For a week last October, Hurricane Sandy spun a trail of destruction through cities in seven countries. From Jamaica to New Jersey, the superstorm killed 285 people and caused more than $75 billion in damage. One place it didn't touch, however, was Miami.
So it was a bit strange when organizers blamed the storm for scrapping the year's biggest concert: the UR1 Music Festival, originally scheduled for December 8 and 9, the heart of Art Basel week.
Since then, the shadiness surrounding the cancelled concert has spread. Half a dozen New Times readers have complained that their requests for a refund have been ignored. Meanwhile, millions of dollars in ticket sales seem to have vanished. UR1's website hasn't been updated in half a year. And organizers are too busy preparing to sue one another to reschedule the concerts.
"I didn't think something so well publicized could be a scam," says Joshua Cameron, who had bought two tickets for roughly $175 each. "I never thought they could actually get away with not refunding people."
The festival was supposed to be Miami's biggest music event of 2012. Artists as varied as Kanye West, Lou Reed, the Offspring, and Santigold were all slated to perform in Bayfront Park. Adding credibility were the pedigrees of the two partners behind UR1: Ultra cofounder Alex Omes and Winter Music Conference veteran Emilio Guerra. A sleekly designed website sold tickets with the slogan: "You are music. You are unique. You are diverse. You are love. You are life. You are one."
By November, though, rumors were swirling that tickets weren't selling. Then came a bizarre email announcing that UR1 was postponed, supposedly from "the continued effects" of the storm and predictions of strong winds.
Cameron was upset when he read the news. But the hurricane explanation was so ludicrous that the University of Miami medical student couldn't help but laugh. "It seemed like a completely bogus reason to cancel it," he says. "It's hard enough to predict the weather two weeks in advance let alone to know the winds would be too strong for a music festival."
At first, Cameron was content to wait for the concerts to be rescheduled. After a month, he began to get angry. An email from UR1 offered ticket-holders free admittance to several smaller concerts during Art Basel. "But they were bands I had never heard of," he says.
Cameron tried using UR1's website to get his money back, but the link didn't work. When he called, he was redirected to ticket vendor Wantickets. But when he rang that company, he was told he couldn't get a refund until new concert dates were set. In other words: never. "It all seemed a little shady," Cameron says.
So what really happened to UR1? Omes isn't talking. Guerra simply says the festival's demise was "unfortunate." He also claims that "the majority of tickets have either been refunded or charged back" and that "we are in the final stages of finalizing the makeup event."
But the moneyman behind the failed festival paints a bleaker picture. Dovi Lesches is a partner at the real estate firm Empire Equities in New York City. He says he put up the majority of the money behind UR1. "I was the sole sucker on this venture," he says. "And we're not talking about a couple thousand dollars."
Lesches admits the festival's demise was more manmade than natural disaster. But he's reticent to point fingers — at least right now. "I need to file my motions first," he says ominously. "This will all be figured out over the next few weeks in [court]."
Lesches says he sympathizes with guys like Cameron who bought tickets, but they are unlikely to receive refunds until the bigger legal battles are settled. And that could take awhile.
In the meantime, Miami music lovers are still out hundreds of dollars each. Cameron says his bank recently reimbursed him after investigating UR1. But others haven't been so lucky. Chris Koblegard, a cucumber grower in Fort Pierce, has yet to see his $100. "I thought it was a pretty good deal at the time," he says. "Now I'm regretting it."