Eight people have been confirmed dead in the aftermath of a crowd crush at Astroworld in Houston on November 5, a concert festival headlined and founded by rapper Travis Scott, and more than 300 people were injured at the event. At least 50,000 people were in attendance, and according to a report from Rolling Stone, 528 police officers and 755 private security officers were present for the event.
The deaths and injuries were the result of thousands of people rushing the stage as Scott performed. During the melee, ambulances arrived on scene, but the artist only briefly stopped the show. The deaths have left onlookers with many questions, including who exactly is to blame. It’s likely impossible to answer.
The tragedy of Astroworld Festival is not the first of its kind, but feels unusually chaotic, due in part to social media. Footage is still being released, and as online rumors are shared, lawsuits roll in; as the timeline of events is determined, confusion and shock still hovers around what took place. Crowd surges, too, are by no means specific to this type of concert, but the events at Astroworld raise fears in some about the future of gathering with others when live music has just begun to return.
The confluence of factors that led to a deadly moment — questions have been raised about planning from event producers, an apparently reckless artist, a lack of trust between security and concertgoers, and an amped-up crowd — defy our desire to neatly place blame on any single party. The dynamics of crowd crush make the situation murkier, but we can consider who is responsible for this, without blind condemnation.
Scott’s music can lend itself to hordes of young people who want to mosh, a remnant of past punk culture. This itself is not a sin. The fans are not at fault for wanting to go to a big concert with splashy artists, alongside other eager fans. Fingers have been pointed in many directions: at Live Nation, the company behind the event; at Scott himself, for continuing to perform despite the violence. Here’s what we know so far.
What happened at Astroworld?
Attendees and live footage depict a scene that was chaotic from the jump. Early in the day, fans were already breaching security gates to the festival. According to the New York Times, Houston police chief Troy Finner visited Travis Scott in his trailer before the show began, to express “concerns about the energy in the crowd.” Fans were packed into what has been described as a cage-like enclosure, with exit points and medical personnel that were not immediately accessible.
Scott began performing at 9 in the evening at NRG Park, and it did not take long for the crowd situation to become dangerous. Around 9:30 pm, the music was paused for an ambulance to go through the crowd, but it soon resumed as Scott asked the crowd to “make the ground shake.”
By 9:38 pm, firefighters and police officers declared Astroworld a “mass casualty” event, after reports of injuries and medical distress throughout the crowd. While Travis Scott seemingly stopped the concert briefly at around 9:42 pm to direct medics to an unconscious fan, the concert largely continued as others became victims of the packed space. Scott reportedly continued performing until at least 10:15 pm. The rapper Drake joined him onstage toward the end, despite what was going on in the crowd.
Police chief Finner says he was concerned that putting a sudden stop to the concert could incite rioting, but it’s unclear how things would’ve actually played out. While some fans pleaded with security guards and camera operators to stop the show, others mocked those who tried to get help. Those entangled in the pushing and shoving struggled to get out of the grasp of the crowd, attendees say. Witnesses have stated that it was difficult to breathe, and even harder not to be physically swept up in the crush. In a fan account of the event on Instagram, it was described as “like watching a Jenga tower topple.” One woman reported becoming unconscious; she said she was crowdsurfed to safety.
The videos from Astroworld are disturbing and difficult to watch; many of those in attendance — both the concertgoers and the medical personnel — were ill-equipped to handle the disaster. Online, attendees have been sharing footage of the concert, in which there are screams, failed attempts to get proper help, and even apparent mishandling of unconscious fans by medical personnel. By the end of the night, hundreds of people had been injured. A 10-year-old was reported to be in critical condition, and a 9-year-old was put in a medically induced coma. Twenty-four people had been hospitalized, and eight people, ranging in age from 14 to 27, were dead.