HOUSTON — Travis Scott’s high-energy performances are known for being chaotic and fun-filled shows with concertgoers encouraged to take part in a raucous nature involving mosh pits, crowd surfing and stage diving. On Friday night, something went wrong.
At least eight people — between the ages of 14 and 27 — were killed during a crowd surge at the Grammy-nominated rapper’s Astroworld Festival in Houston. A sizable group of the 50,000 in attendance pushed toward the stage at NRG Park as a timer clicked down to start the performance before the chaotic scene began to ignite.
People in the crowd reported lots of pushing and shoving during the performances leading up to Scott’s set — which is normal at his shows. He’s often encouraged fans to bypass security and rush the stage, but none of those previous situations resulted in fatalities.
“Travis Scott’s whole aesthetic is about rebellion,” said HipHopDX editor-in-chief Trent Clark, who has attended several of his performances. “The shows have a lot of raging. With the death of punk rock, hip-hop has indeed adopted and patterned the new generation of mosh pits. It’s not uncommon to see a lot of crowding and raging or complete wild behavior at a Travis Scott show.”
Scott is an eight-time Grammy-nominated rapper who is music’s biggest young stars. The Houston-born musician founded his festival in 2018 on the heels of his chart-topping album “Astroworld,” which was led by the infectious song “Sicko Mode.” He also has a 3-year-old daughter with Kylie Jenner, who announced in September that she is pregnant with their second child.
“Travis Scott is legendary in the hip-hop community for his beyond high-energy performances, where he really tries to rile up the crowd,” said Noah Shachtman, editor-in-chief at Rolling Stone. “That makes for some really fun shows and made for a couple of scary incidents.”
In a tweet posted Saturday, Scott said he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night.” He pledged to work “together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need.”
No matter where the investigation ultimately leads, tragedies like the one at the Astroworld Festival have been happening for a long time. In 1979, 11 people died in a scramble to enter a Cincinnati, Ohio, concert by The Who. At a soccer stadium in England, a human crush in 1989 led to nearly 100 deaths. In 2015, a collision of two crowds at the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia caused more than 2,400 deaths, based on an Associated Press count of media reports and officials’ comments.
But with Scott getting into trouble before for the two past shows, Shachtman thinks the rapper will get a “hard second look.”
In 2017, Scott was arrested after he encouraged fans to bypass security and rush the stage, leaving a security guard, a police officer and several others injured during a concert in Arkansas. In a separate incident, he was sentenced to one year of court supervision after pleading guilty to reckless conduct charges stemming from a 2015 incident in Chicago at the Lollapalooza music festival.
At the time, Chicago officials said Scott encouraged fans to vault security barricades. However, no one was injured.
“In terms of energy, he wants the energy he’s giving out on stage to be reciprocated from the audience, almost in defiance,” said Julian Kimble, who wrote a concert review on Scott’s 2018 Astroworld performance for the Washington Post. He called the rapper one of the most electrifying performers he’s seen.
“I’ve seen him tell people like ‘Don’t listen to security. Forget security. This is for y’all. This is for the fans,’” he continued. “With regards to last night, that’s an example of how things can go wrong. There’s a lot of negligence across the board. I don’t think there’s one bad guy or culprit. It’s a sweeping structural failure with what happened.”
Shachtman said he hopes the tragedy will help tweak Scott’s approach toward his show. He enjoys the rapper’s performances but wants a safer atmosphere where people can still have fun — especially for those eager to find some enjoyment at live shows during the pandemic.
“I would expect that they’ll be increased measures to make sure concertgoers can have a great time, but do so without getting killed,” said Shachtman, who grew up on New York hardcore punk rock music. He said that he’s no stranger to mosh pits, but he adds that “there’s a big difference between a mosh pit, even a giant one, and a life-threating situation.”
Scott is a scheduled headliner for the Day N Vegas Festival next weekend. But any performance involving Scott could come under some scrutiny for crowd control measures and other safety concerns.
“Concert promoters pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for security at both private and public (events),” Shachtman said. “That’s got to be deployed properly. Or else, we’re going to see another one of these incidents.”