Last year, Fyre Festival made headlines for failing on its promise of a luxury music festival experience in the Bahamas. Instead of high-end accommodations, jet skis and headlining sets by Blink 182, Tyga and Desiigner, attendees faced refugee-like conditions, cancelled performances and food shortages. The organizer now faces up to 20 years in prison.
And now, new reporting about XO Fest—an ambitious first-time festival slated to take place in the East Bay town of Antioch in July—has caused industry insiders to ask whether the festival's over-the-top promises are also too good to be true. Dave Brooks, executive editor of the live entertainment industry publication Amplify, looked into the festival in a recent report titled 'Is XO Fest in Northern California the Next Fyre Festival?,' and discovered several inconsistencies and red flags.
XO Fest is scheduled to take place July 13–15 at Contra Costa County Fairgrounds, and promises a lineup of top performers like T.I., Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Ludacris, with the cast of Jersey Shore and Carmen Electra as hosts. The festival website boasts seven stages, carnival rides, two silent discos, the world's biggest bounce house, an indoor skating rink, and a house made out of candy. Also advertised are "celebrity chefs" and a "sky lounge" where VIP guests can watch performances from the air. Festival organizers also claim they can officiate your wedding at the event.
That's a lot for a first-year festival, but not implausible for an experienced promoter. The problem is that when Brooks first contacted XO Fest, the person answering his email wouldn't reveal the organizer's identity—which Brooks found odd, since promoters are typically eager to talk to the press for their events.
Brooks then discovered through public records and sources that the man behind XO Fest is likely Sami Habib, a.k.a. Habibullah Said Qadir, a man recently charged with several felonies in a rental scam where he allegedly fabricated background documents, moved into high-end Fremont properties and failed to pay any rent, fleeing just before authorities could physically remove him.
Brooks told KQED Arts that he filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the contract between the Fairgrounds and XO Fest. Joe Brengle, CEO of Contra Costa Event Park, sent Brooks a copy of the contract with the XO Fest signatory's name redacted. Brooks filed a complaint with the state, and acquired an uncensored copy with Sami Habib's signature. The XO Fest trademark is also registered in Habib's name, and one industry insider contacted Brooks to confirm that a man who pitched the festival to him was the same Sami Habib from the mugshot in the Fremont fraud case.
"Since then, everything I’ve uncovered further convinces me that they’re using deception and are not going to be able to deliver to fans what they’re promising," said Brooks.
Brooks noticed other inconsistencies: much like the Fyre Fest promo video, the sizzle reel for XO Fest features generic b-roll footage of models, with Twisted Sister as background music despite it being a hip-hop festival. [UPDATE May 24, 2018: The sizzle reel has since been removed from XO Fest's website.] A reverse image search revealed that photos from the festival's website were lifted from other events, including one in Australia. At press time, XO Fest's Twitter account has only 46 followers. And a spokesperson from BART, which the XO Fest website initially listed as an official sponsor, told Brooks that they had no knowledge of the festival. Their logo has since been removed from XO Fest's website.
At press time, XO Fest did not return KQED Arts' request for comment. We also contacted Essential Talent, the talent-buying company which Brooks confirmed is behind booking the headliners. We'll update this post if we hear back.