Meltdown of Sean Evans’ Blended Festival Draws Comparisons to Fyre Fest

Workers for a Nashville party-rental company were scrambling to fill a request for tents, tables, chairs, and linens for the upcoming Blended Festival when the director of sales realized the wine-and-music event had not paid the other 50 percent of their contract as required.

The sales boss, Alex Totin, called the office of festival CEO Sean Evans, and an accountant promptly forwarded a screenshot of a wire transfer for $20,000. Problem solved—or so Totin thought.

“We proceeded with the delivery, picked it all up on Monday, and realized the money never went through a couple days later,” Totin tells The Daily Beast.

She tried calling Blended again, but no one answered. Emails began bouncing back as though the accounts had been disabled. She tried Evans’ personal cell. “He was getting my messages. It was saying ‘Delivered,’” she said. But she never got him on the phone—or the money.

Two months later, Totin’s experience can only be seen as a big red flag. After the Nashville festival dates, the entire enterprise imploded and Evans went incommunicado, leaving behind a parade of stiffed contractors, out-of-luck vendors, and ticket holders waiting for refunds.

To some, the Blended fiasco has shades of Fyre Festival, the infamous luxury event promoted by a similarly brash and ambitious entrepreneur that left hundreds of ticket-holders stranded in the Bahamas and ultimately landed the organizer, Billy McFarland, in federal prison.

There is no indication that Evans is under criminal investigation

But it seems likely the company will be facing some kind of legal action., which handled ticket sales, is refunding jilted festival-goers and will try to get its money back from Blended, according to the fest’s Instagram account, which is now controlled by a third-party vendor.

And Evans’ company is already on the hook for $23,000 in a default judgment on a lawsuit filed by a catering company that says it was stiffed after last year’s Austin festival. “My clients are really good, hard-working people and we wanted them to get paid for their services and that unfortunately hasn’t happened,” the caterer’s lawyer, Lindsay Karm, told The Daily Beast this week.

A person close to Evans told The Daily Beast that the impresario now has a legal team “trying to sort the whole thing out.” From where is anyone’s guess—though a comment on Blended’s Instagram claimed that Evans was “spotted getting into a blue Tesla in San Diego this past weekend.”

Evans, 42, is a California native who owned a chain of cheerleading gyms before he created an app called My Wine Society and a wine subscription service called MWS Loyalty Club.

In a 2021 interview he described himself as a fan of a conservative author Jordan Peterson, motivational speaker Les Brown, podcaster Joe Rogan and Twitter destroyer Elon Musk. “I love listening to Elon Musk because of his reasoning skills,” he said.

A few years ago, Evans expanded his business into the festival space.

Blended was pitched as a melange of live music, food, wine and craft cocktails, a wellness lounge, and VIP table service. An iteration of the festival took place in 2019, and again in 2021 with artists like Kaskade, The Chainsmokers, Nelly, and Lil Jon performing. VIP tickets could cost more than $200.

This year’s series was set to rotate through Nashville, Austin, San Diego, and Tampa, starting in September, but only Nashville happened before Evans mysteriously announced in an Oct. 5 email that he’d had a heart attack and would only be communicating by email. That was followed five days later by an Instagram post by a third-party contractor informing followers that Evans had been “absent” since the start of the month and no one knew what was going on.

That left Blended participants like Malon Lemoins out of pocket.

“We paid them and never heard from them again,” said Lemoins, a managing partner at East Austin wine tasting room Blurred Vines, which paid “well over $1,000” to secure a sponsorship that would let them set up a tent to promote their growing business.

“Other folks invested quite a bit more than we did. It was a ‘take the money first’ sort of situation.”

One of those folks is his friend Sammy Lam, who owns Wanderlust Wine Co., a tap winery with two locations that paid over $10,000 for a “title sponsorship,” which would have splashed the company name on Blended marketing materials and given them more space under a 100-foot wine tent.

Lam said he was impressed by last year’s festival at the Long Center—a picturesque venue with a sprawling lawn overlooking Lady Bird Lake and the glimmering downtown skyline—and was convinced his business should be a part of this budding experiment.

”[This was] one of the few festivals breaking through the hurdle of bringing people together in a post-COVID world. Everyone that was involved last year was excited to join in again,” Lam said.

Lam says the failed festival was all the more disheartening because he and his associates skipped established, money-making events like Austin City Limits and the expanding Food & Wine Festival in favor of Blended.

“Food & Wine is more corporate. Blended almost gave small businesses an opportunity to have a fighting chance in the big world,” he said.

Another person burned by Blended is DJ and former Bachelorette contestant Blake Horstmann, who was hired for this year’s Austin and Tampa dates. “We were a side stage act who is currently owed by the festival still,” says Horstmann’s manager, Erik Bradley, adding that he did not blame the event-booking group Evans was using for the event.

Lee Garrett, another former Bachelorette contestant, was hired to host all of this year’s dates.

“This is a shock to many of us involved left holding the bill, canceled plans, and/or work schedule—artists, investors and fans alike. My travel was already booked,” he told The Daily Beast in an Instagram message. “Very unfortunate.”

But not everyone in Evans’ orbit is as shocked by the collapse.

Investor Daniel Magy told The Daily Beast he didn’t bite when Evans asked him to put anywhere from $250,000 to “a couple million bucks” into Blended and his other ventures last year.

“I didn’t invest in anything because of how he acted,” Magy says. “He couldn’t answer normal investor questions. We’re talking basic shit for anyone.

“He told me that I was questioning his integrity as a person,” Magy added. “His response was to bring on his business partners who were slightly more sophisticated, but at the end of the day, I don’t think there was enough protection in this project for an investor to feel comfortable.”

John Paul and Blane Townsend, founders of a Austin ticketing company Geoji, said Evans wanted a $500,000 buy-in for the exclusive rights to serve as Blended’s ticket seller

“The guy just seemed kind of sketchy when we met him. We thought he felt a little too confident,” Townsend said. Paul added, “Once people start asking for way too much money up front, that’s when you start getting that Fyre Festival vibe.”

Lingering in the back of their minds was the memory of promoters giving away tickets to the 2021 festival in Austin.

“He seemed to run it like a tech company,” Townsend said. “Needing a shit ton of investment and not worried about profit.”

Geoji took a pass because the buy-in would have required the small start-up to take out a business loan.

“Me and Blane decided, ‘Hey, that’s not how we’re gonna do business.’ That just sounds really sketchy. Especially because we knew all their festivals were outside. We thought, ‘What happens if it rains?’”

Now Paul is relieved his company never got involved.

“I don’t know if the guy is a fraudster or if the finances got jumbled,” he said, “but we’re just like, ‘What a bullet dodged.’”

In a 2021 interview with—featuring a photo of him in a crispy, shiny blue suit with a gleaming white pocket square—Evans portrayed himself as a seasoned entrepreneur who had built My Wine Society into a $16 million operation.

“My greatest success is the ability to learn from my mistakes and never making them again,” he said in the interview. “Successful entrepreneurs would tell you that mistakes are easy to come by and people love to point them out when you make them. I don’t want people to point them out for me. I try to learn the lesson and apply it so I never make the same mistake twice.”

But that doesn’t ring true to some of those who worked with Evans before the Blended meltdown.

In 2005, Liz Lopez had owned a cheer gym in Vacaville, California, for a few years when she was contacted by Evans, who told her he was a choreographer who wanted to work with her gym. Lopez liked the idea of another set of eyes looking at her teams’ routines, and hired Evans.

Eventually, Lopez said, Evans asked her if she was willing to consider selling her gym—and she needed the money.

“I thought, ‘Maybe this is the opportunity I’ve been looking for. I can focus on my kids and rebuilding my life as a single mom,’” Lopez told The Daily Beast. “I should have seen all the red flags that were there but I just felt like I needed an out.”

Lopez claimed Evans did pay her but she never got the full amount. “Any time I tried to do anything I was ignored, declined, or he wasn’t responding to my emails. I was told I wasn’t allowed back on the premises or he would call the cops on me,” she said.

Once Evans took over, she said, a cheer team would give him the fees for an upcoming competition, only to show up and be turned away because the organizers had not been paid. After about a year, the gym closed.

“I spent a lot of years being really stressed about it and really angry about it and I just had to kind of let it go,” Lopez said. “I just want him to stop doing this to people.”

In 2013, Amy Giaquinto was working in Lopez’s cheer gym when Evans bought it and convinced her to stay as manager. She told The Daily Beast that Evans could be very persuasive.

“He’s extremely charming and very manipulative,” she said. “He was able to charm those 80 athletes into staying and paying him, and paying him a lot more than the prior gym. He can sell you the sky. He’s a sleazy car salesman like that. But he’s good at it.”

Giaquinto said she was appalled by some of what she saw while working for Evans, including checks being written to a people or companies affiliated with his other businesses, a coffee company and a consulting business. “I know I was sending out lots and lots of money to people who had nothing to do with our cheer gym. That’s ultimately what started my red flags,” she said.

Evans was expanding his cheer empire and by the following year had three gyms—and was also borrowing money from athletes’ families, according to Giaquinto.

“Cheer is not cheap, so it draws in families who are well-off,” she said. “He was asking those families to foot the bills for certain things. If we needed uniforms covered, he’d ask a family member for a loan. Those were his plans because he and I would talk about it. He’d say, ‘Oh, maybe I can hit up Wendy for some money and I can pay her back next month when everyone pays their dues.’”

“One family tried to quit, and he legit told me to mail a check to them without a stamp, so it would mail back to us, and we would have more time to pay him,” she recalled.

“There were times when we would travel, we would have these big team dinners…. Suddenly his business card wouldn’t work, and I would have to pay for it. I did that several times for these big team dinners that were well over $1,000.”

In April 2016, Evans abruptly sold the gyms. “Then he created My Wine Society,” Giaquinto said.

Jason Brandt, 32, was an early employee of My Wine Society, starting there in 2017. He was a former cheer coach and knew Evans from that world and was happy to see that the venture seemed successful, with investors throwing money in.

But cracks soon began showing.

“We were scaling it and then his spending started to get interesting. We would have gaps in payroll, a little delay while he was waiting on funding to come in,” Brandt said. “There were things that didn’t quite seem right”—for instance employees being kept out of the company’s San Diego office space because the rent had not been paid.

Brandt said he and another colleague expressed concern about My Wine Society’s finances, especially when Evans began talking about launching Blended Festival. Not long after, Brandt said, he and his colleague were fired.

“We were asking too many questions,” Brandt said. “Getting fired from there is the best thing that ever happened to me for sure… I’ve lived, I’ve learned, and I’ve moved on from that dumpster fire.”

Nick Gustafson, 30, started working for My Wine Society in 2018, as a quasi-intern until Evans asked him to launch a new initiative he likened to “a Yelp for wineries.”

“I was supposed to build this entire thing which I had no idea how to do,” Gustafson told The Daily Beast.

Evans wanted to charge wineries $10 or $15 per month to be featured on the new app, Gustafson said. They got a few wineries to sign up for a test run, but when they wanted to cancel or asked for a refund, Evans made it difficult, Gustrafson claimed.

“They would email me saying, ‘We don’t want to be part of this anymore,’ and in my head I said, ‘I don’t blame you,’” Gustafson said. “I couldn’t cancel it from my end. I would tell him, ‘Hey, you have to do it.’ I don’t know how long it took him to actually do it, I know [the wineries] got charged more than they wanted to.”

Gustafson said he also struggled to get paid.

“He wouldn’t pay until he got a new round of sponsorship money or money from any person he suckered into funding whatever this was,” Gustafson said.

Toward the end of his time at My Wine Society, Gustafson said, Evans just stopped paying him by cash sent through Venmo and offered company stock and equity instead.

“I should’ve seen it as more of a red flag, but I didn’t have another job at the time so I had to go with this. I never saw a cent of stock or anything resembling whatever he was talking about,” he said.

Gustafson stopped working at My Wine Society when the “Yelp for wineries” app failed to get off the ground, but in August 2019, Evans contacted him to help set up the first Blended Festival in San Diego.

He said he agreed to truck some games and other items to the venue, but when he arrived, Evans handed him walkie-talkies and put him in charge of security at the front gate without any training or warning.

“Anytime there was an issue with the ticketing or anything, everyone’s coming to me,” he said. “I’m trying to radio Sean on this thing but he’s busy kissing ass in the fucking VIP booth the whole time.”

Despite the chaos, Gustafson said, the event was an overall success. For his trouble he got all of $200.

“He’s one of the most selfish people I’ve met, he’s completely immature and was out of his league for all of it. He wanted to be the big dog and have all eyes on him so he could throw a giant party for his friends. That’s what he did for the first Blended Festival,” Gustafson said.

Another former employee who worked for Evans at My Wine Society said they had a key organizing role, but after that first San Diego festival, they had to hire a lawyer to get months of back pay.

“We couldn’t get a hold of him, we couldn’t text him, we couldn’t call him. He was just gone, there was no communication,” they said—noting that months later, the money just simply showed up in their bank account.

Even so, they said, Evans’ vanishing act this fall was a head-scratcher.

“I don’t know how you go from booking the Chainsmokers to perform to all of a sudden you owe $6 million dollars and no one knows where you are,” they said. “Where is the punishment?”

Several people involved with the festival in Nashville in September said it was clear things were breaking down.

“We knew it was gonna be a shit show when we got on site and realized how disorganized it was,” said Totin, the event supplier who never got the balance of her bill. “But the setup still happened. The event still happened. You could just kind of tell that it wasn’t gonna end well.”

Garrett, the Bachelorette contestant and festival host, said the weekend devolved into a sad scene when a sudden thunderstorm halted festivities midway through Sunday, sending crowds scrambling back to their cars.

That night’s headliner and the festival’s biggest draw, The Chainsmokers, were relegated to a 200-capacity venue called Dirty Little Secret, an upscale bar located inside a hotel about a five-minute walk from the park. Only those with VIP tickets were invited.

“I saw pictures of people outside [Dirty Little Secret] on Printers Alley trying to climb into windows early on,” Garrett said. “The street was packed before they opened the doors.”

What happened between then and Evans’ disappearing act a few weeks later remains unclear. The Daily Beast tried to reach Evans repeatedly by phone and email, but never got an answer.

The person close to Evans, who did not want to be named, said the entrepreneur went to the emergency room in October because he thought he was having a heart attack, but it was actually an anxiety attack.

“He’s obviously stressed out about all of this,” they said.

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