‘It was like drowning. I swear to God.’
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know about the tragedy that occurred on the opening night of the third annual Astroworld Festival at NRG Park. Over 300 injuries and ten deaths followed a surge of approximately 50,000 concertgoers. The news on the Astroworld Fest continues to pour in and only gets more shocking. The performance is said to be one of the deadliest crowd-control disasters in the U.S. since the 1979 crush outside The Who concert in Cincinnati that left 11 dead.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Investigations are ongoing to determine what was the cause of the stampede. Based on what was shared with us from one of the attendees at the festival, 25-year-old Maximiliano Cavalieri, it’s pretty clear that the lack of crowd etiquette had been going on for quite some time before Travis Scott came on stage. “We saw a few people kind of stumble out of the moshpit center...either stumbling from heat exhaustion and appearing close to fainting or having actually fainted. Some of them were hurt. So, this was happening already throughout the day and when Travis was about to come on and the countdown came on, you could tell that was about to happen again”.
Chaos is a hallmark of Travis Scott’s concerts or as Cavalieri puts it, “it’s part of his brand”. During Lollapalooza 2015 in Chicago, Scott pleaded guilty for reckless conduct after inciting his audience to jump over security barricades and jump on stage. Another incident occurred two years later, after one of the rapper’s performances in Manhattan, during which a concert goer was pushed from a third-story balcony and dragged onstage. Resulting in a now paralyzed fan and a lawsuit.
After the show, Scott shared a public statement on an Instagram story in response to the mass casualty event and has also announced that all Astroworld 2021 tickets would be refunded. Some have questioned the sincerity of the post, and more than 100 lawsuits have been filed against Travis Scott and Live Nation. Some of the lawsuits filed by attendees are seeking at least $1 million in damages for ‘gross negligence. The lawsuits aren’t only targeted at Scott and Live Nation, but also Aubrey Drake Graham, a.k.a. Drake, who made a surprise appearance at Astroworld and was onstage during the chaos. Others named include Cactus Jack Records, Houston-based production company Scoremore LLC, producer Sascha Stone Guttfreund, stadium manager ASM Global and venue owner Harris County Sports and Convention Corp. Lawyers estimate that there will be ‘hundreds of millions’ in settlements and possibly even criminal charges.
The show must go on?
Artists and event organizers are being criticized for not ending the performance sooner after violence and chaos broke out. “They’re saying ‘hey, he should’ve stopped the show’, I was there. He stopped the show three times. He asked ‘If you’re okay, put a hand up. If you’re really okay and want to keep going, put both hands up’ and everyone around me as far as I could see, did that”, says Cavalieri referring to Travis Scott during the performance. The show was stopped about 40 minutes after city officials declared the incident a mass casualty event, which was around 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. However, the authorities decided that the best choice was to keep the concert-going. Troy Finner, Houston Police Chief, voiced that shutting down the show could’ve led to rioting.
It’s not so black and white.
“I don’t remember seeing any yellow T-shirts or anything saying staff or security”
Cavalieri described the staff and security as “non-existent” except for “the occasional cop.” Despite opinions on the organization and preparation of the event, there was a 56-page "event operation plan" which was designed to ensure the safety of the sold-out crowd. Believe it or not, this was not Live Nation’s first rodeo. The event operation plan covered all kinds of emergency situations, including who could stop a performance and how, as well as how to announce an evacuation. The plan also outlined how to handle mass casualty incidents, but it’s unclear if those plans were carried out.
What does seem clear is that chaos was unfolding early on, even before the headliner took to the stage. Detailed logs made by the Houston Fire Department revealed that there was chaos throughout the entire day, from a lieutenant requesting “riot equipment” at 8:15 a.m. to the crush injuries at the end of the night. The main gate was breached, medical staff treated around 260 people and escorted multiple patients off-site. The shortage of staff and lack of experience for some, only meant that it was even more difficult to deal with the situation and a crowd of that size.
Everyone’s trying to figure out where to point the finger, but it’s not so black and white. Cavalieri showed how, to a certain extent, he empathized with Scott, “Fans get crazy. Especially with drugs and alcohol going around. Things are going to get out of control, inevitably, and there’s only so much one dude on a stage can do...when we think about this we put ourselves in the perfect scenario where you point at five people and you save them and the show keeps going, but out of the five you’re not seeing another ten.” According to Scott’s attorney, Ed McPherson, Scott wasn’t even aware of the mass casualty declaration until the next morning, “That never got to Travis, that never got to Travis’s crew.”
After the events of the opening night, the second day of the two-day show was canceled and the singer backed out of his scheduled performance at Day N Vegas Festival that would’ve taken place this past weekend had he not been “too distraught to play”, Variety reports. Travis Scott and Live Nation, as well as many of the others involved in the incident, have announced that they’re heartbroken over the events that occurred that night and will be working closely with the local authorities to provide as much information as they can to help with the investigation. It might be a while until we see Astroworld return to Houston.
Want to hear the full first-hand account? You can listen to Maximiliano's story here.
Our hearts go out to all the families and friends who lost loved ones, were injured or affected in any way during this terrible tragedy.