As a lifelong music nerd and frequent concert-goer, I feel like we need to talk about Astroworld a little.
The tragedy last weekend in Houston was horrific, appalling, and worst of all, entirely avoidable. A crowd surge during headliner Travis Scott's set left at least eight dead and scores injured. As such, people are eager to point blame. We naturally want someone to hate and accuse and focus our outrage toward. The answers might not be so simple.
Investigators are trying to piece together how such a tragedy could've occurred. We may never have the complete answers. But let's look at how things unfolded from a few different perspectives.
Many folks lay the blame squarely on Travis Scott himself. I'm not saying Travis Scott is without fault here. After all, this was HIS festival. He shares culpability. But I don't think he was ignoring the pleas of the dying or hosting a Satanic ritual at an suburban theme park.
Travis Scott's shows and his crowds can get rough. He encourages his audience to "rage out" and he's gotten in trouble before for egging crowds to get unruly.
That said, from the clips I've seen, I don't think he knew how bad things were getting. There's an awful video someone shot of Scott on a riser, kicking off another song while EMTs below him are performing CPR on hapless victims and the crowd chants "stop the show." It's horrible to watch, and definitely makes it look like Scott doesn't care about the crowd.
But if you watch that video closely (and you shouldn't, it's stomach-wrenching,) you can see Scott wearing noise-cancelling ear monitors — it's doubtful he could hear those chants. He also had a stage spotlight in his face, so he probably couldn't see much, either. That crowd was 50,000 deep — it'd be tough to make out events in there even without a blinding light in your eyes.
On three occasions that night, he stopped the show and signaled for security when he saw someone in distress. And what if he had stopped the show altogether? Just because an artist walks offstage doesn't mean 50,000 idiots will peacefully disperse. When Guns n' Roses famously cut a show short in St. Louis, it ended up causing a riot and millions in property damage. Idiots sardined together are still going to be idiots, music or no.
Was the staff to blame? There's a video of a girl pleading with a cameraman to stop the show while he seemingly ignores her. But that cameraman isn't a concert organizer. He probably works for Apple Music. At best, the only person he reports to is a TV producer in a van somewhere with no control over the concert flow. Being mad that he didn't stop the show would be like blaming a hot dog vendor.
That leaves the organizers, and you'd better believe they're going to be held responsible. Despite having over 500 police and 700 security guards onsite, there was an utter lack of crowd control at Astroworld. Fences were breached and hundreds of people snuck in. It was over-capacity, over-crowded, and there was nothing to stop the crowd from surging.
But if you're truly looking for someone to blame, it's the crowd themselves. In this case, many were drunken idiots desperately trying to shove their way to the front when there was simply no room. When EMTs and ambulances tried to respond, people started dancing on top of them. Sometimes people just suck.
Maybe festival concerts with general admission need to go the way of the dodo. They can get really scary. I've never been in an incident like Astroworld, but I've been in a couple crowd surges and they're terrifying. At the very first Lollapalooza, I got into a surge when Jane's Addiction took the stage and I traveled about forty yards without my feet touching the ground. I've been front row at shows where I've worn criss-cross bruising on my chest for the next week from the fence I was shoved against.
Open festivals like Astroworld should be split into different sections where crowd control and capacity can be better policed. You can't trust people to NOT be stupid. Sure, Travis Scott's aggression didn't help matters, but he's far from the only artist who incites their crowds to freak out. Aggressive bands play live all the time without incident.
I love concerts. There's nothing like the excitement and passion of live music. But you shouldn't put your life in jeopardy just by attending. Instead of throwing around blame before the investigation concludes, maybe we should instead mourn the victims and focus on ways to improve safety to ensure live concerts are the magical and transformative experiences I've known them to be.
We owe it to ourselves. Life can occasionally be terrible, but it always needs a good soundtrack.