Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Fyre Festival: Ripped-off Bahamian restaurateur 'unable to cope' with attention

Maryann Rolle and her husband Elvis are too upset to watch the Netflix documentary that highlights their plight

Maryann Rolle, the Bahamian restaurant owner who paid out $50,000 of her own money feeding people during the Fyre festival disaster. Rolle has since recouped her lost funds through a campaign set-up after the Netflix documentary aired.
Maryann Rolle, the Bahamian restaurant owner who paid out $50,000 of her own money feeding people during the Fyre festival disaster. Rolle has since recouped her lost funds through a campaign set-up after the Netflix documentary aired.

The Bahamian ­restaurateur conned out of her life savings by Fyre Festival organisers is planning to share the cash raised by generous donors with other islanders who were not paid for their work when the event collapsed into chaos.

Maryann Rolle and her ­husband Elvis, who spent 12 years turning the beachside Exuma Point Bar and Grille into a hotspot on the tiny ­island of Great Exuma, agreed to cater for the ill-­fated ­festival in 2017. But, like other ­suppliers and ­labourers who agreed to work at the event, they never saw a penny, threatening the future of their business.

The episode is so painful that the couple have not been able to watch the Netflix ­documentary, Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, about the festival and their plight, released on January 18. “Our life savings were just gone. Everything we worked for,” says Elvis.

“Our life savings were just gone,” he said. “Everything we worked for.”

That all changed last week. His wife emerged as one of the stars of the Netflix ­production as she fought back tears to describe how she paid out $50,000 (Dh183,600) to take on extra staff to cope with the ­demand of thousands of ­revellers and festival workers expected at the event.

By last Friday, viewers had donated almost $200,000 to a GoFundMe crowdfunding appeal.

“It means everything, it means we get something back from everything we put in,” Elvis says. “It is like God is watching over us.”

But the ­outpouring of money and sympathy has proved to be a mixed ­blessing so far, he says. Just as the ­festival put huge demands on the small, family-run business – the restaurant is famed for its fresh fish and ribs buffet, and its idyllic location – so too has the new-found attention after its appearance on the documentary.

Elvis says his wife was taken ill, unable to cope with the stress of non-stop phone calls from the world’s media and ­requests from other islanders for financial aid. “She can’t cope with it all,” he says. “I hope she feels better soon.”

He adds that the couple planned to use some of the money raised to help the dozens of other local businesses and workers who were drafted in to construct the festival site meet their own debts.

“It is what we will do,” he says. “But we don’t have the money yet. There is nothing we can do yet.”

Their story is a reminder that when the Fyre Festival collapsed into chaos it did more than strand thousands of revellers amid waterlogged mattresses.

Although the Netflix ­documentary – and a second film released by Hulu called Fyre Fraud – wallowed in the schadenfreude unleashed by a tale of wealthy millennials and influencers marooned on a sun-kissed island in the Bahamas, it also highlighted how dozens of locals were left out of pocket.

In interviews soon after the event in 2017, Mrs Rolle said that she was owed more than $130,000 by the organisers – the result of providing food and lodging to festival-goers and staff.

Ja Rule (left) and Fyre Festival organiser Billy McFarland. Courtesy Netflix
Ja Rule (left) and Fyre Festival organiser Billy McFarland. Courtesy Netflix

And when the young ­revellers arrived on the island, some were bussed to the Exuma Point Bar and Grille to keep them away from the ­unfinished Fyre site.

Elvis says the new ­attention to their plight meant they had to relive their ordeal. He says it was too painful to watch the whole documentary. “I didn’t know they were ­filming. We didn’t know they had ­permission to film our place.”

His wife told the ­documentary-makers her story in tearful fashion, cutting to the heart of the damage done by fraudster Billy McFarland and his empty promises.

“I had 10 people working for me just preparing food all day and all night, 24 hours,” she said on the film. “I literally had to pay all those people ... I went through about $50,000 of my savings that I could’ve had for a rainy day. They just wiped it out and never looked back.”

The campsite at Fyre Festival after festival-goers arrived to find their lodgings were sodden hurricane tents rather than the luxury villas they had paid for. SplashNews.com.
The campsite at Fyre Festival after festival-goers arrived to find their lodgings were sodden hurricane tents rather than the luxury villas they had paid for. SplashNews.com.

She said that she was ­preparing 1,000 meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – for delivery to the festival site. Organisers would also come to her bar for meals. All the rooms at her resort were filled with festival staff.

Her tale led to waves of supportive comments on the appeal page, as well as anger directed at the Fyre ­organisers. Well-wishers chipped in amounts ranging from $5 into the thousands.

“You deserve every cent of this campaign and much more,” wrote Caitlin Kelley, who donated $10. “Thank you for having the most ­beautiful heart during that terrible fiasco!”

Updated: January 28, 2019 05:55 PM

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