After the tragic events from this weekend’s Astroworld Festival, concert safety is on the minds of many, including your OC Music News staff. Issues with crowds at concerts are not a new thing, but this weekend is opening discussions about safety and will change live shows forever.
The Astroworld Festival in Houston was cut short Friday night after eight fans died and hundreds were tended to by medical staff with significant injuries. Especially tragic is the ages of the deceased range from 14 to 27 and a nine year old was badly hurt. But what happened? Was it due to a crowd surge by the 50,000 person audience? Could the promoters have handled things differently? Did they take short cuts in regards to security barriers and having sufficient staff? What was Travis Scott’s role as the performer on the main stage at the time?
The OC Music News staff has been “in” the music industry for decades and collectively have been to hundreds, or even thousands, of shows. We’ve seen everything from newly-signed bands playing a club for three people, standard 1,000 person venues, stadium shows for 80,000, and multi-day festivals with 100,000 concertgoers. Over the years, we have seen protocols change, including things we never dreamed would be an issue like active shooter incidents and COVID safety.
We have all at some point been to or seen knuckleheads who jump into a mosh pit and start wailing away on other people as if that was expected to be part of the concert experience we are all supposed to be OK with. Out of the thousands of shows, we have also experienced our own concerning crowd issues.
Traci Turner (Editor / Columnist): At Lollapalooza in 1993, it was my first time going into the pit. I was interning at KROQ and had to pass out stickers, so I was just wandering around. I happened to be in the pit when Rage Against the Machine took the stage and the crowd went insane! Realizing I was not prepared for this, I turned back to head out and promptly got punched in the face. Thankfully it did not do damage (I’m sure it was just an enthusiastic fan), and I was able to get to safety, but since then, I’ve avoided the pit whenever possible. Even though I avoid the pit, at some shows and festivals I’ve had to move through large crowds, and I’ve been groped more times than I can even tell you. Plus, if you are giving away free things, people will swarm you and you quickly get overwhelmed. There is something so terrifying about being trapped in a large crowd, yet unable to get out and get people’s hands off you. Not to be too deep and serious about it, but I still have regular nightmares about being stuck in a crowd with multiple people’s hands on me and trying to escape.
Rachael Contreras (Editor / Columnist): About six years ago I thought I was going to die at a concert. I was in the second row and once the pit opened up, everyone tried to move away from it and pressed forward. It was so tight you couldn’t put your arms up if they were down or down if they were up. A huge guy behind me was trying to secure himself on the barricade in front of me and was squishing everyone in front of him. He was stabbing me in the neck with his elbow while he thrashed around enjoying the music, but I thought he was going to crush my jugular and I was going to die. I had to wait until between songs and scream my way through the crowd and mosh pit to be able to get to the next level of stairs where people were standing like regular humans instead of wild animals. It was horrible and I’m never standing in front of any concert ever again for that specific reason. I see so many photos of concerts where it is set up like this and have seen it where no one does anything – not the band, not security, nothing!
Jimmy Alvarez (Editor-in-Chief): I think that managing a large concert is one of the most difficult things to do. I like to think I am an experienced concertgoer, and with all the things that have happened at events over the past few years one would think I’ve seen it all and I could never get caught up in some weird event. Sadly, that is not my reality. Several years ago, I was at a multiple-stage festival here in Orange County. I thought I surveyed my surroundings well enough. I was in the corner at the front right by the photographer’s barrier. The other stage was still going on so there were only a few people by me. I was checking my phone and lost track of time, and next thing you know… I was engulfed by a large crowd that was surrounding me, I was cornered… I had nowhere to go. Then, the band came out and started their first song. Within seconds there were about 3,000 people behind me and the crowd immediately became fully engaged. It only took a millisecond before the crowd surge happened. It was weird, it wasn’t from back-to-front as you would think, it was from side-to-side. I was freaked out because as the crowd swayed to the left, I could just catch my breath. But when it swayed back to the right, I felt the weight of the world and an inability to breathe that gave me a feeling that I have never experienced before. It was a fear that this might be how it ends for me. I was barely able to keep standing with the weight of the crowd crushing. As I began to lose consciousness, I started to have what I thought was an outer body experience. I thought to myself… wow, this really does happen, you really do see yourself floating over your body as it ends. Then, I started to regain my ability to breath and I got a glimpse of a young guy with tattoos and a mohawk (he was clearly a punk rocker). He must have been around 6 foot 10 and weighed about 300 pounds. I think he saw me taking my last gasp of air and knew I was in serious trouble. He grabbed me by my shoulders and lifted me out of that corner and threw me over the crowd barrier like a rag doll into the photographer’s area, head first. I ate a face full of concrete and remembered a photographer asking me if I was, OK. I didn’t see that guy again, never knew his name, but he saved my life. I will always be thankful he was there at that show and at a time I needed someone to help me. When I saw the news clips of what happened at Astroworld and those poor people, it took me back to this moment in time.
What does this all mean? It means no matter who you are, something like this could happen to anyone. Compared to what happened this past weekend, our encounters pale in comparison. We have to look forward and allow those who lost loved ones to grieve while we all take some type of accountability too in any way we can. Even if those changes will be inconvenient, it will be a small price to pay. This was a life changing event, not just for those who attended, but also for those who heard the news. It’s hard to put ourselves in those shoes, so the best we can do is make sure everyone who is accountable is just that, and honor the changes made.
THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN HANDLED
All weekend, the internet has been flooded with other bands’ reactions to crowd issues; from Nirvana to Green Day to Adele. With everyone owning a smartphone now, we can see the events happen. Dave Grohl kicking a violent fan out of a Foo Fighters show. Harry Styles noticing a fan having a panic attack. Linkin Park reminding fans, if someone falls down, we pick them back up. Tim Armstrong even has a song that outlines what you do!
So what happened at Astroworld? The press has reported that the mosh pit had gotten out of control, however, we are seeing that was not the case. It has been said the crowd surge that occurs at shows could have been handled if the venue and promoter had enough staff. In addition, Scott is under criticism for his reaction to – or lack thereof – seeing the ambulance trying to cut through the crowd and possibly seeing a motionless teen being passed overhead by the crowd. Why didn’t he stop the show? Did he understand what was happening? What is a performer’s responsibility? Every action of Scott is now under question: Did he encourage fans to overpower security at the gate? Did he really press the crowd to go wild? How do his previous concert incidents and convictions for similar incidents tie in?
So far we have seen reports of the local sheriff telling Scott directly of the potential issues, especially if they didn’t curb their social media posts. Through news reports we have also seen fans trying to get a cameraman and other staff to stop the show, security possibly being drugged, and lawsuits are already filed against Scott and the promoters. Obviously, this is going to be changing frequently in the days ahead as officials are examining the hundreds (or thousands) of videos recorded at Astroworld and talking to attendees. Just getting in seemed to be an indication of things to come.
The latest, Scott has offered to cover the funeral expenses of those who perished. Scott also withdrew himself from his upcoming Las Vegas appearance. There are also calls to have him removed from his scheduled Coachella appearance. There is also serious talk of potential criminal culpability on the table for Scott and the show organizers as well as many others that took part on putting on the festival. Due to all the dynamics involved, law enforcement is taking a serious look at this.
Scott also posted an apology video addressing the events at Astroworld.
Here is the million dollar question: Was this a sincere apology or did the magnitude of the tragic events set in? We want to believe that it is heartfelt, let’s hope the investigations prove that to be true.
We just got live shows back after the pandemic shutdown, so most of us are eager and excited to see our favorite bands. We’ve been concerned about vaccines and masks, not crowd surges and death. No matter what comes out in the future about the weekend’s events, let’s look out for each other. We too have to be mindful of our surroundings and each other. Let’s give each other space and think ahead. And no matter what: