It is Monday June 5, 2017 at 3 p.m., which means Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals is just hours away, and sound checks for CMA Fest have already begun to fill the air in downtown Nashville. For Nashville, this week means sellout crowds, packed bars, and country music everywhere you turn. Tens of thousands of people view this as a great week to get downtown and experience the free concerts, cowboy boots, and exciting atmosphere. As the sound waves reverberate throughout the city, it hit me…What if CMA Fest got cancelled?
No, I certainly do not want CMA Fest to get cancelled, but the idea of tens of thousands of people buying tickets to a music festival that all of a sudden calls it quits raises some questions about potential legal recourse.
Instead of speculating about what would happen if CMA Fest got cancelled, let’s take a look at the recent Fyre Festival, which was over before it even began. Fyre Festival was advertised as a “once-in-a-lifetime” concert, similar to the the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Fyre Festival promised a luxury island concert, but quickly devolved into an event described as “closer to the Hunger Games than Coachella.” Instead of arriving to modern luxury villas and private coral reefs, as advertised, festival goers found a half-built festival village, wooden stalls, piles of garbage, portable lavatories, and even feral dogs.
Fyre Fest was supposed to up the ante in the competitive festival market. Instead, Fyre Fest has become a punch line for its aborted opening, with reports of panicked millennials scrounging for makeshift shelter on a dark beach. With festival goers paying between $4,000 and $12,000 for tickets, the failed event left festival goers angry and anxious for retribution. It didn’t take long for the first lawsuit to come rolling in, alleging breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation, among other claims. Complaints allege that Fyre Festival was promoted as a posh, island-based music festival featuring first class culinary experiences and a luxury atmosphere. Instead, festival goers were lured into what various media outlets have since labeled a “complete disaster,” “mass chaos,” and a “post-apocalyptic nightmare.”
With these lawsuits in mind, one might wonder what must be proven in order to recover under claims such as negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract. In Tennessee, in order to “succeed on a claim for negligent misrepresentation, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant supplied information to the plaintiff; the information was false; the defendant did not exercise reasonable care in obtaining or communicating the information and the plaintiffs justifiably relied on the information.” Walker v. Sunrise Pontiac-GMC Truck, Inc., 249 S.W.3d 301, 304 (Tenn. 2008).
Here, the organizers of Fyre Fest (“defendants”) promised festival goers (“plaintiffs”) a private island, five-star cuisine, luxury living quarters and attendance by celebrities and top-level musical talent. However, as the weekend continued, all of the representations made by the defendants apparently proved to be completely false. The defendants promoted this event vigorously through various social media outlets such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, using celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Emily Ratajkowski. Based on the lack of preparation for the event, it will likely be argued that the defendants did not have reasonable grounds for believing their representations regarding Fyre Fest were true when the defendants made them. Lastly, based on the representations by defendants, plaintiffs purchased tickets and attempted to attend the festival. Therefore, a claim for negligent misrepresentation could be successful against Fyre Fest organizers.
As for the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims, in Tennessee, “[t]he essential elements of a breach of contract claim…include (1) the existence of an enforceable contract, (2) nonperformance amounting to a breach of the contract, and (3) damages caused by the breach of the contract.” C & W Asset Acquisition, LLC v. Oggs, 230 S.W.3d 671, 677 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007).
Here, the plaintiffs entered into a contract with defendants to provide a luxury festival experience in exchange for money. Plaintiffs provided payment in consideration for the defendants’ promise to provide lavish accommodations, top-tier cuisine, and A-level musical talent. Instead, defendants apparently breached the contract by providing accommodations inferior to those afforded in prisons, bread and cheese sandwiches, and no musical acts. Plaintiffs expended thousands of dollars on tickets and travel accommodations and, after defendants failed to perform, thousands of dollars on emergency travel plans to leave the event. Based on the facts, festival goers appear to have a strong argument in support of their breach of contract claims against Fyre Fest organizers.
While Fyre Fest organizers seem to have gotten themselves into hot water by failing to adequately prepare for the event, CMA Fest organizers consistently pull off a great show year after year, and they have made it clear that they are prepared for anything. In fact, event staff recently continued to work through a torrential downpour to set up stages and conduct sound checks. Let’s be glad CMA Fest always seems to go off without a hitch. Could you imagine 90,000 angry country music fans stomping down Broadway in their cowboy boots after being told CMA Fest has been cancelled? I can, and I’ll tell you, it doesn’t end well.
 Fyre Festival organizers sued after failed ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event, ABC News (2017), http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-02/fyre-festival-organisers-sued-after-failed-event/8489068 (last visited Jun 7, 2017).
Authored by Andrew D. Tharp