It’s now two years since I attended Fyre. Yes, I was actually there: the phoney music festival in the Bahamas that promised it would be remembered as “the cultural event of the decade” (which, it turns out, was true, just not for the reasons it hoped). Now the subject of a Netflix doc, Fyre was cleverly marketed via influencers like Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, who were paid to pitch the event via Instagram as a kind of Coachella in the Caribbean. It was depressingly effective. With some tickets going for as much as $25,000, Fyre was a sell-out. And the lie continued until we arrived to be left stranded in disaster-relief tents with no food. Then the storm hit. Its CEO is now serving a six-year sentence for fraud. Fyre Festival has become a byword for every major flop since. But while it’s tempting to blame the unfettered mores of social media, maybe the broader question isn’t so much the Instagram effect but something simpler: have we reached peak festival?
With so many failing this year alone, it’s tempting to think so. To mark the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, a reboot of the 1969 fest is taking place this month in New York State. Or it was supposed to, anyway (as we went to press, it was still in doubt). If it does collapse it’ll be by no means the only event like it to KO: dozens of festivals worldwide have flatlined in the past few years. According to IQ magazine’s European Festival Report, attendance is falling, too. The problem? Some think it’s a “crisis of talent”: a shortage of big headliners mean the likes of Jay-Z, slated for Woodstock, can charge huge sums (thus higher ticket prices). Others say it’s just the poor management of would-be music impresarios with social media smarts who think they can do a Coachella (no doubt lured by its $114.6m revenue in 2017). So what’s the future of music festivals? Some say it’s no music at all: food festivals, apparently, are booming, as are “transformational” wellness events that switch booze for yoga, meditation and “snuggle puddles”. Either way, entrants to the sector take note: experience necessary. Go in too big and you’ll end up like Fyre: going down in flames.
Anna Conrad is the digital editor of GQ.