The Astroworld Tragedy: No One Gets Off Scott Free

A few days after the Astroworld tragedy, questions remain about how the event managed to end in such a huge loss of life. Who is responsible? What made this event different from many other hip-hop concerts?

The third annual Astroworld festival took place on Nov. 5, scheduled for two days full of music, rides, long merchandise lines, and a general hotspot for pop culture. 

The festival featured a line-up of artists seemingly plucked out of Spotify’s “similar artists” section on Travis Scott’s page. From artists with soothing R&B jams like SZA, to energetic mosh pit-filled facts like Sheck Wes and Travis Scott, the line-up covered a lot of bases with the larger teenage crowd. 

The event carefully curated for his fans, Scott seemed ready to put on a great show for the first Astroworld since the pandemic, where fans could escape all of the turmoil within the past year and a half. 

Instead, chaos ensued from the very beginning and carried over throughout the day. Videos showcase a large stampede of people tearing down the fence in order to enter the event. 

Security guards formed a wall as a measure of crowd control, with the people swarming eventually becoming too much. 

This kind of overwhelming energy presented challenges even during the music section. From very early on, fans overran the VIP section, causing a lack of room and space for those there. 

Plenty of people were seen passing out from the early musical acts, but when Travis Scott came on stage at the end of the day, the events took a turn. 

The intensity of the show  ramped up as Travis Scott came on the stage. The people in the back rushed to the stage, causing those already in the front to receive pressure, even more so than before. People end up falling over and, eventually, on the bottom of a pile of bodies. 

While some, according to personal accounts, managed to survive the pile of bodies, others tragically passed away due to a lack of air. Those who survived the swelling of the crowd were treated at a local Houston hospital. 

Confusion after the event arose as to how the problem got to this tragic level and why no one stopped the event.

Reports and videos on social media swirled with ambulances and medical staff attempting to treat people in the middle of the musical performance set

Attendees tried to capture the attention of even organizers and coordinators. They went as far as climbing on the platform from which an Apple Music cameraman recorded the event for the live stream. 

The festival has become a huge talking point on Twitter, with the practices of the event scrutinized under a media microscope. The history of large festivals provides a point of reference for what the standard of protocol is and how much AstroWorld veered from it. 

The mosh pits were a part of the issue related to crowd control, with large amounts of space carved out without much room to begin with. Mosh pits are large circles, in which people back up and form an empty hole. Once the song begins, everyone rushes inside, with people getting physical inside. 

Travis Scott events are known for these kinds of concert activities, which means event planners took it into consideration. 

At Astroworld, some people tried to help those on the floor and establish some control, but many fans disregarded the people on the ground as well. Focused on simply having fun, they neglected some of the people in need of help. 

Potentially, the large gap of time from the initial shutdown to the current increase in flow of music events may have played a role in some of the crowd’s behavior. Various studies pointed out the mental effects of the pandemic, increasing levels of depression and exacerbating people’s own issues. 

The culmination of excitement and need for relief from personal issues creates a potential explanation for the crowd’s actions.  

While out of the direct control of Scott, these are some of the aspects event planners and organizers usually take into consideration. 

Anne Templeton, a researcher who published a study on creating a safe concert environment, addresses why people end up participating in mosh pits. 

Templeton wrote, “Another reason that crowd members may engage in risk-taking is because they are acting in line with expected social norms at the event (Hopkins & Reicher, 2020). Groups have normative behaviors that they expect to enact at collective events (Stott et al., 2001) and performing these behaviors demonstrates group membership to others, can be encouraged by others, and is an important part of enjoying the events (Hopkins et al., 2019).”

The act of “moshing” dates back to the 1970s, in which punk rock groups encouraged a high level of physicality. The practice, over the course of the years, transitioned into EDM and hip hop events as well. When a high intensity song comes on, the crowd releases some of the energy from the performers. 

With the higher intensity, especially the energy Scott demands from his fans, a need for responsibility also comes about. Scott Ian, the guitarist for the band Anthrax, addresses the responsibility that performers have on the crowd. 

“If I’m egging a crowd on to get more crazy, I’m also keeping an eye on them the whole time,” Ian said. “And if something starts happening, we stop the show and that diffuses the whole thing. I don’t know what planet you’re on if you’re performing onstage and you’re oblivious to what’s going on in front of you.”

At no point in the show did Scott stop the show for more than confusion about the abundance , even though ambulances made their way into the middle of the crowd. He did stop to notice them, but did not guide the crowd to make room or ask anyone what was happening. 

Templeton endorses some sort of communication with the crowd so they can act accordingly. Some attendees can remain unaware of what is happening and it is up to the organizers to establish control and relay the circumstances at the event. 

“Organizers of crowd events could have prototypical group members communicate and display the expected behavior and emphasise how it is within the crowd’s interest to adhere and against the crowd’s interest to do the opposite. For example, organizers could emphasise that following the safety guidance is in the group interest because it is an act of care for fellow group members, and encourage self-regulation within the crowd by asking them to ensure others act safely. They could also demonstrate how it is against the crowd’s interest not to adhere to the guidance since nonadherence could stop future events,” Templeton said.

The show organizers and Travis Scott encouraged the energy present at the festival — tons of energy and a showcase of the passion fans have for the music. When supporting this kind of behavior, the responsibility is left on those who start the energy to manage it. 

Their measures of crowd control provide a way to prevent this kind of tragedy in the future, with more willingness to stop shows for breaks and more communication within everyone at the festival. 

The Astroworld tragedy could have been avoided, but the spotlight on crowd control planning provides an avenue for focusing on safety at music festivals. 

Photo by Alexander Londoño on Unsplash. 

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