From inciting riots to encouraging chaos, is Travis Scott to blame for Astroworld 2021?

By Alma Fabiani

Published Nov 8, 2021 at 12:03 PM

Reading time: 5 minutes

A stampede of fans surging toward the stage during rap star Travis Scott’s Astroworld music festival in Houston, Texas killed at least eight people and injured dozens more as panic rippled through the crowd of concertgoers, officials said on Saturday 6 November, the morning after it took place. It washed ashore like a wave, through the crowd of 50,000 mostly young people—an unpredictable movement of bodies that could not be held back.

“Some collapsed. Others fought for air. Concertgoers lifted up the unconscious bodies of friends and strangers and surfed them over the top of the crowd, hoping to send them to safety. Others shouted out for help with CPR and pleaded for the concert to stop. It kept going,” reported The New York Times.

As fans in the sold-out audience pressed towards the stage, people began to fall unconscious, some apparently suffering cardiac arrest or other medical issues. Minutes later, the chaos was declared a “mass casualty incident.” By now, a simple scroll through your social media feed would have granted you access to some of the hundreds of terrifying accounts and documentation from attendees. Videos where fans are seen climbing on stage in an effort to stop the show and warn lighting and camera operators have been shared all weekend long.

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So have statements from people who have witnessed the festival’s chaos first-hand, such as ICU nurse Madeline Eskins who went to help those being brought in for medical support. Eskins said she saw several people performing CPR without checking for a pulse. In an interview with The Independent, she outlined the fact that many first responders had “little to no experience in this type of situation.”

“People were literally grabbing and pinching at my body trying to get up from the ground,” said Chris Leigh, 23, adding that he lost contact with his friends as he tried to make it out of the crowd. “I was fighting for my life; there was no way out,” he shared with The New York Times.

As of now, fatalities include a 14-year-old, a 16-year-old, two 21-year-olds, two 23-year-olds, a 27-year-old, and another person whose age was unknown. 25 people were transported to nearby hospitals, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, 11 of whom experienced cardiac arrest, according to Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña. More than 300 people were treated at the scene at a field hospital set up in NRG Park, NBC DFW said. Among those treated at a hospital was a 10-year-old child.

By Saturday, officials in Houston were at a loss to explain how the concert, part of the two-day Astroworld music festival organised by Live Nation Entertainment and Travis Scott himself, had transformed from a celebration to a struggle for life in an instant. The event appeared to be one of the deadliest concert-induced, crowd-control disasters in the US in many years. Similar episodes have occurred at venues around the world, during performances of all genres of music—including an electronic dance music festival held in Germany in 2010 at which 18 people were trapped and crushed, and a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati where 11 people died as concertgoers rushed the entrance.

Back to Astroworld 2021 and its aftermath, according to the Houston Chronicle, which reviewed videos and other social media posts, people had begun to collapse by 9:39pm. Soon after that, the show’s promoter agreed to stop the performance. Yet Scott appeared to complete his set, the newspaper added. The artist finished at 10:15pm—36 minutes after the disaster was already apparent.

Analysis by the Washington Post also suggested that the concert continued for about an hour after members of the audience first displayed signs of distress. Material examined by the newspaper recorded several attempts by individuals to sound the alarm, only to be drowned out by Scott’s performance.

Such an awful event, backed up by numerous video evidence of Scott’s decision to ignore what was happening during his show at the cost of his fans’ lives beg the question, could this nightmare have been avoided?

The 29-year-old rapper launched the Astroworld festival in 2018, months after the release of his third studio album under the same name. Since then the concert has occurred every year, except for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at Houston’s NRG Park—the former location of Six Flags AstroWorld theme park. Scott’s fans sold out this year’s Astroworld festival in less than an hour, according to a press release from festival organisers. The same day as the tragic Astroworld concert, Scott released two singles, ‘Escape Plan’ and ‘Mafia’.

In 2015, the rapper compared his shows to professional wrestling, telling GQ, “I always want to make it feel like it’s the WWF or some shit. You know, raging and having fun and expressing good feelings is something I plan on doing and spreading across the globe.” 

“We don’t like people who just stand,” he added. “This is a no-stand zone.” But sometimes, the raging can go too far. Yet oftentimes, the rapper encourages it.

Scott has been arrested at least two times for inciting riots and disorderly conduct at some of his previous shows. In 2015, the rapper was arrested after encouraging fans to jump security barricades during his Lollapalooza set, which was promptly shut down. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation. In early 2017, Scott was arrested again on a similar charge: police accused him of inciting a riot during a show at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion. Several people, including a security guard, had been injured while the rapper was on stage allegedly encouraging people to join him. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a deal with prosecutors, reportedly in exchange for dropping more serious charges.

Weeks later came the New York City show that changed the life of one fan, Kyle Green, who was 23 at the time. Green said he was pushed from a third-story balcony and then dragged on stage while watching Scott perform. The rapper had specifically encouraged fans on the second-floor balcony to jump down into the crowd, according to The New York Times, citing a video from the event.

“Don’t be scared,” Scott was heard telling his fans in the video. “They’re going to catch you.” After Green’s fall, Scott ordered bystanders to scoop Green up and bring him to the stage to put a ring on his finger. Green later sued the rapper―along with his manager, a concert promoter and a security company that covered the event―in a still ongoing case alleging that they all engaged in “recklessness” that left Green partially paralysed and in need of a wheelchair.

On YouTube, videos of Scott showing contempt for security personnel hellbent on shutting down the revelry at his shows are easy to find, so are the compilations of fans leaping into the crowd from the stage. In 2018, People magazine described his ability to keep security guards from reaching his fans as a quality that endears him to crowds, declaring after one incident, “Travis Scott will always have his fans’ backs.” Right.

The most common cause of injury and death in crowds is compressive asphyxia, when people are pushed against one another so tightly that their airways become constricted, said Steve Adelman, a lawyer and the vice president of the Event Safety Alliance, an advocacy group. This happens most often during a ‘crowd crush’, when the audience is packed together so tightly that people cannot move, but it can also occur during a stampede.

In another video of the concert, Scott could be heard saying, “If everybody good, put a middle finger up to the sky.” The video showed the ambulance in the crowd, surrounded by people holding their phones, many with a middle finger extended. Then, two men who appeared to be part of Scott’s entourage approached him on the stage. He shooed them away and turned to the crowd, asking those present to put “two hands to the sky.”

While the whole responsibility of what happened can’t be put on Scott’s shoulders alone, it’s crucial we admit the fact that the rapper was aware of what was going on―that people in the crowd were seriously getting hurt, something he is known for encouraging―and still decided to carry on with his performance.

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