Failed Festivals: Who’s Responsible When the Show Doesn’t Go On?

Festival experiences can be what dreams are made of, but they can also quickly become nightmare fuel when plans start falling through. When Instagram reduced the longstanding Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to simply #coachella, the wheels started turning in the heads of overzealous entrepreneurs and influencers – how hard can it be to throw one of these anyway? Contrary to popular belief, ensuring the success of a major event requires years of planning, but in the viral world of the web, patience is a virtue that makes thumbs swipe left. The toxic result is the rise of the failed festival. Let’s look at some case studies:

The first shipwreck that the internet rubbernecked struck the shores of the Bahamas. Fyre Festival—which Netflix has dubbed “the greatest party that never happened”—rose to infamy in the spring of 2017 when photos of a city of FEMA tents didn’t quite match the luxury villas depicted in marketing campaigns. As Twitter went wild and shell-shocked festival attendees made a mass exodus back to the United States, it became clear that the highest-brow music festival ever conceived was no more than a scam spearheaded by “Millennial black card” mogul, Billy McFarland. While headlining talent was never paid and infrastructure was never built, top models had been paid six figures to covertly advertise Fyre across social media. However, this festival failure was more than just a case of misleading advertising and 20-something naivete –
wire fraud, money laundering, and document falsifying were all accusations found in McFarland’s federal charging documents. McFarland is now serving a six-year sentence in prison as associated lawsuits await payouts.

In the summer of 2018, failed festival fever spread to the realm of YouTube conventions. Tana Mongeau quickly rose to fame on the platform through her raucous “storytime” videos, but the premier festival for vloggers, Vidcon, had seemingly neglected to keep up with the rise of the trendy content creator. Below the surface, the powers that be refused to appoint her exclusive “featured creator” status due to brand safety concerns. Out of spite, Mongeau responded to her snub by creating a rival convention, TanaCon, to be held on the same weekend at a neighboring venue in Anaheim. The problem? This secondary venue was not a proper convention center, but a mere hotel conference room. Unable to fit inside, young fans stood in the parking lot for hours without food, water, or sun protection until the fire marshal shut down the event. The festival, which was to feature major YouTuber talent including James Charles and Shane Dawson, was, in theory, free, but VIP fast passes could be purchased for $65. While passes could be refunded, medical and travel expenses still needed to be compensated. TanaCon was Mongeau’s brainchild and built on her likeness, but blowback ultimately fell on event coordinator Michael Weist. The 22-year-old allegedly even mislead Mongeau when it came to promises of sound plans. As rumblings of a class action lawsuit among attendees began, Weist followed for bankruptcy.

Chances are, there is another failed festival in the works as we speak. Consumers are left to differentiate between a hot new event and an admit-one dumpster fire, but in the eyes of the law, this is not a responsibility to be bestowed upon hardworking ticket buyers. Regardless of how many social media followers a festival-thrower may have, they have a duty to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to delivering promises, and most importantly, ensuring the safety of their guests. If you become a victim of festival failure, getting your money back may be as simple as filing a dispute with your bank. But, if you are having trouble getting a refund, or if you have bills stacking up from other associated costs, talk to a lawyer to explore your options. While the downgrade from a charcuterie board to a cheese sandwich may seem comical, a judge might not be laughing.

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