Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival: 8 killed, scores injured – Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON — 

Officials were searching for answers after a Houston music festival headlined by one of the nation’s biggest hip-hop superstars ended in tragedy Friday night, when at least eight people — the youngest 14 — were killed as crowds surged toward a stage while rapper Travis Scott performed. Scores more were injured as ambulances rushed in and the show continued on.

The disaster — the deadliest at an American concert since a 2017 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas — unfolded shortly after 9 p.m. Friday during the performance of Houston-born Scott, who founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, speaking at a news conference Saturday, described “a tragedy on many different levels” and vowed that “this incident is being thoroughly investigated.” Turner, who said the seven people identified among the dead ranged in age from 14 to 27, said there were “a lot of unanswered questions” that could take weeks investigate. He said an eighth person, a male, is still unidentified.

“It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn’t possibly have been avoided,” Judge Lina Hidalgo, the most senior elected official in Harris County, said at the conference. “But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”

Officials estimated about 50,000 people were attending the outdoor event at NRG Park when crowds began to “compress toward the front of the stage,” Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said. “That caused some panic and it started causing some injuries.”

Witnesses described a scene of confusion and havoc.

“It was like a ripple effect. One person pushed, and everyone went,” said attendee Gerardo Abad Garcia, 25, of Denver, folding his arms in front of his chest to show how he was “compressed” like “a sardine in a can.”

“There was like no airflow in there. It was just like primal instinct: I had to get out,” Garcia said.

Crowds outside the gate of the Astroworld Festival, part of which is a giant representation of Travis Scott's face

Fans outside the gate of the 2021 Astroworld Festival at NRG Park in Houston on Friday.

(Erika Goldring / WireImage via Getty Images)

As the tragedy began to unfold, the performance continued. About 30 minutes into the Apple Music livestream of Scott’s set, he notices blue and red flashing lights on the festival floor and says, “There’s an ambulance in the crowd. Whoa, whoa, whoa.”

After a minute’s pause, Scott announces, “Y’all know what you came to do,” the music starts up again and the concert keeps going.

While officials said that the set “ended early in the interest of public safety,” Scott’s 25-song Astroworld performance continued for roughly 40 minutes more, concluding with the same two songs, “Sicko Mode” and “Goosebumps” that he finished with at New York’s Rolling Loud festival in October.

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said police shut down the event as fast as they could.

At “9:30, right there, that’s when a few people started going down. Our people stepped up and immediately went to the producer and told him people are going down. This show ended at 10:10 p.m.,” Finner said.

“You cannot just close when you have 50,000 individuals that young. You can have rioting,” he said.

According to Mayor Turner, there were 528 police officers at the scene as well as 755 security guards provided by concert company Live Nation.

Twenty-five people were taken by ambulance to local hospitals, according to officials; of those, five were younger than 18. Officials said some victims appeared to suffer from cardiac arrest but that autopsies were still pending for the dead.

Four survivors were discharged as of Saturday.

Officials said that at least one security guard was treated with Narcan, which is used for opioid overdoses, after feeling a “prick” with a needle while in the crowd.

“He was revived and the medical staff did notice a prick that was similar to a prick you would get if somebody was trying to inject you,” Finner said. He added that, in addition to the homicide investigation, his department had launched a narcotics investigation.

Peña, the fire chief, said his workers administered Narcan to several people at the concert. Turner said officials were investigating whether multiple people had been attacked with needles, saying the city was “not taking anything off the table.”

Scott, who released a statement on Twitter, said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night. My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival.”

Live Nation said in a statement that it was “heartbroken for those lost and impacted at Astroworld last night. We will continue working to provide as much information and assistance as possible to the local authorities as they investigate the situation.”

Fans attend the Astroworld Festival on Friday.

Fans attend the Astroworld Festival in Houston on Friday.

(Omar Vega / FilmMagic via Getty Images)

“What happened at Astroworld Festival last night was tragic, and our hearts are with those who lost their lives and those who were injured in the terrifying crowd surge,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. He directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to support the local investigation.

Organizers canceled the festival’s second day Saturday as families gathered at a local hotel to reunite with survivors, many of whom were young. Officials said one of the attendees harmed in the crowd crush was 10 years old.

On Saturday, small groups of teens — many still wearing their festival wristbands, shirts and other gear — milled in the hotel parking lot.

“I was really close to the front during it. We were all holding each other up,” said Christopher, 16, clutching Astroworld bags as he stood with his father, who asked that their last name not be used.

Wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey, he lifted a pair of battered sneakers he said had been stomped on as the crowd surged over him. He said he saw two people having panic attacks. “I tried to move out of the way,” he said before leaving with his father.

Travis Scott performs on day one of the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park in Houston on Friday.

Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival at NRG Park in Houston on Friday.

(Amy Harris / Invision via AP)

Entrepreneur Jesse Dahl of Denver flew to the Houston concert with his 9-year-old son Christiano, assuming it would be safe for all ages. They met a 10-year-old and took photos with security guards.

“Now my son’s saying, ‘I hope my friend’s OK,” Dahl, 40, said as they stood, still wearing their Astroworld wristbands, outside the reunification center at the hotel.

Dahl said he saw many adolescents in the crowd.

“There were a lot of young kids who didn’t know how to handle themselves,” he said. “You get teenagers with no rules or boundaries, it’s just wild all day.”

Concertgoers described an event that had been unruly throughout the day Friday. Earlier in the day, Garcia said he had to get help from security when the crowd got similarly agitated and surged during a performance by rapper Don Toliver in another fenced area. He said a security guard lifted him over the fence to safety. Later, he said he saw security stop people from crowd surfing.

Garcia said he saw people jump fences to gain admittance to the concert. “There were some people who were out of control, ‘I’m here to mosh, I’m here to throw punches,’” he said, describing the behavior of others. “I don’t think it was security [at fault] so much as the people.”

Early on, before the show started, the energy level at the festival was high. At 2 p.m., a reporter for local station KTRK-TV witnessed a crowd of people bursting through the gates of NRG Park. “Hundreds of people destroyed the VIP security entrance, bypassing the checkpoint,” Mycah Hatfield reported on Twitter. “People were trampled. Some were detained.”

During Scott’s set, Garcia was standing far from the stage when he felt the crowd start to repeatedly surge forward.

Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival on Friday.

Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival on Friday.

(Amy Harris / Invision via AP)

Dahl, the Denver entrepreneur, and his son were shielded from the crowd because they were sitting in an elevated VIP section, where they could see the crowd grow unruly, “swaying” and shifting forward. “It just got really amped up,” Dahl said.

Vanessa Johnson, 20, a business student at Edward Waters University who was close enough to the stage to see Scott, said, “Things weren’t really crazy until Travis came on.”

Johnson was with friend Julian Ponce, 21, and both said that soon after Scott appeared, they heard people shouting, “Stop the show!”

“There was somebody passed out,” said Ponce, 21, a University of Texas-San Antonio psychology student, who turned to see a circle of people behind him holding the crowd back as they tried to aid a man on the ground.

Johnson said it got so crowded as people pushed forward, “You just get smushed.”

“You kept going forward, backward — you couldn’t move,” Ponce said.

The crowd watches as Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival on Friday.

The crowd watches as Travis Scott performs at the Astroworld Festival on Friday.

(Jamaal Ellis / Houston Chronicle via AP)

At one point, Johnson said she was pushed down with a youth next to her, but Ponce lifted them back up. He could hear others complaining they couldn’t breathe. “We just all stayed together, I had my arms around both of them,” he said.

The pair got separated from their group of friends, and when they had failed to locate one man overnight, they came to the reunification center looking for him. Police told them he was not among those killed or hospitalized. Johnson had a large bruise on her thigh that she said likely came from being trampled when she fell.

“It felt like life or death the whole time we were in the crowd. I have bruises all over me. People were kicking each other, pushing,” said Rebecca Kallabat, 26, who went to the concert with seven friends from Detroit. As the crowd pushed her, Kallabat said she thought: “If I fall, I’m going to die.” She pointed to bruises below her cut-off jean shorts.

Another member of her group, T.J. Yalda, 32, had attended more than half a dozen Travis Scott shows, including Astroworld, loved to mosh and wasn’t surprised by the rough crowd.

“It’s normal behavior. There was just way too many kids,” Yalda said as he stood in the parking lot with the rest of his group. “It’s like playing with fire.” In one of the mosh pits, a youth hit him in the face and busted his lip, Yalda said.

Albert Merza, 43, of Detroit, showed video he’d taken of the crowd just before the crush, including a curly-haired child atop an adult’s shoulders. From now on, Merza said, he only plans to attend shows that are age 21 and up.

Several concertgoers said there either weren’t enough security guards at the event or that they didn’t do enough to intervene as the crowd lost control.

Aerial view of several ambulances lined up in a parking lot at an event venue at night

Ambulances line up to take casualties away at the Astroworld music festival in Houston on Friday.

(KTRK-TV via Associated Press)

“I’ve been to Lollapalooza in Chicago, it was nothing like that. There should be a lot of security there, just to be safe,” Ponce said, noting that at Lollapalooza, security officers were in the midst of the crowd so that they could extract anyone injured.

“Here, you couldn’t even see people fall,” Ponce said, because the crowd was so packed together.

Scott’s concerts are well-known for tumultuous energy and boisterous physical activity in front of the stage. One Scott song, 2018’s “Stargazing,” contains the lyric “and it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries.”

Scott had previously pleaded guilty to charges of disorderly conduct related to a 2017 concert in Arkansas where officials reportedly accused him of encouraging fans to rush the stage. Scott also pleaded guilty to reckless conduct charges in a second case related to a 2015 stampede at Lollapalooza where he had also urged fans to rush the stage, reportedly causing a 15-year-old girl to be trampled.

Scott does not appear to have urged fans to rush the stage during the Houston show, though many fans tried to get his attention about the growing crisis in the crowd. Throughout much of the video, viewers can see people in the crowd, presumably waving for help At about the 40-minute mark, Scott pauses the show again. “Hold, hold, hold, we need some help, somebody passed out right here. … Security, let’s get in there.” Moments later, the show resumes.

At one point fans chanted, “Stop the show! Stop the show!” in between songs.

Scott, a Houston native, named one of his albums “Astroworld” in honor of the closed-down Six Flags theme park of the same name just across the freeway, also giving the festival in his hometown the same title.

“Our ultimate goal in launching this Fest is to bring some well-deserved recognition to Travis’ hometown of Houston, the place that has made him both the man and creative artist he is today,” David Stromberg, Travis Scott’s manager and GM of Cactus Jack Records, said when the festival was initially launched.

Music festivals like Astroworld have become the backbone of the concert industry, generating millions for headline artists and promoters. Astroworld is produced by ScoreMore Shows and Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s largest event-promotion company, which owns a controlling interest in ScoreMore.

Next weekend in Las Vegas, promoters Goldenvoice and AEG Presents are scheduled to hold a three-day hip-hop festival called Day N Vegas, during which Scott is slated to be one of the headliners, alongside Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator. Scott is also set to be one of the headliners at April’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Scott, who has more than 43 million followers on Instagram, is also known for his romantic involvement with reality TV star Kylie Jenner.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston, aleem from Los Angeles and Pearce from Santa Cruz. Craig Marks in Los Angeles and Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta contributed to this report.