Long before he was forced to apologize for his now notorious Fyre Festival, entrepreneur Billy McFarland founded another company in 2013 called Magnises that made some familiar-sounding promises targeting status-seeking millennials.
For an annual membership fee of about $250, Magnises members could “unlock their cities and take their lives to the next level.” They were assured exclusive tickets to “private members-only concerts, tastings with notable chefs, and exclusive art previews at top galleries,” as well as access to hard-to-book Broadway shows (including “Hamilton”) and events such as New York Fashion Week.
But some of those benefits never materialized or were far from what was advertised, according to a report earlier this year by Business Insider. Several Magnises members in New York reported trips that were canceled at the last minute or tickets to an exclusive event that never arrived.
Over the past three years, the Better Business Bureau has registered 17 complaints about Magnises, ranging from billing issues to problems with delivery. One complainant described spending $430 for tickets to Broadway’s “Hamilton,” only to get a generic email the week before the show saying the tickets were canceled. It would take weeks and a BBB complaint before a refund was issued.
“It has now been a month and a half and I have no refund,” the complainant wrote. “I have emailed numerous times and have oftentimes never … heard back.”
Earlier this year, McFarland, 25, apologized for what he called “growing pains” that had cropped up as a result of Magnises’s rapid expansion from New York to San Francisco and Washington, as well.
“We’ve hit some roadblocks along the way, and that’s what happens when you grow really quickly, and that’s on me,” McFarland told Business Insider.
If Magnises had served as a cautionary tale for McFarland along the way, that didn’t stop him from launching similar subscription-only spinoffs for private chartered air travel (Magnises Air) and sporting events (SportsPass) along the way. And McFarland certainly didn’t seem to apply any of those lessons to Fyre Festival, the “once-in-a-lifetime musical experience” that imploded under the weight of its own hype and disorganization this week.
By now, the epic disaster that was supposed to be the Fyre Festival is legend.
Festivalgoers shelled out anywhere from $450 to $250,000 for the promise of two weekends of live music, luxurious accommodations, gourmet meals and mingling with celebrities on a private island in the Bahamas.
“MORE THAN JUST A MUSIC FESTIVAL,” blared a promotional video for the event, organized by McFarland and the rapper Ja Rule.
In fairness, that part was technically true.
When attendees arrived this week in the Exumas, a group of islands belonging to the Bahamas, they discovered that the luxury accommodations were actually disaster-relief tents on the beach, some still not set up. Cheese sandwiches made up the “gourmet meals,” and festival organizers seemed to be equally in the dark, sometimes literally, about what was supposed to happen. Blink-182, one of the festival’s headliners, had pulled out at the last minute.
Soon, many people were clamoring to get on a flight…
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