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Altamont Free Concert

Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead fans might remember the Altamont Free Concert of 1969, a similarly ill-planned music festival that ended in disaster.

Shortly after Woodstock made American pop culture history, the Grateful Dead tried to recapture that magic with the Altamont Free Concert in California.  The event, despite attempts at becoming “Woodstock West”, was anything but, and everything that could go wrong sure enough did.  Attendees got antsy, and the ill-advised attempt to use Hell’s Angels as security for the event and then pay them in beer proved a recipe for disaster; violence broke out, at least four people died and scores more were injured. The Rolling Stones couldn’t get through their setlist because of fights breaking out in the audience, and the Grateful Dead, meant to headline the entire event, ended up canceling.  Nearly 50 years later, it’s gone down as one of music’s darkest moments.  

They say history repeats itself, and sure enough the Internet is currently ablaze with talk of rapper Ja Rule’s ill-planned and ultimately disastrous music festival, Fyre.  The heavily hyped event, with tickets that cost tens of thousands (and packages as high as $100,000), was guaranteed to be a paradise, with gorgeous beaches, gourmet meals, luxury lodgings and more on the small Bahamian island Exuma.  Yet the reality was anything but; about a week ago tweets began emerging revealing just what the event had become: flimsy shelter tents, boxed lunches, near-total disorganizations, long waits for flights back to the mainland, and just general chaos.  In the same way that the Altamont Free Concert went down in history as a tragic black mark in rock n’ roll’s history, the Fyre Festival has been hailed by one former employee as “incompetence on an almost inconceivable scale”.

Blame originally fell on festival producer Ja Rule and various celebrity endorsers such as Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner, who were baid thousands to promote the festival online.  Yet he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day as his partner, 26-year-old tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland, as well as the self-proclaimed “market genius” behind marketing the event, 24 year-old Grant Margolin.  According to two different production professionals who had worked with the festival, McFarland was warned time and time again that the event couldn’t come off as desired in the necessary time frame.  Yet McFarland ignored the warnings and fired everybody who pointed them out, to evidently disastrous results.  When faced with these warnings, McFarland and Margolin reportedly would just write them off and repeatedly say “we’re gonna be legends”.  While they have become “legends”, it’s hardly in the way they had anticipated.

Sure enough, Fyre is currently facing numerous lawsuits filed in federal court yesterday.  Attendees are seeking damages for “negligence, fraud, and violations of consumer protection statuses”, among other charges.  How they will emerge from the situation remains to be seen, yet without a doubt Fyre will go down in history as one of the greatest disasters in music history.