The Fate of Festivals in Light of Astroworld

During the insurgence of positive COVID-19 cases, major festivals were put on hold as health officials grappled with the breadth of the virus. Almost immediately, it became apparent that it would be a major health concern to continue hosting large events during the pandemic. One by one, the concert business began to announce cancellations until further notice.

As the world opened up, many festival promotion companies began relying heavily on large outdoor events to rebuild business. This reliance has proven to be successful as a number of major festivals are selling out in record time and ticket sales have increased 10% from 2019. Certainly, people are eager to gather once again after a year of restrictions, but the wave of festivals invites questions around whether there are adequate safety systems in place.

In the wake of the tragedy at Travis Scott’s sold out Astroworld festival in Houston, Texas, promoters must ask what can be done to avoid another incident like this. One lawsuit describes Astroworld as one of the “deadliest crowd-control disasters at a concert in the United States in decades.” With almost 50,000 people in attendance, Astroworld was tightly packed with fans eager to see their favorite performers. As Scott made his way to the stage, a countdown began and the crowd began to push towards the stage, trapping many people to the point where attendees found it hard to breathe, difficult to move their hands, and impossible to escape. Many attendees suffered cardiac arrest from the stampede and had to be “crowd surfed” to safety. The concert ended in tragedy with nine dead, about 300 people treated for injuries, and 11 hospitalized for cardiac arrest.

Live Nation believes that an occurrence like Astroworld is rare enough that it will likely not adversely affect the festival business at large. However, for a tragedy like this to have taken place, something had to have gone wrong in a fundamental way. Live Nation believes that the demand for festivals will continue to grow even though they saw their share price fall by over 5% on November 8, a few days after Astroworld. Nevertheless, even if Live Nation is unconcerned about their future profits, a larger question remains surrounding where Astroworld promoters went wrong. Many are rightly calling the tragedy “preventable and predictable,” which prompts the question of what the concert business can learn from Astroworld.  Furthermore, while numerous lawsuits have been filed against Scott and Live Nation, we need to assess the role that Travis Scott’s rage culture played in the tragedy.

Assessing where Astroworld went wrong is the first step to moving forward. It is apparent that Astroworld’s problem was not overcrowding because other similar events like Outside Lands, which attracted a crowd of 75,000 concertgoers on the first day, did not see any fatal casualties. The problem appears to have resulted from inadequately trained security detail and a flawed festival design.

Astroworld’s security details included 528 Houston police officers and 755 private security officers provided by Live Nation. While Astroworld’s quantity of security appeared sufficient, these individuals were severely under-trained to administer effective crowd control. Video footage reveals a security officer pushing a festival attendee over a barricade in a manner that could have resulted in broken bones. Additional video footage reveals ticket-less attendees breaking down a metal fence to get past security. Higher quality security officers could have factored in mitigating the safety concerns that resulted in the casualties.

Furthermore, most major festivals are designed to provide barricades to separate attendees and avoid suffocating crowds, but Live Nation did not include this safety measure for Astroworld revealing a lack of adequate preparation for the crowd. The order of the show also made it very easy for the crowds to anticipate when the main headliner, Travis Scott, was preparing to go on using a countdown clock, which inadvertently encouraged many to push towards him and crush attendees that were already closer to the stage. The insurgence of live festivals means a heightened need for preparation. This includes safety concerns and smart festival design to avoid mass crowding— Live Nation failed to provide both.

While the tragedies that occurred at Astroworld were preventable and it’s likely that this was not solely a Travis Scott specific problem, it’s imperative to also acknowledge how Scott’s encouragement of rage culture influenced the events. Vulture quotes an attorney who stated that “Travis Scott has a history of inciting violence and creating dangerous conditions for concertgoers” citing an incident during Lollapalooza in 2015 where Scott “start[ed] a chant of, “We want rage!” which led to his show being cut short. HipHopDX editor-in-chief Trent Clark stated, “[Scott’s] whole aesthetic is about rebellion.” Scott himself is quoted on Twitter encouraging fans to sneak into Astroworld where he also expressed his desire to “[sneak] the wild ones in.” These tweets have since been deleted.

There is no doubt that Scott’s encouragement of rage, culture, and chaos had an influence on the events that unfolded, but we must be careful about the media carelessly creating a narrative portraying black men as violent thugs without objectively considering the role of Live Nation. Scott’s attorney shared that, “Travis didn’t really understand the full effect of everything until the next morning. Truly, he did not know what was going on.” We have to take this into consideration and take a neutral, solutions-based approach in response to these events. With the resurgence of festivals, the concert business must respond with better safety protocols to prevent what happened at Astroworld.