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Who is to blame for the Houston Astroworld tragedy?

Travis Scott, arguably one of the biggest names in modern rap, was on his Astroworld tour when tragedy hit Houston, TX the evening of November 5, 2021. Eight people ages 14-27 years old died at his concert, and one more woman passed away from injuries sustained from the concert a few days later. The cause of death has not been verified. There is speculation that the sudden crowd surges or drug overdose on fentanyl due to counterfeit pills were causes of death. Compressive asphyxia has also been a common cause of injury or death reported. Reflecting on and investigating this event has been on the minds of many, especially those in Houston, where all are wondering who is to blame. Is it the poor setup of the concert and the lack of seasoned workers? Is it the culture created around celebrities in our modern world? Is it the post-pandemic mindset? Or is it Travis Scott himself?

I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer to this question, but I do think there are many factors to consider. First, the setup of the concert. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a shortage of workers, especially those who are veterans at their jobs. Is this a major factor that led to the unsafe conditions? On the flip side, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner stated that “we had more security over there than we had at the World Series games.” But are hundreds of poorly trained personnel equivalent to fewer, more experienced workers? However, these incidents are quite rare and if there truly is a shortage of experienced workers then these tragedies would probably occur more frequently. I do think that the structure of concerts may have a fundamental issue (or at least this one); no one should be crushed—to the extent that they are injured due to asphyxia—at any music festival or concert.

What else could be to blame? To me, it seems the culture around our celebrities is the real problem. Over time, artists, actors and actresses have fallen away from humanity and become gods and goddesses, icons and idols to the “ordinary person.” There is monumental hype around them. If they are seen on the streets, they are instantly mobbed for pictures and autographs. The media immediately jumps on anything remotely interesting about their personal life. At concerts, the audience wants to be as close as possible to the artist on stage. By all means, I want to celebrate and appreciate the talents these celebrities bring to our screens and streaming services, but have we crossed a line? Do we now as a population have the mindset of putting our bodies on the line just to be a couple of feet closer to a celebrity? Ponder this: if you were at that concert, in that mosh pit, in the line of sight of Travis Scott, would you have done it too? I’m guessing for most of you, that would be a yes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world, and there is no turning back. Spending about a year locked up with nothing to do and no big social gatherings started a brewing pot of wild and craziness to boil over. This pandemic has cultivated a mindset that we should make the best of any chances we have because you never know when they will be taken away. One day we are going to a Post Malone concert, the next we are in lockdown. This new culture may have been at play on November 5. The ecstatic vibe crawling through Houston at the Astroworld stage may have been a direct effect of the ongoing pandemic.

Finally, we have Travis Scott himself. This particular rapper has a history of promoting rowdy behavior at his concerts. For example, in 2015 Scott pleaded guilty to charges of reckless conduct at Lollapalooza. Scott did not fully stop the concert but did end the concert approximately 30 minutes earlier than planned. There have been videos and evidence that Scott did stop when he thought there was commotion or issues in the crowd—shown by the music stopping and him commenting on actions in the crowd. However, Scott seemed to see an ambulance and proceeded to encourage his audience to “make the ground shake.” Now we may ask the question, could Scott have done anything to calm this crowd? I don’t think there is any clear answer to that question. Yes, he could have stopped the concert at any signs of issues, but this is complicated. Some say, including Houston police chief Troy Finner, that ending the concert early could have made the situation worse and instigated rioting. Overall, it seems that Scott did not know the full extent of the situation until after he exited the stage. Either way, Scott is facing lawsuits that may or may not have substantial evidence to back them.

In the end, there has been a loss of nine lives. Nine young people who had a full future ahead of them. This signals for something to be done. This can come from the venue, the artist and the culture surrounding celebrities and these concerts. I think there isn’t just one person or organization that is to blame. I think this tragedy lies on the shoulders of everyone involved. But it’s not too late to do something so this type of incident isn’t a frequent occurrence.


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