LetsGetFr.ee promised a star-studded lineup curated by and for people of color in one of the most diverse places in the country.
The incomprehensiblely named festival was set to kick off on August 19 with an opening gala at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Over the next two days, well-known artists such as Missy Elliott, Jhene Aiko, Ozuna, El Alfa, Anderson .Paak and Kali Uchis would take the stage in NYC. The festival – the brainchild of Afropunk founder Matthew Morgan, his partner Jocelyn Cooper and creative agency Anomaly – called itself a “Purpose-Purpose Music Experience” and “Conscious Carnival” and sought to bolster its socially conscious credentials by promoting a mission to “close the equity gap.” in the entertainment industry and achieve a “diversified workforce at all levels in the industry” by 2030. How a weekend of wristbands and portable toilets should do that is unclear, as is the abrupt cancellation of the festival, which has left hundreds of cardholders struggling with refunds that are unlikely to arrive until mid-September.
On Friday, the organizers canceled the entire series of performances with less than a month until showtime. They mainly blamed inflation, along with a range of other vague setbacks, including “new safety regulations recently introduced would have forced us to heavily alter your experience to a smaller, watered-down, inauthentic version.” (Festival organizers did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Beast. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation did not respond to questions about recent changes to safety regulations.)
Unique Norton does not buy their excuse.
“Their reasons made no sense,” she told The Daily Beast. “Honestly, it didn’t make sense.”
The 23-year-old server and aspiring fashion designer heard about the show from her boyfriend, who saw a post about it on Instagram. The couple was due to go to Bonnaroo last September, but that festival was also suddenly canceled after the campsites were flooded. They were drawn to LetsGetFr.ee because of its stacked lineup, seemingly calmer “indie festival” vibe, and low price of about $79 per general admission pass.
“We didn’t want our first music festival to get out of hand with raves and moshpits,” she says.
They already had their tickets in March. Norton was especially enthusiastic about .Paak and Uchis. They booked train tickets all the way from Tampa, Florida, along with a five-day Airbnb stay in Brooklyn for them and their two friends. The stage was set for an unforgettable weekend until Friday, when her boyfriend notified her of the festival’s Instagram post announcing the cancellation. The comments were off, so angry customers, including Norton, flooded the comment sections on other posts demanding their refunds and criticizing the organizers for their lack of preparedness.
The whole fiasco drew comparisons to the infamous Fyre Festival – without sad, open cheese sandwiches.
“We would literally sit on a train all day to go to New York for this festival and they canceled it,” Norton says. “We have already bet on the repayments. That was a one-time situation. The way they handled it was so unprofessional.”
Looking back, Norton and others who planned a fun weekend in New York to close out the summer say there were signs that LetsGetFr.ee was in trouble. For one, it’s notoriously difficult to get a new festival off the ground, with some saying their favorite artists barely promoted the event on social media. In addition, a confusing ticket-level system proved frustrating for customers.
“If you look at their Instagram page, they try to explain it because it was really confusing,” said Sean Cruz, a Queens occupational therapist who was excited to see his favorite artists in his own backyard.
LetsGetFr.ee had a lineup that suited his own musical taste, which leans towards jazz and neo-soul. He also loves Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a location.
“It means a lot to me,” he says. “It’s a place I went to a lot as a kid.”
Initially, Cruz says the festival advertised general admission tickets, along with “party passes” promising access to specific performances. Then came a reversal, with organizers announcing that the GA fare now included everything. Some attendees, including Cruz and Norton, had their tickets upgraded to VIP out of the blue.
“In hindsight it really sounds good. I’m not a fan now.”
“For me, I was like, ‘That’s kind of a whack,'” says Cruz, who specifically wanted GA tickets so he could watch the show with the audience. “I’m not really a big side job person – to watch an artist from an angle as they perform.”
He never got his money back for the special passes.
“In retrospect, it sounds very suspense. I’m not a fan now,” Cruz said.
It’s unclear what really happened behind the scenes, but what is clear is that a festival that has built up so much ill will through the jump may not survive. Organizers say refunds will be completed by September 15. Refund requests must be submitted to ticket sellers DICE or TIXR by August 31, though the festival promised to honor this year’s passes at next year’s event for those who decide not to get their money back. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to convince people to return for an event that was dead on arrival the first time.
“Honestly, a lot of people think it’s a scam,” Norton says. “Personally, I feel like they just didn’t sell enough tickets and pulled out quickly.”