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 that has made an appearance throughout all his previous festivals. Photo by Camille Nul

By Angelica Ruzanova

Edited by Pete Ramirez

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 culminate 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 in to 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 a 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 its 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 wristbands 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 moshing 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 his band perform at the “Thrills” stage, with a poster titled “Stampede of Lost Souls” raised in the air from the crowd upfront.
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 the 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

Pocha Concha: Turning Hate Into Love

Finding your strength in your heritage.

Column by: McKenna Frausto Bailey

With Hispanic Heritage month coming to a close, I wanted to reflect on something new I’ve come to embrace about my Mexican-American heritage. My family on my mother’s side is from Mexico. During the Civil Rights movement, my grandmother faced a lot of racism because she’s Hispanic and speaks Spanish. My mother doesn’t know Spanish since my grandmother didn’t want to teach it to her, and as a result, I didn’t grow up speaking much Spanish either. 

Now, I can speak Spanish (or rather Tex-Mex), but I’m not fluent yet. I love my Hispanic heritage because Spanish is a beautiful language and there are so many mysteries about Mexican history that fascinate me. I love calling myself Tejano or Tex-Mex. I feel that it’s a part of my identity.

Recently, while scrolling on twitter I came across an interesting term from Buzzfeed; ‘Pocha Concha’. I recognized ‘Concha’ as it translates to ‘shell’ in English and is also used to describe my favorite Hispanic treat, Pan Dulce (sweet bread), aka Conchas. However, I didn’t understand ‘Pocha’, or ‘Pocho’ if you’re a boy. 

According to Maya Murillo (@mayainthemoment), a Buzzfeed producer who coined the term ‘Pocha Concha’ on their YouTube show Pero Like,

 “[A Pocha/o is] a derisive term for people who are whitewashed in America but who have Mexican descent. It basically means your Spanish is bad, you’re a 4th generation Mexican-American, and it’s used to offend someone by telling them they aren’t Latin enough.” 

The Britannica Encyclopedia defines a Pocha/o as, “A derogatory term typically used by native-born Mexicans to describe U.S. born Mexicans that don’t speak Spanish. They aren’t considered either Mexican or American.” Pocha has much of the same meaning as ‘Chicano’, but less political. 

However, there is more to the story. Maya continues, “So I took that word, reclaimed it, and combined it with my favorite dessert and now it’s a term of endearment to describe love for others and self-love.” 

I fell in love with this immediately. While some might still see the term (Pocha), as racist, I think it’s a good thing what Maya has done by turning a historically derogatory word into something we can take honor in. 

I welcome the term, Pocha Concha. It’s a way for us Mexican-American’s to find some of our identity in our heritage and embrace our culture. It makes us unique. It strengthens us. Knowing our roots and our culture gives us a powerful sense of self. Just because someone is a 4th generation Mexican-American, or has a bad Spanish accent, doesn’t make them any less Latino. Maya emphasizes these ideas in her final statement. 

“So go ahead, use Pocha Concha. Use it, and use it proudly. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you’re not enough. Take control of it. Be you. Be empowered by it.”

Now every time I see a Concha it reminds me of my self-empowerment; that I’m reclaiming my culture and learning more about my heritage. Thanks to Maya, I have a special phrase to remind me of my journey. 

Happiness Over Acceptance

Written by Alyssa Lopez

Acceptance, for many, is feeling welcomed and having a sense of belonging. Happiness is something most of us seek in order to make us feel whole. Worrying about how someone chooses to perceive who we are can have a major impact on us. The constant notion of being judged by people and trying to be accepted can, perhaps, lead us to downplay our selves, ultimately dwindling our own happiness. The question we should ask ourselves is
do we want to be accepted or be happy?

“In the past, I always felt like people would judge me, and it was not for anything specific. I have stopped myself from going through with certain situations because I didn’t think I was good enough,” says health science student, Jessie Braganca.

For many, having a feeling of your ear ringing as your name drops from mouth to mouth; the belief of being the mistake; or even the light laugh as you pass strangers can spark self-doubt. This feeling can activate fear – fueling inner thoughts to cloud our minds, causing discouragement.

This discouragement can cause fear of saying the wrong thing and feeling misplaced. “I feel confident with myself, but I have had strangers comment about how ‘big’ I am straight to my face. I am not going to lie and say it doesn’t hurt. Comments like that stay with me,” says health science student, Emma Mckibben.

Instead of allowing the self-doubt to grow within you try to diminish that feeling. There are going to be imperfect days where internal conflicts or criticism will challenge your self-view. In that moment of weakness know that it is okay to not be okay. Take that weakness, learn from it, do not let it define or defeat you, and know you are not alone. Wake up in the morning telling yourself and believing that it will be a good day. Learn to laugh at mistakes, to look in the mirror and know you are beautiful, enough, and to never hold back. Happiness is a state of mind and you have the power to control it. Your own well-being should always overpass wanting to be accepted and aiming to be beatific. Love over hate. Heart over mind. Confidence over fear. Happiness over acceptance.

Mckibben says, “at the end of the day it is just you, so go through life knowing that you are living for yourself and no one else”.