By Sam Acosta
On Friday, November 5, tragedy struck the Astroworld music festival in NRG Park in Houston. The festival brought tens of thousands of people together to hear famous musical artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire and 21 Savage, amongst others. On Friday night, the first of the two-night event, headliner Travis Scott took to the stage.
As his performance began, the riled-up crowd surged forward to get closer. With too many people in too small of a space, many were trampled and some began to suffocate, and yet the show proceeded uninterrupted. Emergency services were contacted to help those who were injured and even dying, all as the concert continued.
By the time Scott had finished his performance, eight people had died and hundreds had been injured; at the time of writing, two more have since died in hospital due to their injuries. The crowd consisted of mainly younger people, with the victims ranging between 9-27 in age. There has been outrage in response to the tragedy, and rightly so, as both Travis Scott and Live Nation Entertainment, the festival’s promoter and organizer, utterly failed to prevent the tragedy from unfolding. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against those in charge of the festival for inadequate safety measures.
At the center of this tragedy are questions concerning the role Scott played in the chaos. The rapper has a reputation for riling up the crowds at his concerts. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2017 after encouraging fans to push past security to the stage, causing one fan to be thrown off a balcony and subsequently paralyzed. He also pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges in 2015 after telling a riotous crowd to give the middle finger and chant “we want rage” to intervening security guards and police.
Though his exact role in the chaos at Astroworld is still in question, Travis Scott has a history of riling up the crowds at his concerts.
In this particular case, it is still uncertain what Scott could see from the stage, making it unclear whether he was fully aware of the severity of the situation. There are varying eyewitness accounts of that night along with video clips floating around the internet. One shows that Scott stopped the show for a moment when he noticed an ambulance in the crowd, looking to see if everything was okay. Another shows Scott telling his fans to “put a middle finger to the sky” if they’re okay and the crowd following suit. Accounts say that soon after that, Scott encouraged fans to make the “ground shake.”
Scott has sent his condolences to the victims of this tragedy through a tweet sent out right after the event as well as a subsequent Instagram video, explaining how devastated he was by what happened. He proclaimed his full support for the Houston Police and the community.
Scott’s Twitter account, however, seems to be doing more harm than good for his case, as fans quickly realized that he deleted a tweet from earlier this year in response to the Astroworld festival selling out that said, “NAW AND WE STILL SNEAKING THE WILD ONES IN.” He has a longer yet similar post on his Instagram talking about how he was working on a way to let more people into the festival. Posts like these are being used in various lawsuits against him to claim he incited the crowd rush that led to this tragedy.
While Scott is at the center of this tragedy, he is not the only one potentially facing consequences for what happened. Live Nation Entertainment has come under fire for having scarce guidelines on handling crowd surging. A recently released 56-page operations manual for the festival details response plans for all manner of events, such as an active shooting, bomb threat and severe weather. It does not, however, outline any distinct plans for crowd surging.
Another aspect of the manual that has come under criticism is its instructions for Astroworld staff to refer to dead concert-goers as “smurfs.” Many commentators, including families of the victims, have found this terminology to be extremely disrespectful. Yet one of the most shocking revelations from afterwards is one security guard who alleges that he was hired over text. He claims that he did not have to give ID nor any qualifications for the position but was merely handed a security vest on site. All of these facts indicate that there were not enough resources or care put into ensuring the safety of the guests.
During Scott’s performance, the crowds at the Astroworld festival were packed in far beyond capacity, a major factor in the subsequent tragedy.
There was also a major disconnect in communication, as the Houston Fire Department had no way to directly contact ParaDocs Worldwide, the private group hired to provide medical treatment to fans at the festival. This disconnect simply added to the chaos as authorities operating outside of the festival had little-to-no information about what was happening on the inside.
What happened that night is nothing short of heartbreaking. Not only is this one of the deadliest concert-related tragedies to occur in American history, but listening to the accounts of what happened presents a sobering look at the consequences bureaucratic apathy and human incompetence. There is still no official decision on who should be held responsible, as lawsuits and investigations are still underway.
It seems, though, as if those in charge of managing and running the festival are trying to minimize their liability. Refunds have been offered for those who attended, but it appears that concertgoers waive their rights to sue if they accept them. Furthermore, rumors from some hospital workers in the area claim that there were more than ten deaths from this incident, along with many who are still in comas due to their injuries.
Travis Scott has continued to be apologetic, though these sentiments have not been met with acceptance; his apology video, for example has been mocked by many and even turned into a meme by others. Nike, meanwhile, has paused the release of its sneaker collaboration with Scott out of respect for the victims, with some speculating that the continuation of the collaboration will depend on the outcome of these lawsuits.
We pray for the victims of this disaster and for their families. We pray that the authorities will find out the truth about what happened and who was responsible, so that there can be justice and so that tragedies like this can be prevented from ever happening again.
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.