,000 on this thing.
One of the most famous photos to come out Fyre was a picture of a sandwich with just bread, cheese and lettuce. Was there other food?
Yeah - there was a tent with sandwiches and another section had dinner with barbecued chicken, pasta salad and a bread roll. It wasn't that bad.
The dinner that @fyrefestival promised us was catered by Steven Starr is literally bread, cheese, and salad with dressing. #fyrefestival pic.twitter.com/I8d0UlSNbd
- Tr3vor (@trev4president) April 28, 2017
So the picture was a misrepresentation?
Well, that was one of the options. Cheese sandwich. There was no menu. You just walked up to a table in a tent and they handed you food and then pointed you to a big basket of chips and some apples and oranges. It felt like a summer camp mess hall. Most of the people working the kitchens and food were from the Bahamas and they were extremely nice considering the terrible situation.
Did any part of the festival site feel like a tropical paradise?
No. Not really. It was mostly gravel and grass. There was some sand in front of the stage, but they just dumped it here to make it feel like the beach. But the rest of the island was gravel, dirt and mud. Thank God it didn't start raining.
I'm not sure, but I do know I convinced a lot of people not to show up. So many people reached out on Instagram and Twitter asking about the festival. I told them, 'I wouldn't come to this. It's not what you think it is.' And a lot of people said 'Thanks a lot, I'm canceling my tickets.' I was just happy that no one else would have to go through this.