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Op-Ed: What Went Wrong At Astroworld Festival?

A breakdown of what went wrong at the Astroworld Festival 2021 in Houston, based on footage, interviews, reports and other sources regarding the event.
Travis Scott Governors Ball 2018

Travis Scott at Governors Ball 2018

Tragic events happened at Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival on November, 8th where ten people died and hundreds were injured due to a crowd surge and trampling. As the investigation continues, more information with details of what happened on this day and how it led to the fatalities appears. While authorities try to find it out, it is time for the music and event industry to not just sit and watch, but learn and take immediate actions to prevent such outcomes in the future. Therefore, here is the breakdown of what went wrong at the Astroworld Festival, based on footage, interviews, reports and other sources regarding the event.

Unprofessionalism & Lack Of Security

According to the footage of those who were present at the festival, at least two main areas before the start of the event (entry point and security checkpoint), which should have been guarded the most, didn’t have enough security support to prevent the breakage of the running crowd. The apogee of the situation should have been the security checkpoint since the safety of the attendees couldn’t be assured and provided anymore (as the video shows, people weren’t checked for prohibited items such as drugs, guns and other substances / materials that can harm others), but “the show” went on. 

As the crowd moved to the festival area, videos were filmed in the merchandise area and showed nothing that wasn’t seen before - lack of security and the crowd rushing and jumping through the barricades. It happened at 9 AM, while according to the Astroworld Festival’s FAQ officially the doors had to open at 1 PM.

Jumping to the point when the main crowd surge and trampling happened (Travis Scott’s performance), a lot of people were found unconscious in the crowd and needed to be transported to a medical tent or straight to a hospital. As it can be seen in the video provided by TMZ, while the police crew was trying to move an unconscious woman through the barricades, they failed to do completely safely, which led to her falling and injuring her head. Around a week later, the victim, 22-year-old Bharti Shahani passed away, not showing any brain activity shortly after the incident. 

The attendee of the festival, 24-year-old Advanced Emergency Medical Technician, Max Morbidelli, who initially tried to save Bharti, explained to Los Angeles Times, “Usually, there’s someone who’s at the head of the patient coordinating the lifting and transport. There was none of that. They balanced her on the barricade. But there was some miscommunication between the people at the head of the backboard and the people at the feet of the board, and the patient fell. It was like slow motion. I watched her fall and hit the ground. I just fell to my knees and started crying. Dropping her like that was an act of pure negligence. That is the worst thing that can happen to anyone in the emergency medical field.”

In addition, when “a surprise guest,” Drake, came out at the stage to Travis, the footage (4th slide) portrays the police crew member standing next to the stage and taking video of the event. The track “Way 2 Sexy” playing in the background of the video was 23rd of 25 in the setlist, which means that it's been at least more than 20 minutes since the authorities announced “mass casualty event” because Travis kept performing for 40 minutes more after that, as Houston Chronicle reported. Were the police crew notified about that and decided to ignore it or they simply didn’t get any radio message - stays unknown. 

Negligence Of On-Site Crews

When the crowd broke through the security checkpoint, it was obvious that the staff were not able to stop it and needed more help. However, according to the video, instead of reporting the situation and asking to send more units or postpone the festival to clear the area, one of the staff members was just doing footpegs. It wouldn’t stop the crowd but could significantly harm running people, most of which were doing it just because of panic and “herd feeling,” with no malicious intention to actually break any rules.

Later, at Travis Scott’s performance, one of the attendees, Seanna, who experienced the deadly crowd surge herself and explained horrific details in her Instagram post, thankfully was able to get out of there to seek help. When Seanna approached the camera man, who allegedly was responsible for the livestream at Apple Music, he didn’t listen. This moment was recorded in the video and also shows that one more person tried to climb at the stand after Seanna, saying the same thing, “Stop the show, there is someone dead in there.” 

As Seanna wrote in her Instagram, she had to push the camera in the direction where conscious and unconscious people were laying on each other in the crowd so the camera man would finally see it himself and start paying attention. Instead, he got angry and asked security to deal with her. When a security member approached Seanna to escort her from the platform, she tried to explain to him that people needed help, but all she heard in return was that if she didn’t leave, he would push her off the 15ft platform. No one listened to her.

It is important to mention, Seanna was contacted by the camera man’s wife via social media to say that eventually he asked for help and sent her those two medics who she met later. However, it wasn’t enough.

Lack Of Medics & Medical Unprofessionalism

Going back to the story of Bharti Shahani, who died after the Astroworld festival due to a number of critical injuries, Los Angeles Times interviewed Max Morbidelly, who was trying to help Bharti in the crowd. 

Morbidelly shared his observations regarding two medical staff members who came to him to help Bharti, “It was very obvious that he [one of the medics] was inexperienced at CPR. He was doing it very shallow and way too fast. One of the bystanders even told him to slow down. Once that happened, the medic yelled to see who knew CPR. And I stepped in and took over again. I wasn’t sure what their plan was, so I just snapped. I yelled to one of the medics to get ready to put her on the backboard, so she was ready to be moved and we were not wasting any time. We rolled her onto her left side, pushed the backboard under her and rolled her on. And that’s when I realized the backboard had no straps. I was shocked.”

On the other hand, one member of the medical staff at Astroworld Festival, shared his story on TikTok, saying that there was a group of around 100-150 medics for official ~50,000 people (however, the medical plan for the festival estimated 70,000, according to Los Angeles Times). Eventually, medics, which were supposed to work in pairs, had to split up to help people because there were not enough hands to help countless amounts of people.

Lack of age restriction

According to the Astroworld Festival FAQ page, nothing was specified about age restriction - the question “Can I bring my kids?” is answered “All patrons must have a ticket to enter the festival,” which means that patrons younger than 16 or 14 years old could enter the festival without parental support. Age restriction policy (18+ or 21+) is needed when there is an involvement of alcohol and explicit content (which Travis does have in his music). Additionally, beginning at age of 18, a person is legally allowed to make its own decisions without parental consent. Age restriction save teenagers and kids from being hurt, as it happened at the Astroworld Festival. Ezra Blount, 9-year-old victim of the festival, who passed away a week later, came with his parent to see Travis Scott’s show and even sitting at his fathers shoulders didn’t save him from being injured. 

Poor Stage Design & Crowd Management

The Washington Post investigation, which includes dozens of reviewed videos and interviews with three crowd experts, came to a conclusion that the festival had poor stage and crowd design. It found out that at least seven people out of the 10 died in the same area. The organizers were not able to cut the flow of people walking from one stage to another with the design of the pit they’ve made. Moreover, the area where most people walked to from the first stage, wasn’t big and spacious enough for people to stand. As it says in the article, the area where most of the victims passed away, had less than 1.5 square feet per person to stand.

Astroworld Stage Design

Astroworld Stage Design

Professor Keith Still, who specializes in crowd safety and crowd risk analysis, confirmed the verdict, “In general, that’s not a safe design because you can’t regulate the number of people who are in a high-pressure area.”

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Seven victims were in the area which was more overcrowded than any other side and surrounded with the barricades, therefore they simply couldn’t escape.

“Rage” Culture / Irresponsible Crowd

It is not new that Travis Scott was known for encouraging fans to rage at his shows, as can be found in footage and various stories since 2015. According to Rolling Stone, Travis was arrested after his performance at Lollapalooza in 2015 for provoking a riot, asking his fans to climb the barricades and storm the stage. As it can be heard in the video, Travis said to the security staff in green shirts to “get the fuck back,” telling fans, “middle finger up to the security right now.” Apart from that, he was saying to his fans that he wants “chaos” and “nobody is gonna stop” them to storm the stage.

Two years later, in 2017, Travis was filmed on camera at his show in Manhattan, encouraging his fan, who already climbed over the railing, to jump off the balcony, saying, “I see you but are you gonna do it? They gonna catch you. Don’t be scared.” After that, the fan jumped. It is not known if he got any injuries. However, the story doesn’t stop at this moment. According to Rolling Stone, later at the same show, Kyle Green was pushed from the same balcony due to “severely crowded” space and “out-of-control” events. Kyle became half-paralyzed.

A few weeks after the incident, as Billboard reported, Travis was arrested for inciting a riot at his show in Arkansas. The video shows that the rapper started encouraging his fans from sitting areas to rush the stage and come to the pit, saying to security to let them go. Eventually, as TMZLive explained, several people got injured, including one member of the security staff.

Based on all the situations mentioned above, it is clear that Travis Scott’s fans do support the “rage” culture and take it seriously, and it wasn’t different at the Astroworld Festival. The footage from the event shows that some fans were climbing on the ambulance car while it was trying to get into the crowd to help and transport injured people. 

Moreover, a member of the medical team at the festival shared his story on TikTok, saying that while he was moving in the pit, someone from the crowd pointed out to him a lying body, which was on the floor for around 10 minutes and no one checked if this person breathed. From the medics point of view it seemed like the crowd didn’t pay enough attention to people around and kept irresponsibly pushing closer to the stage. Clearly, the rage culture went completely out of control.

Miscommunication

When the first lethal cases got confirmed, Travis Scott was notified by a crew member at the stage that the show needed to be stopped earlier than it was planned. The video shows this moment and portrays the rapper saying, “Who told me to stop? Who told me to stop?” and continued performing. As Houston Chronicle reported later, Travis kept performing for 37 minutes after authorities declared a “mass casualty event.” It is not confirmed if Travis Scott got a proper explanation about fatalities and how serious the situation was. 

Lack of Proactiveness

Last but not least, it doesn’t seem like the event was thought through well enough, as it’s shown released security plans for the festival. According to NPR, the security plan had instructions for everything and anything, including earthquakes, storms and other weather cataclysms, but not even a definition of what is a “crowd surge,” “moshing” or “stage diving” and how dangerous it can be. It only mentions “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. The key in properly dealing with this type of scenario is proper management of the crowd from the minute the doors open.” 

However, it is not the first time Astroworld has seen the crowd surge and trampling - according to XXL, three people were trampled and hospitalized after fans rushed gates at the festival in 2019. Moreover, as The Washington Post reported, the organizers provided plans for the festival to the city in less than a week before the event, which made the city authorities rush to review as soon as possible to make the show happen.

On the other note, the history of Travis Scott’s way of entertaining people with rage culture and involving injuries were known for years, but it wasn’t taken into consideration during planning of the festival to avoid the tragedy that eventually happened.

This time at the festival, when the security checkpoint was stormed by the crowd and there was no way to normalize it (which broke all normal protocols), instead of clearing the area, the organizers decided to proceed with the situation even though no attendees should have been present at the territory for four more hours. Quite the same situation happened when the city authorities announced a “mass casualty event." Instead of stopping the concert and not asking Travis Scott (by turning off microphones, lights and etc.) about it, the show continued for 37 minutes.

Astroworld Festival took away the lives of ten people and injured hundreds of others. Currently, there are 275 filed lawsuits and 1,250 people involved to sue Travis Scott, Drake, Live Nation, NRG Stadium and Apple Music.

Some of the major festivals already take something away from the tragedy. For instance, Rolling Loud has announced its new age restriction for the upcoming festival in Southern California on Dec 10 - 12, 2021.

To sum up, if the tragedy cannot be changed, then it should be a lesson for everyone in the music and event industry, as well as for those who love to attend shows. Irresponsible behavior cannot be considered as an option at any type of event, which includes a gathering of people, especially thousands of them. Music festivals are a place of joy and happiness and no one must feel unsafe there. 

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