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When raging goes too far

The Astroworld tragedy and who’s to blame

<p>Travis Scott, or Jacques Bermon Webster II, is possibly the most influential pop culture figure your parents don’t know.&nbsp;</p>

Travis Scott, or Jacques Bermon Webster II, is possibly the most influential pop culture figure your parents don’t know. 

I was towards the front of the crowd at the UPC Welcome Week Concert featuring Jack Harlow. It was there that I was in a truly packed crowd for the first time. Multiple times, there were massive sways in the crowd when one student would push and start a domino effect of other students falling over. Those at the front were especially vulnerable. People wanting to get closer to Harlow pushed students forward, causing those at the very front to be pushed into the fence. This crowd, though seemingly hectic, was not too large and mostly well-behaved. The concert finished without a blip but provides a local perspective, admittedly on a much smaller scale, of what transpired in Houston, Texas on Nov. 5.  

At around 9:30 p.m., as Travis Scott was performing at his own Astroworld Festival, fans surged towards the stage. A stampede of concertgoers compressed and trampled fans, killing 10 people and hospitalizing 25 others. Attendee Madeline Eskins recounted her experience at Astroworld Festival in an interview with CNN — “I had constant pressure on my chest … I was being squeezed … Right when [Scott] started performing his first song, I looked at my boyfriend and said, ‘We have to get out of here.’”

Another concertgoer, Alexis Guavin, described the stampede, saying, “Once [Scott] started, all hell broke loose. All of what is to be 50,000 people ran to the front, compressing everyone together with the little air available.” There are many other horrifying stories of concertgoers getting stepped on, gasping for air above the crowd and being crushed into the barricades.

In the aftermath of the Astroworld tragedy, a lot of finger-pointing has occurred as people want someone to blame. Some blame the police for acting too slowly. Some blame Live Nation, the event promoter that organized Astroworld. Some blame Scott. Well, who is really to blame? The answer is … it’s complicated. The event was chaotic on all fronts, and to best understand why, we have to understand Scott. 

Scott, or Jacques Bermon Webster II, is possibly the most influential pop culture figure your parents don’t know. His branding collaborations span from Air Jordan and Fortnite to McDonald’s to Dior. And that’s without mentioning his music. The rapper, producer and singer-songwriter boasts eight Grammy awards and was the first artist on the Hot 100 to have three songs debut at number one within a year. He has collaborated with the Weeknd, Drake, Young Thug and Migos. Scott even has his own record label, Cactus Jack Records, as well as his own concert festival, Astroworld Festival.  

Scott’s imprint on contemporary music is insane. Even in his early days, he was generating buzz. In 2013, he made it on XXL's Freshman List after the release of his 2013 debut mixtape, “Owl Pharaoh.” Since then, his success has skyrocketed. His three solo albums have been certified platinum — one million plus sales — platinum and triple platinum, respectively. That list does not include his joint projects with Quavo or his label-mates, which fared exceptionally well commercially and are adored by Scott’s rabid fanbase.

I place emphasis on “rabid” because his fans are intense. This is because they are a product of Scott’s extremely chaotic stage antics. He is very much a pioneer of rage culture, which encourages “raging,” or in other words, acting unhinged and borderline dangerous to yourself and those around you while at concerts. A 2015 GQ article on “How To Rage With Travis Scott” joked that “crowd surfing, moshing, sweat, blood, [and] vomit” are just commonplace at a Travis Scott concert.  

Moreover, on multiple occasions, it is no question who is to blame for inciting dangerous behavior. In 2015, Scott was arrested for inciting a riot when he ordered his fans to scale security barriers, calling them “ragers.” In 2017, Scott encouraged a fan to jump from a second floor balcony at a concert, saying, “I see you, but are you gonna do it?” He also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after a 2018 concert in Arkansas.

Even surges in the crowd similar to the Nov. 5 tragedy have occurred in the past.  Vulture reports that “in 2019, during the second Astroworld festival, hundreds of people rushed metal barricades to break into the event. Three people were hospitalized with minor leg injuries from trampling.” During the 2021 Astroworld Festival, fans stampeded through the VIP security checkpoint. It is evident that Scott’s concerts have been a safety risk for some time. He has encouraged extreme behavior that has been adopted by fans, to the point where now they will bypass security and cause stampedes.  

So who exactly is to blame? It’s complicated.

At 9:30 p.m., the police reported seeing people “going down” and fire officials declared a “mass-casualty incident.”  A mass-casualty incident is when emergency medical services resources are overwhelmed by the number and severity of casualties. Despite the declaration being made, the performance was not canceled until 40 minutes later. 

According to Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner, the delay was because fire department officials and venue officials were deliberating. “You cannot just close when you’ve got 50,000 … individuals … We have to worry about rioting,” Finner said.

However, Travis Scott’s lawyer, Ed McPherson, noted that Houston police quickly terminated the 2019 Astroworld performances when they went past curfew by five minutes. “They certainly could have done that if they wanted to,” McPherson said. 

Live Nation, the event promoter that orchestrated Astroworld, is connected to approximately 200 deaths and at least 750 injuries dating back to 2006. The promoters were cited for 10 Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations between 2016 and 2019 and have accrued multiple fines, minor violations and even lawsuits. Their unflattering record has only worsened, as many lawsuits have been levied against them from the Astroworld tragedy and more complaints continue to arise. For example, the Astroworld medical staff was small in size and ill-prepared. There was only one AED machine, which is used when someone goes into cardiac arrest, and of the approximately four medics, one did not know CPR.

Moreover, in the 56-page security and energy response plan, there were no explicit ways to manage Scott’s raucous fans. Though it does state how to respond to bomb threats, tornadoes and extreme heat, there was a glaring neglect of Scott’s fans as a possible source of disaster. In fact, the plan failed to adequately address crowd rush, mosh pits or emergency response, writing, "In any situation where large groups of people are gathering there is the potential for a civil disturbance/riot that can present a grave risk to the safety and security of employees and guests.”

How do they respond to acts of this nature? Well, the document recommends the following course of action — “The key in properly dealing with this type of scenario is proper management of the crowd from the minute the doors open.” Security breaches are certainly not in accordance with the protocol. 

But this adds another culprit to the mix. You can point to higher-ups, but who did the pushing? Fans did. However, this situation is far more nuanced than it sounds. Fans were disruptive from the festival’s conception. Freelance photographer Amy Harris described the fans as “aggressive” and the event as “definitely the most chaotic festival environment that I’ve been in.”  

Finner even approached Scott before the performance to discuss his unease about the rowdy crowd. After the stampede when ambulances were called, some attendees obstructed security vehicles from getting through, with some concertgoers climbing and dancing on them. Of course, the actions of a few can not be generalized. In fact, many fans tried to yell to Scott and security officials that there was danger in the crowd.

Which brings us to Scott himself. Houston Chronicle music critic Joey Guerra said that “[Scott] did stop the show … three or four times when he noticed people in distress.” Further, he directed security to help those in distress. While the fingers pointing at Scott may seem to be unwarranted, he can laterally be held culpable, as his actions in the past have fostered downright lethal behavior among his devout fans.

The police could have done something, but maybe they couldn’t have. Live Nation is certainly culpable, but who is regulating them? Are they responsible for rowdy fans? To that end, some inexcusable fan behavior occurred, but for the most part, they were completely helpless.  Migrations towards the stage are natural at any concert — everyone wants to be closer to the performer. Scott and his rage identity have received harsh criticism, but on this occasion, he tried to help … but he also kept performing. The conclusion? It is still very complicated.

But what is not complicated is that practices within the concert industry must change. The fact that Live Nation has been connected to so much misconduct while still being put in charge of Astroworld Festival speaks to the bigger problem. Concert safety is simply not treated the way it should be, and it is a tragedy that 10 people had to die for this to become apparent. Rest in peace to them, and many condolences to their loved ones.