I’m a proud Houston native, but I had never attended the Astroworld Festival until last weekend. I flew back home from Los Angeles for this festival. Many of my friends had touted it as an amazing and fun experience – everything a concert should be.
I saw Travis Scott live in 2018 at the “Mac Miller: A Celebration of Life” memorial concert in L.A., where he performed with John Mayer, SZA and Thundercat. His performance was my favorite of the night next to Mayer’s. Scott provided the crowd with a joyous and hopeful energy in light of the 26-year-old Miller’s untimely passing from a suspected overdose.
For so many young people, Travis Scott is the voice of the next generation and a cultural force. I’ve listened to his music for years to help me through difficult times. I’ve used his music for inspiration, I’ve used it for creativity and for motivation. Countless numbers of people have felt they have a place and belong because of Travis and his music. And with our lives stagnant and isolated due to COVID-19, we longed for the connection and community his festival would bring, not only to each other but for the city of Houston.
So at Astroworld I was extremely excited. I planned for this festival for months, saved money; I even once ran into Travis in person at an event I was working, which inspired me to attend even more.
I planned the day so that I would be able to beat the crowds at Astroworld. I got there about 9:30 a.m. on Friday and waited in the merchandise line for three hours. The organization wasn’t there from the start.
Right away, the crowd was restless, lifting up barricades and crowd surfing them back. People were jumping barricades, which led to many others rushing the merch line. That’s when a mob of people started jumping and breaking down the fences to get in and to run from police. The police and security shut down the line for an hour but eventually reopened it, and I was able to grab a T-shirt and a hoodie.
I then went to the Thrills Stage and watched Master P, Don Toliver, Roddy Rich and Lil Baby perform. The crowd was energetic, and it seemed like even though a few people were getting pushed or lifted out of the crowd, they were able to walk away or people would help pick them up. That is part of the code you follow for these sort of concerts.
I couldn’t take a full breath of air
In between Lil Baby and Travis, SZA was set to perform. Knowing that there would be a huge rush soon, I left at the end of Lil Baby’s set to get some food and water and wait in line for Travis. I went to three venues looking to purchase a hard seltzer, which would’ve been my only alcoholic beverage of the day, but they were sold out before Travis even got onstage. Already out of hard seltzer? That gives you an idea of how crazy Astroworld was.
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SZA’s performance came to a close at about 8 p.m., and a timer appeared at Utopia Mountain as a countdown. I was on the far right side (stage left) packed with other people. As the music started, everyone charged forward, and it was like a vacuum as we all got sucked in closer to the front. That’s when things started taking a turn for the worse.
For 45 minutes I could not draw a full breath of air. Every 10 seconds the crowd pushed forward from behind with the weight of what felt like trucks. My back and legs were crushed against the people in front of me. I stand about 5’10”-5’11”. If I had been any shorter, I would’ve suffocated. Imagine anyone shorter. You either fought for survival and stayed upright or you fell into a sinkhole of people and got trampled.
Lifting bodies above the crowd
Travis is usually in tune with the audience, and he did stop at one point to ask security to help someone get to safety. Then he started back up. Near the end of Travis’ set, we had been pushed to the front, and we began to see security pulling people out of the front of the crowd and them crowd surfing incapacitated bodies to the front. We helped the shorter people to security to get them out over the course of the set. It was incredibly scary and will go down as one the craziest nights of my life.
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After Travis finished at about 10:15 p.m., I limped to the nearest water vendor, bought two bottles and drank them both. I have never been that dehydrated in my life. I saw people passing out in the locker lines, and screaming for medics who took over 10 minutes to arrive, but no one had died yet as far as I knew. People seemed to still be conscious. Eventually, I got to my car and checked Twitter and saw videos of medics performing CPR and piles of bodies on the ground. That’s when I first learned about the eight deaths of this 50,000-person concert.
My heart is broken for my city, for the families of these kids who just wanted to have fun and for potential lost. I haven’t been able to listen to his music since Friday which is yet another loss of inspiration for myself and many others. This will likely be the last big concert I attend, even though a loss of this magnitude is rare. Why didn’t Live Nation plan this better? Did they need to hire more security? Did they need more qualified medics? What infrastructure should have been in place? Why didn’t someone walk on stage and stop Travis if he did not know what was happening? Where was the production staff?
This night should not have ended in tragedy.
Ian James lives in Los Angeles.