Astroworld’s Utopia Turns into Catastrophe

Rager mentality of Travis Scott’s fans fueled the deadly crowd surge incident at Astroworld Festival, placing Houston on headlines across the globe

Angelica Ruzanova runs towards the Astroworld Festival entrance marked by a giant inflatable object depicted as Travis Scott’s head, a landmark which has made an appearance throughout all his previous festivals. Photo by Camille Nul

By Angelica Ruzanova

There is nothing quite like the anticipation and thrill you experience before attending a concert. Months worth of built-up energy, relentless preparation, and memorizing music culminates in a grand euphoric experience shared with other fans. 

But when the audience’s temporary bliss of a live performance becomes an out of control mob, you have no choice but to give into the uncontrollable forces of the crowd. 

Multiple investigations are trying to figure out how harmless enjoyment turned the third-annual Astroworld Festival into a catastrophic event, leaving 10 attendees dead and hundreds more injured. The festival, founded and headlined by superstar rapper and Houston native, Travis Scott, has sparked living hell for the survivors and the families of the lost concert-goers. 

After my friends and I attended the 2019 Astroworld Festival, we expected a similar experience extended into two days rather than one. The festival felt like it’s own Travis Scott mini-world, with everything from a Cactus Jack pop-up store to amusement park rides. 

Many people in a crowd in front of a massive outdoor stage at the Astroworld Festival. Screens display the schedule for day-one with Travis Scott headlining.
The “Thrills” stage scene with the festival schedule for day-one flashing on all screens.
Photo by Angelica Ruzanova

It soon became painfully obvious to us that the number of concert-goers had more than doubled, and the Astroworld “utopia” seemed beyond the maximum capacity offered at the venue. As we noticed the lines of fans growing larger and the crowd becoming extremely packed, things did not feel quite right. 

I witnessed people who were missing shoes and wrist-bands required for entry after running through unprotected security fences. I also observed inattentive staff skipping the mandated COVID-19 tests once the lines of attendees grew longer and more impatient. 

With only one single water dispenser area in the arena, people grew dehydrated and ill. Those who fainted as a result of these circumstances were crowd-surfed out of mosh pits. A vast landscape of haze covered the area near the stage as groups of people smoked in the midst of the crowd.

The countdown before Travis Scott’s grand-finale performance felt like the calm before a storm. As minutes turned into seconds, the spaces in between each person morphed us all into a collective clump of bodies. 

My friends and I were standing near the front of the crowd on the stage-right side and we were quickly swept up in the shifting waves of people around us, who unintentionally stomped on our feet and continuously hit us with their shoulders. At one point in the madness, I was able to lift up my feet and be held up in the air due to the intense pressure of those surrounding me.

As the crowd’s mixture of excitement and impatience grew more ravenous, people began forcing their way toward a better view of the famous rapper. This came at a cost to those who were in a more vulnerable, unprotected area where they struggled for relief and gasped for fresh air. 

I was fortunate enough to grasp onto someone’s backpack which allowed me to make my way through the crowd, but many others were stuck towards the center with no chance to get out. 

A lot of people in a crowd in front of a stage where Yves Tumor is performing. One concert-goers holds up a poster that states "Stampede of Lost Souls".
Musician Yves Tumor and band performs at the “Thrills” stage, with a poster titled “Stampede of Lost Souls” raised in the air from the crowd up front.
Photo by Angelica Ruzanova

To be honest, most attendees did not realize what was happening at the time, but when the tragic news came out, it was a mind boggling thought. 

“I remember at first it took a while for the news to settle for me, to comprehend how big of a deal it all actually was,” said Isabella Conti, a fellow Austin Community College student who attended the festival with her friends.

“I thought to myself, this could’ve been my friends. It could’ve been anyone”, Conti said. “And the ages of those young kids reminded me of my younger brother. They were kids who went to the concert expecting to have fun and enjoy music.”

The night at NRG Park on 5th of November ended with 10 confirmed deaths, hundreds of injured attendees and a  crowd of over 50,000 people. The Houston Police Department is currently investigating exactly how this tragedy unfolded. 

Rumors have run rampant after the event. Stories have spread throughout social media of involuntarily injected security guards, drugs laced with fentanyl sold to some of the attendees and even a conspiracy theory of a satanic ritual. 

One of the deadliest concerts in United States history has resulted in more than 100 lawsuits being filed against festival organizers and performers, including Live Nation and Travis Scott himself.

“After trying to stay optimistic about the situation, I got angrier with what I heard. The more I learned about the circumstances, the more aware I grew,” Conti said. “I hope this horrible tragedy will change safety measures which go ignored by many festival organizers, and the ‘rager’ mentality gets the awareness it deserves. The tragedy trickles down to poor organization and people’s lack of decency when it comes to helping those around them.”

Our generation chases ceaseless sprees of carpe diem within the pressures of our social media presence. Carpe diem, a Latin phrase for making the most of the present time with little thought for the future, holds a dangerous explanation to why some concert-goers danced on ambulances that carried unconscious fans rather than at least standing back. 

The cost of this failure by numerous parties is personal and painful. We must remember and honor these 10 young people who died:

  • Brianna Rodriguez – 16 years old
  • Axel Acosta Avila – 21 years old
  • Madison Dubiski – 23 years old
  • Danish Baig – 27 years old
  • Rudy Peña – 23 years old
  • Jacob Jurinek – 20 years old
  • Franco Patino – 21 years old
  • John Hilgert – 14 years old
  • Bharti Shahani – 22 years old
  • Ezra Blount – 9 years old

Getting Festive with Texas Tribune CEO, Evan Smith

By Pete Ramirez

The Texas Tribune, a digital, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, is hosting it’s eleventh annual Texas Tribune Festival beginning on Monday, September 20, 2021 and ending Friday evening, September 25, 2021. 

This festival brings together leading politicians and policy makers within local, state and national government to participate in a mix of one-on-one interviews, panels and networking sessions hosted by some of the premier journalists in the nation.

Students are eligible to purchase discounted student tickets to the virtual festival for $49 by following this link: https://festival.texastribune.org/. General admission tickets are $199.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the festival will be held entirely online in a virtual setting. “It’s the second and hopefully the last festival that will be virtual,” said Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune. 

Smith said that although his organization originally wanted to host a portion of the event in-person, completely pivoting to virtual allows the event to be more accessible to not only the politicians and policy makers, but to casual fans of the Tribune who can now participate from the comfort of their homes.

“We provide all kinds of opportunities for people to spend time with some of the biggest thought leaders and influencers around Texas and around the county,” Smith said. 

A few of the biggest names that will be attending the event are: U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones and former U.S. Representative, Beto O’Rourke.

For a list of all the speakers who will be attending the festival, follow this link.

“If you care about politics, if you care about policy, if you care about Texas, if you care about the world, there are going to be incredible opportunities that you would not otherwise have, to be part of conversations about those things,” Smith said.

Students who attend can benefit from the festival’s networking opportunities and grow their knowledge on nearly any subject they may be interested in.

“As a student, especially, this is a great moment to expand your thinking,” Smith said. The Tribune’s event provides a safe place for attendees to listen to views that challenge their preconceived notions on certain issues. 

“The goal is that there is something for everybody. And if you allow yourself to stray from the things that you are coming to see, there are going to be other things over here that you are not aware of but are going to be interesting also,” said Smith.

The Texas Tribune and their festival want attendees to walk away from their event better informed and more engaged citizens.

Smith also shared that there will be a session which is exclusively for students attending the festival.

Before our interview came to a close, Smith provided some words of wisdom for journalism students looking to enter the industry.

“The best advice I can give anybody wanting to break into the journalism business is you want to be a swiss army knife and not a meat cleaver,” Smith said. “We need people like that. We need multi-tool players more than we’ve ever needed them.”