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 incomprehensibly-named festival was supposed to kick off with an opening gala at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens on August 19. Over the next two days, notable artists like Missy Elliott, Jhene Aiko, Ozuna, El Alfa, Anderson .Paak, and Kali Uchis were set to hit the stage in NYC. Dubbing itself a “purpose-driven music experience” and “Conscious Carnaval,” the festival—the brainchild of Afropunk founder Matthew Morgan, his partner Jocelyn Cooper, and creative agency Anomaly—tried to bolster Its socially-conscious credentials by promoting a mission to “close the equity gap” in the entertainment industry and achieve a “diversified workforce across all levels in the industry by 2030.” How a weekend of wristbands and portable toilets was supposed to do that is unclear, as is the festival’s abrupt cancellation that’s now left hundreds of ticket holders scrambling for refunds that are unlikely to arrive until mid-September.
On Friday, organizers axed the entire slate of performances with less than a month till showtime. They blamed inflation, of all things, along with a series of other vague setbacks, including “new safety regulations that were recently put in place would have forced us to greatly 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 any recent changes in safety regulations.)
Unique Norton doesn’t buy their excuse.
“Their reasons didn’t make any sense,” she tells The Daily Beast. “Honestly, it made zero sense.”
The 23-year-old server and aspiring fashion designer learned about the show from her boyfriend, who saw a post about it on Instagram. The pair was supposed to go to Bonnaroo last September, but that festival was also suddenly canceled after the campgrounds flooded. They were drawn to LetsGetFr.ee by the stacked lineup, the seemingly calmer vibe of an “indie festival,” and the low price of about $79 per general admission pass.
“We didn’t want our first music festival to be crazy with raves and mosh pits,” she says.
They snagged their tickets back in March. Norton was especially excited for .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 alerted her to the festival’s Instagram post announcing the cancellation. The comments had been turned off, so angry customers, including Norton, flooded the comments sections on other posts demanding their refunds and lambasting organizers for their lack of preparedness.
The whole fiasco drew comparisons to the infamous Fyre Festival—sans sad, open-faced cheese sandwiches.
“We were literally gonna sit in a train all day to go to New York for this festival and they canceled it,” Norton says. “We are already put in for the refunds. That was a one-and-done situation. The way they handled it was so unprofessional.”
Looking back, Norton and others who were planning on a fun weekend in New York to cap off 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, and some say their favorite artists were barely promoting the event on social media. On top of that, a head-scratching ticket tier system proved frustrating for customers.
“If you look at their Instagram page, they try to explain the shit out of it because it was really confusing,” offers Sean Cruz, an occupational therapist from Queens who was excited about seeing his favorite artists in his own backyard.
LetsGetFr.ee had a lineup that matched his own taste in music, which leans toward jazz and neo-soul. He’s also fond of Flushing Meadows Corona Park as a venue.
“It means a lot to me,” he says. “It’s a place I’ve been to a lot as a child.”
At first, Cruz says the festival advertised general admission tickets along with “party passes” that promised access to specific performances. Then came an about-face, with organizers announcing that the GA rate now included everything. Some attendees, including Cruz and Norton, had their tickets upgraded to VIP out of nowhere.
“In retrospect, it sounds really sus. I’m not a fan now.”
“For me, I was like, ‘That’s kind of whack,'” says Cruz, who specifically wanted GA tickets so he could watch the show with the crowd. “I’m not really a big sideline person—to watch an artist from an angle while they’re performing.”
He never got his money for the special passes back.
“In retrospect, it sounds really sus. I’m not a fan now,” Cruz said.
It’s unclear what really went down behind the scenes, but what is clear is that a festival that’s built this much ill will from the jump may not survive. Organizers say refunds will be completed by September 15. Refund requests are due to ticket sellers DICE or TIXR by August 31, though the festival promised to honor this year’s passes at next year’s festival. Unfortunately, it could prove difficult to convince people to return for an event that was dead on arrival the first time.
“A lot of people think it’s a scam, honestly,” Norton says. “Me personally, I feel like they just didn’t sell enough tickets and just backed out fast.”