Concerts are coming back and it is an exciting time for the music industry. Artists, crew, and fans alike are returning to venues to celebrate their love for live music together. Astroworld is a festival owned and created by Travis Scott. It started in 2018 and after a brief covid initiated hiatus has returned – bigger and better than ever. The festival was held at NRG Park in Houston on November 5th – 6th. The capacity of the event was around 50,000. Unfortunately through a combination of arguably avoidable, but at the same time, unfortunate events – ten concerts goers lost their lives. It was a tragic event and reality which should not exist for anyone inside venue walls.
There is a lot of misinformation about how things went down, and comments on situations like these need to be based solely on the facts in order to learn from it. Luckily for us, we were able to have Sully back on the podcast to help us examine what could have been done differently at festivals to help avoid situations like this. Sully has been working in the security industry for the majority of his professional career. He worked with the Beastie Boys in the ’90s, The Vans Warped Tour for 25 years – and now works for Billie Eilish. Sully walked us through the festival from a variety of different perspectives to help us understand the day better. This article examines the reasons why these incidents happen; and aims to explain what goes into putting out a festival of a big size, what security takes into consideration as far as how to control a crowd, and what happens when things go wrong.
What Can Be Done By Festival Production?
Although concerts can be an exciting and fun way to spend time, the most important goal of the staff putting on the show is to keep everyone safe. Anyone dying at a show is considered the worst-case scenario, but there are tons of outside factors that can influence a person’s experience. For example, the concert attendee could be sick or injured. Luckily, venues and their security have a lot of safety measures in place to help keep people happy and healthy throughout a show.
Security Starts In The Parking Lot
Sully mentions that security always starts in the parking lot. The tone of the show is established from the moment people get out of their cars. Is there security around helping pick up trash? Is there someone guiding you to the entrance? Security should be making their presence known – with the intention of creating a safe and secure atmosphere for concert goes.
In the case of Astroworld, there was an influx of people that rushed the venue because they didn’t have tickets to the sold-out show. They barrelled through the security checkpoints and tore down fences to gain access to the GA crowd. Although NRG is a 200k cap venue, the attendance for the show was capped at 50k to ensure safety for all the concert-goers. While this doesn’t seem like the overall cause of the tragedy, a security breach is a major issue for anyone hoping to attend a show safely. If fans do not go through security – they can bring anything into the festival. Posing potential risks of unauthorized items being brought in.
Age Is A Factor
The Astroworld crowd was pretty young. With age comes experience – and maybe some of them had no idea about what a mosh pit is, and they were probably unaware of the mosh pit etiquette. From the outside looking in, a mosh pit might be seen as a violent act but it is pretty coordinated and safe if done right. The emphasis is community care because out there in the crowd, people are not just individuals, they are a community. Hip-hop and punk rock communities are anti-authority and getting wild is what they do at concerts. However, it must be taught how to do it safely, and emphasizing community care is the way to do it. That is how moshpit becomes controlled chaos.
With the age of the Astroworld crowd being taken into consideration, it’s safe to say that most of the attendees don’t know much, if anything, about staying safe in large crowds. There are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between the hardcore and hip-hop scenes; both emphasize a lack of respect for authority and use their respective genres to express that both on their albums and at their shows. It’s basically impossible to go to any hardcore show without receiving a lecture from the vocalist telling the audience how important it is to look out for everyone in the pit. Mosh pits are generally associated with the hardcore scene, which is why so many kids in the Astroworld crowd may have been caught off guard. While moshing is overall a pretty safe and coordinated activity, there is always the possibility of getting injured when you enter the pit. The odds of things going wrong in a pit go up exponentially when introducing people who have never moshed before, or people that don’t pay attention to their surroundings to help people that may be injured.
Another problem is that now festivals are dealing with staffing. People are no longer putting on a yellow shirt (security clothing) to go get treated badly for a low-paying job. It is not just security, it is stagehands, cops, paramedics, etc. Staffing is a serious issue and festivals have to figure out a plan if they do not have enough people. What happened at the Astroworld is one of those incidents that people did not see coming and now things are going to be overcorrected or accurately corrected to avoid something like this to happen again.
A more positive atmosphere should be encouraged while allowing people to go crazy at concerts because that is what the concerts are for: having a good time and doing the things that cannot be done in normal life.
For a concert this size, a lot of precautions are taken from production and a security standpoint to design a space to help prevent crowd crush. Originally, there would be barricades right down in the middle to split the crowd but now the barricades are off to the side because no artist wants to look straight down to the middle and see an empty space. Barricades are an immensely helpful tool for breaking up large crowds, creating exit routes for fans and entrance routes for first responders in case of emergency. The downside of this then becomes having enough manpower to surround those barricades to ensure the safety of everyone in the crowd.
It’s clear that what happened at the Astroworld was not just a problem that was created by the crowd. People tend to look for easy answers on who to blame when tragedy strikes, but it is more complicated than anyone thinks. There is no place for blaming one person. To make a festival or a show run smoothly, it takes the cooperation of dozens to hundreds of different people, depending on the size of the show. Although there is much speculation as to who will take the blame for the lives lost, all the misinformed posts on social media will just create panic. All those assumptions on social media create panic. No one organizes a festival without a plan, there are countless hours of meetings for months focusing on every aspect of the live show. This event is a tragedy, and it demonstrates the consequences of things going very wrong in large crowds. The goal here is to learn from our mistakes and work together to make festivals safer.
What Can You Do As A Fan?
Regardless of where the problems with Astroworld started, it isn’t solely up to the production, venue, or security to keep everyone safe. It’s also the responsibility of the fans themselves to help promote and maintain safe environments, especially in crowds of this size. With having a positive mindset and knowing what to do in the case of a rowdy crowd, it becomes that much easier to protect yourself and anyone around you if things go south.
“Crowds are like a river…” says Sully, “…it is going down towards an empty space.”
- “If you are in the middle of a rushing crowd, you do not want to swim against that water because you do not know where it is going.”
- “You want to get to the side of the river. So, you just go with the crowd and try to go diagonal, make yourself as small as possible, turn to the side.”
- “Let people get past you. Do not keep your spot. If you are not comfortable, start making your way back.”
- “Go until you get out of it.”
“That is really the only thing you can do, a little inch at a time. ‘Excuse me’ works, tapping into the shoulders of people, and saying excuse me. There are always people out there that are going to help. You just have to stay calm and keep your feet on the ground. The most important thing is to keep moving. Link arms with a friend, there is safety in crowds with numbers.”
Be careful out there. Everyone just wants to be together to enjoy music safely.
What Responsibility Does The Artist Have?
There is a chain of commands for a show to stop and there are certain people with a power called ‘show stop power’, it took 40 minutes for Travis Scott’s show to stop mostly because a show cannot just simply, stop. Sometimes stopping a show suddenly can make matters worse – or even cause a riot.
From an artist’s standpoint, it takes experience and responsibility to calm the crowd down. Even though an artist cannot see each individual clearly because of the lighting situations, an artist should know when the energy of the crowd goes down and try to engage with them without creating panic and using simple words like “Hey, let’s calm down. Let’s move back. Let’s take care of each other.”
What happened at Astroworld is terrible – and our love goes out to their families. Very few people go into a festival with the intention of causing chaos on a level that results in others’ deaths. But sometimes in the moment, people have a hard time drawing that line. The hope is that we can learn from these events and grow accordingly. The music industry is made up of some of the best problem solvers in the world. If there is a team that can help make this safe moving forward – it is them.