Billy McFarland is ready for his second act — determined to sunset the notoriously failed Fyre Festival and prove he’s more than a convicted con artist.
But his new dream sounds even wilder than the one that landed him in prison for nearly four years.
McFarland, who turns 31 on Sunday, is making plans for what he calls “virtual immersive decentralized reality” events: exclusive parties — attended by influencers and entertainers — that would be broadcast to the “entire world.” Users on their couches at home could pay to “actually change” what’s happening at the party.
For instance, McFarland told The Post: “They could, like, buy the talent a drink and then have some drink service bringing [the same kind of drink] to them at the same time the talent gets it.
“So, if you’re 18 years old and you’re on your computer in the middle of America, now you can actually come [to this party] and not only watch what’s happening, but take part in changing it,” McFarland said. “It kind of gives you access to this really cool land and group of people.”
He also offered up a more gruesome example of how at-home “guests” could control the action.
“If they decide to chum the water where I’m swimming, the water will actually be chummed and the sharks will be happy.”
There might be quite a few takers on that proposition, considering McFarland has been one of the most hated men in America.
In April 2017, thousands of people had paid as much as $12,000 each for the promise of mingling with influencers like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid — both paid to endorse the festival — and performances by acts including Pusha T and Blink-182, at McFarland’s Fyre Festival on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.
But the young, jet-setting crowd showed up to find disaster relief tents instead of decked-out villas and sad-looking sandwiches instead of the fancy meals they were promised. There were no performances, and the influencers knew enough to fly and sail home as soon as possible.
McFarland organized the sham festival with rapper Ja Rule, who was not charged. McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in March 2018. The disgraced promoter was later sentenced to six years in prison and spent time at three federal lockups.
In a 2021 jailhouse interview, the convicted fraudster blamed an “unrealistic time frame” for the spectacular failure that spawned several documentaries, including Netflix’s “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened.”
So after he swindled investors and would-be revelers of more than $26 million, is anyone still looking to party with Billy McFarland?
The New Jersey native, now living in Brooklyn following his release from prison in late March and a halfway house on August 30, said he’s acutely aware of his many skeptics — but wants to prove the naysayers wrong.
“I’m most sorry for just violating their trust,” McFarland told The Post. “There’s no other way to put it than I was totally wrong before, and deserved everything that came my way. And I don’t think it’s going to stop coming for a while. It’s only going to be harder over the next six, 12, 18 months, but I do want to go for it and try to make a positive impact and help those who were hurt along the way.”
McFarland, who still owes a whopping $26.3 million in restitution, said he’s paid $19,000 in eight payments since late August.
He, of course, hopes to make money with his new party venture, which he is, astonishingly, calling PYRT — pronounced “pirate.” He first teased the “crazier” and “bigger” idea of virtual immersive decentralized reality, or VID/R, in late October
“The easiest way to describe it is rigging these adventures with 360-degree live cameras, and building a virtual replica of the islands, where anybody can go online, but when they’re actually doing something virtually, it’s happening in the real world,” McFarland said.
It’s hard to envision. But not as hard as seeing why he would want to return to the scene of his crime.
McFarland — who is also hawking himself on Cameo, offering personalized videos for just $69 — said he envisions holding the actual parties somewhere in the Bahamas.
According to that country’s Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation, McFarland is persona non grata.
“The public is advised that no application has been made to the Government of The Bahamas for consideration of any event promoted by Billy McFarland or any entity or parties known to be associated with him,” Deputy Prime Minister Chester Cooper said in a statement last month.
As the organizer of the Fyre Festival, which Cooper called a “notorious charade,” the Bahamas will not endorse any event associated with McFarland.
“He is considered to be a fugitive, with several pending complaints made against him with the Royal Bahamas Police Force,” Cooper said. “Anyone knowing of his whereabouts should report same to the RBPF.”
Messages seeking comment from the Royal Bahamas Police Force were not returned.
McFarland’s attorney, Harlan Protass, said he’s unaware of his client being sought by police in the Bahamas.
“Billy McFarland has paid his debt to society and is rebuilding his life and work, from which he will be able to pay restitution to the victims of his crimes,” the Manhattan-based Protass told The Post in a statement.
While paying his debt to society, McFarland said he was sent to solitary confinement for having a USB drive.
“I got in trouble a couple of times for sure,” McFarland said, adding that he had the unauthorized device to keep notes for his eventual tell-all book.
Other inmates quickly recognized McFarland, sometimes leading to disjointed discussions, he explained.
“The annoying thing was everybody would come to me with petty scams, whether it was ideas or advice” he said. “And I just didn’t know how to do what they were talking about. A lot of people couldn’t believe that I didn’t understand how to steal credit cards.
“My crime wasn’t sophisticated,” he added. “I lied to investors about how much money we had and there’s not much sophistication behind that. So, it was kind of funny to be like, ‘Sorry guys, I’m not good at that.’”
McFarland said he was astounded by the number of inmates conducting scams related to the Paycheck Protection Program — federal loans to help small businesses recover from the pandemic — while locked up. Since his own release, he’s had to “basically separate ties” with a lot of the jail crowd, he said.
“Since my sentence ended, it’s been much easier to build really strong people around me, but people in jail saw an opportunity, for lack of a better description,” McFarland continued. “It was definitely tough to transition out of that environment.”
As he figures out his “travel restrictions” for the Bahamas, McFarland said he plans to test out his virtual pay-to-play “experiences” stateside in the next few months — including with a Jet Ski race around New York City in the middle of winter.
“All the talent [will be] wearing super-thick wetsuits and we’ll have drones livestreaming it and allow the fans to actually change the course of the race,” McFarland explained. “It’ll be a fun way to test the technology.”
McFarland’s looking forward to getting involved, too.
“I love the water, so I want to do the race around New York,” he said. “I can’t go the Bahamas, so I’ll do it here in the freezing cold.”
Some tech experts contacted by The Post said they’re intrigued by McFarland’s PYRT project, but need to see more details.
“The question I have is, what is ‘real change’?” said University of Central Florida computer science professor Joseph LaViola of McFarland’s claim that when PYRT users “do something virtually, it’ll happened in the real world” as well.
“Depending on how you define ‘real change’ will determine if this idea is even possible,” LaViola added.
The notion of a “digital twin,” or a virtual replica of a physical entity, isn’t new, the professor said, with many companies investing heavily in them.
“Changing the virtual replica and having that change the real physical space could be done but there would be conditions on how it could be done and what could be done,” LaViola said.
An undeterred McFarland, meanwhile, said he intends to keep building his PYRT team of “close to a dozen” staffers and generating funds as quickly as possible.
“And really just going day by day, trying to support ourselves, you know?” he said. “Doing some marketing jobs, have a TV deal, signing baseball cards, getting revenue in the door to survive and pay restitution as best as we can.”
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