As the concert world has cautiously returned from 18 months of pandemic lockdown, festivals have been a major force in that comeback, both for fans and promoters. Yet the tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival at Houston’s NRG Park, which left at least eight people dead — including a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old — and more than 300 injured as fans rushed toward the stage during Scott’s headlining performance, showed just how quickly disaster can occur.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Astroworld promoter Live Nation have pledged to conduct a full investigation. Multiple reports from attendees allege that security and emergency workers were difficult to find and at times unresponsive during the chaotic scene in the city’s NRG Park.
Scott said Saturday he’s “absolutely devastated” and has vowed to cooperate with Houston police as they investigate the tragic circumstances that left fans gasping for breath and unconscious because of extreme overcrowding.
The chain of events that led to Friday’s tragedy was unclear in the hours immediately following it, multiple accounts claim that the crowd was already rambunctious, with many concertgoers seemingly inebriated.
However, it is important to note that in any dense crowd — let alone an amped-up, 50,000-strong hip-hop audience with loud music playing — it is extremely difficult to get a read on the wider situation. It should also be noted that although Scott concerts are famously rowdy, previous Astroworld festivals — and two Rolling Loud festivals headlined by Scott in recent months — were staged with no major incidents.
Widespread rumors and accounts of the scene collected by Variety and other inside sources include speculation that some form of spiked drugs may have caused some of the 11 cardiac arrests that officials said took place at the festival; authorities have declined to speculate on those rumors, citing the need to conduct a formal investigation has taken place.
The details on the causes of death and the causes of the cardiac arrests are still unclear.
On Friday, attendees said warning signs were present as early as 11 a.m., when Travis Scott superfans ran up to the front of the stage specially constructed for his set and dubbed “Utopia Mountain.” The stans who gathered knew they were in for a full day of waiting, since Scott’s set was scheduled for 8:45 p.m., and it’s likely that some may have grown dehydrated, according to sources on the ground.
Neema Djavadzadeh, told the New York Times that Friday’s event as “really hectic from the beginning.”
“I got there around 3 and saw people already struggling to stand straight,” she told the Times on Saturday. “There was a lot of mob mentality going on, people willing to do whatever to be in line for merch, food, shows, you name it. A lot of fights broke out throughout the day.”
Madeline Eskins, an attendee and an ICU nurse, told Rolling Stone, “It was definitely overcrowded. It was insane, honestly. I knew it was just way too crowded – it just got worse and worse as I got closer to Travis Scott performing it got more crowded, more crowded, more crowded.”
Like many festivals, Astroworld had two stages — which ordinarily spreads out the audience to avoid crowding — named Chills and Thrills. However, there was no performer on the Chills stage immediately before or during Scott’s headlining set. In fact, it appears the stage was erected solely for Scott’s performance.
“People began pushing toward [Scott’s] stage at least two hours before it started,” Variety staffer Emanuel Okusanya, who was at the festival, said on Saturday. Later, a countdown clock started counting down the minutes until Scott’s set would begin — causing the crowd to surge forward.
“That’s when it really started to get crazy,” he said.
“It was a mess,” an insider working the show tells Variety, adding that as Scott encouraged the audience to “rage,” things took a dark turn.
When his headlining set began, “all these moshpits opened up and it caused a domino effect,” Okusanya said. “It got really crowded and people were falling — and about two or three songs in, it started to get violent. We were in the middle of the [field] and there was no room to move.”
“It was like hell,” concertgoer Nick Johnson, 17, told the New York Times. “Everybody was just in the back, trying to rush to the front.”
Shareen Memon, 25, who attended the show, told the Houston Chronicle, “So many people were just pushing against the barrier. Everything was calm until Travis came out — it went crazy. At one point you couldn’t even breathe and that’s when I knew. As soon as that song ‘Highest in the Room’ was over that’s when we started going out. Even when we were trying to get out people weren’t letting us go past them.”
What is clear, however, is that multiple pleas by concertgoers to help people who had fallen — whether due to substance abuse or the surging crowd or both — often went unheard or disregarded.
Video widely shared online shows some festival-goers climbing onto the platforms where camera crews were filming Scott’s set — which streamed live on Apple Music — and pleaded with the crew to communicate that the show needed to be stopped; the camera crews did not respond, and fans even mocked the people pleading for help.
Scott paused the show and asked for calm on several occasions — and even noted that an ambulance was in the crowd. While video shows him speaking with staffers during the set, presumably about the uproar in the crowd, he continued with the set.
In one video posted online, Scott is seen telling the the crowd, “I want to see some rages. Who want to rage?” But shortly after, he says “There’s an ambulance in the crowd, whoa, whoa, whoa.”
In such situations it is difficult for a performer to know precisely the right thing to do, because any sign of panic is likely to upset the crowd even more. It is also difficult to see what is happening in a festival crowd from the stage, as the lights obscure vision and all one can see is a throng of people.
“Travis Scott, he took pauses to point at the crowd to say, like, ‘Go help them — they’re passed out,’ ” concertgoer Angel Rodriguez told the New York Times. “He did it like three times. He pointed to the area where it was and said for everybody in the area to go help them and bring them to the front.”
However, other fans posted video of Scott seeming to stare at an unresponsive person being passed over the heads of the crowd as he continued to perform.
Cries for assistance continued, and even a crowd chant of “Stop! Stop! Stop!”
“There was nowhere for people to go,” concertgoer Eric Adams told the Houston Chronicle, “Just below us, lifeless bodies were being flung over railings and people were pinned up against it. Trapped against it. Trying to get over it,” he said. “It was just horrifying, devastating to watch all the carnage below.”
Okusanya said, “The entire floor of the stadium was jammed with people, it took us more than an hour to get out. A lot of people seemed to be on drugs or something. you’d try to get past them and they just wouldn’t move.”
He said that a large crowd of people who had gathered near the entrance to the event in the afternoon and may have tried to force their way in without having tickets, which could have contributed to a bottleneck near the entrances. Video posted online shows people appearing to rush in during the afternoon, and more had gathered later in the day, according to witnesses.
Barricade crashers also made their way into the VIP area. Some were crushed by the swell of people behind them.
Scott was clearly in communication with event staff during his set, and ended it after about 75 minutes — 10:05 p.m. local time — around 25 minutes earlier than scheduled. It ended with Scott waving to the crowd and jogging offstage as he said, “I love y’all. Make it home safe. Good niiiiiiight!”