On Friday, Nov. 5, at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston, a crowd rush kickstarted a struggle that became a tragedy. In a crammed audience of around 50,000 attendees, momentum led to collapse, air loss and trampling, resulting in nine deaths, one of the fallen as young as 14 years old. Hundreds more were injured at the Live Nation event, spurring a sea of social media tell-alls and hate speeches, with Twitter being the most violent and vocal platform.
Tragically, it looks like Woodstock ’99 isn’t a rarity in terms of unmanaged music festival failures. In an earlier article, The Statesman discussed the evolution of music festivals, which included their tendency towards violence, injury and casualty because of poor management and organization. The tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston on Friday, Nov. 5 has opened the wound that Coachella attempted to sew shut, and re-exposed the incredibly dangerous consequences of a festival gone sour.
The backlash to the incident has been vicious, with many hoping no amount of Kylie Jenner clout or funding can save Scott from the predicament. Blame has been placed primarily on Scott, as well as the show’s management team, who allowed the concert to continue until 10:15 p.m., a full 37 minutes after the event had been declared a “mass casualty event” by Houston police.
As the tragedy continues to unfold, video accounts of both Scott and other artists during precarious situations at performances have surfaced, only adding fuel to the fire. Many artists — such as Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington when his fans were falling in the mosh pit, Adele when a fan fainted far up in the stands and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain when a fan was getting physical — have had no trouble stopping shows to ensure the safety of their patrons. Video evidence of these incidents is circulating in the wake of Scott’s apparent failures as a performer, further emphasizing the fact that performances are meant to be enjoyable for the fans. Astroworld was anything but.
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Perhaps most damning is the video of Scott stopping an entire concert to curse at a fan for attempting to steal his shoe, leaving many unclear why he didn’t stop the concert when his fans were dying in the pit. It gives off the incriminating odor of narcissism, which does nothing to defend the rapper’s case. However, the rapper has offered full refunds of Astroworld tickets, as well as covered the funeral costs of those who tragically died because of the crowd surge.
The tragedy raises various important questions regarding the ethics of the music industry. Will fans forget the horrific event by the time a new Scott single drops? Will we forget the disaster when a new festival rolls around, just as it was with the original Woodstock festival? Can fans of the artist still listen to Scott’s work without feeling intense guilt over the situation? Should they? And most importantly, who can we truly blame?
The music business is fickle, and music festivals are no exception.
The Astroworld tragedy will probably leave a stain on Scott’s career, and if not forever, at least for a while. The idea that so many injuries and casualties could slip through the cracks — with both the rapper and the management team offering no help — feels absurd and makes fans feel unseen. Scott’s team has provided videos from the event cameras to police which showcase audience members screaming for help, thus showing they were aware of the hysteria, yet continued to allow Scott to perform. The event reeks of past Woodstocks, where the desperate deathbed pleas of fans went unheard in favor of profit. If we continue to perpetuate the dangerous nature of music festivals, tragic history will only continue to repeat itself.
It is crucial that we take Astroworld not only as a learning experience but as a warning.
The tragedy of Astroworld is one that could have been avoided, and without forcing those running the show to learn from them, we will only backpedal. The essence of music festivals needs to change.
We cannot continue to allow what is supposed to be a wholesome celebration of an artist’s work to devolve into mass chaos. It is impossible to appreciate anything when you are choking on your own breath in a mosh pit. In order to change the way we view and experience music festivals, we must change the way they are managed, and that change must start now.