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Inside Astroworld: What led up to one of hip-hop’s most tragic live events

Music festivals essentially serve as a mecca for the most enthusiastic fans of any particular genre. When it comes to hip-hop, festivals have become the most accessible way for young fans see their favorite artists live. Festival lineup announcements, at times, reveal new albums or songs in terms of what the artist is willing to share.

Astroworld is the finest example of this. Launched in 2018, Houston’s annual Astroworld festival was the manifestation of Travis Scott‘s chaotic, raging energy. As he became a more prominent voice in music each passing year, his influence and ability to assemble epic festival lineups only grew.

After an expected cancellation in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Travis loaded his explosive festival with superstar ammunition for a revamped Astroworld experience. The multi-genre lineup for the Nov. 5-6 extravaganza consisted of fan-favorites like Scott himself, SZA, Lil Baby, Bad Bunny, Tame Impala, Earth Wind & Fire, Young Thug, Toro y Moi and much more.

I attended the festival on Day 1, Friday, Nov. 5. I arrived to the venue at 4:30 CT, just as Don Toliver‘s set was beginning. NRG Park in Houston held two stages for the fest, however, every performer besides Travis Scott was assigned to the “Thrills” stage. These artists would perform back-to-back the entire day with 30 minute breaks in between. The “Chills” stage on the other side of the park was designated for Scott to give the headlining performance.

As I, along with hundreds of other fans, made my way to the entrances, there were a few security checkpoints — one for the COVID-19 vaccine/negative COVID-19 test verification, and one to check wristbands and have the fans go through metal detectors. These checks, while practical in theory, were the least rigorous I had ever been through to go to a concert or festival.

I am an avid festival-goer, and their return in the second half of this year was exciting for me, as well as every other young hip-hop fan. So, it was easy for us to disregard the flimsiness of the security in favor of our own enthusiasm.

Don Toliver’s set was electric, as he resorted to playing his most recognizable tracks in Internet Money’s “Lemonade” or his 2020 hit “After Party.” He closed with “Flocky Flocky” from his latest album Life of a DON, and fans soon waited for the next performer, Roddy Ricch.

Roddy’s performance was laid-back, as fans stayed composed and comfortable during his set with sensual tracks like “Late At Night” and “High Fashion.” He decided to turn up momentarily before the leaving the stage, ending is set with his 2019 hits “Ballin'” and “The Box.”

The weather all day had been pleasant, and did not give way for any fans to experience issues like heat exhaustion.

Next was SZA, as her scheduled 30-minute set soon became an hour-long, fabulously sung escapade through her career up until this point. Hitting all the key moments from her classic 2017 Ctrl album, along with beloved singles like “Hit Different,” “Good Days” and “Kiss Me More,” the crowd was more engaged than they had been all day.

Since Metro Boomin had to delay his 1:00 CT set earlier in the day, he performed directly after SZA at around 8:30, pushing Travis’ set to 9:00, when it was originally slated to be from 8:45-10:30.

The “Chills” set was transformed to “Utopia Mountain” for Travis’ performance, which was live-streamed on Apple Music for all to see. The stage design was magnificent, full of vibrant patterns, emulating a psychedelic experience.

As we neared the beginning of Travis’ set, fans began asserting their way towards the stage, as I was in the middle of the raucous crowd. This was not anything I wasn’t already used to though. If you have ever been to a hip-hop festival, you know that fans’ main objective is being as close to the action as possible. I, along with the thousands of other attendees, typically tolerate hectic environments like these.

Travis Scott began his fiery performance with “Escape Plan,” his fresh new single that had fans buzzing for more new music on the way, expected to be in the form of upcoming album Utopia. The energy shifted from uncomfortable squirming to fatigue and exhilaration quickly, as Travis kept the vibes up with vintage hits like “Mamacita” and “Upper Echelon.”

The crowd was opening mosh pits for each song he would play, as it likely pushed many people towards the barriers and added to their discomfort. I had not noticed any abnormalities though, as I was used to the 100% devotion to having a good time that these festivals promote.

I kept moving closer to the stage as bodies shifted, and Travis refused to let the energy dissolve. However, I recall one portion of the show where he pointed out a passed out fan and directed security to attend to them. He paused the song he was playing during that time and just hummed harmoniously as an intermission while the fan was removed from the mass of people.

In my head, I figured the fan would be okay, as it was not to totally uncommon for fans to faint during shows. Travis continued with the show, and while my movement was restricted by the tightness of the crowd, I was fortunate to be comfortable enough to enjoy the show.

Later, however, I felt a huge surge of force from my backside, and turned around to see what had happened. There was a huge circle opened up by the staff of the show and paramedics, just as big as any mosh pit I had participated in. I could not see from my angle what had happened, but I knew they were tending to a person who had passed out.

I figured they would get the person the help they needed, taking them out of the crowd and all would be well. But, that team of staff and paramedics, which had gotten there halfway through the show, stayed until the end. 20-30 yards from the stage, they were working their hardest to help this person in need, as fans continued to dedicate their attention to Travis on stage.

After bringing out his highly-anticipated guest star Drake, and having him perform “Sicko Mode” and more of his Certified Lover Boy hits, Travis ended the show around 10:10. So, while the set was expected to last an hour and 45 minutes, it barely made it past an hour. I was curious about this stoppage, but I had a great time anyway, so I had no reason to complain.

Fans exited the venue just as they would at any other festival, so I had no idea of the mayhem that had ensued in other areas of the crowd that I was not in, aside from the medical event behind me. I figured that, along with the fan passing out earlier were isolated incidences.

As phones usually experience a large decrease in service during shows like these, I had mine in Airplane Mode all day to preserve battery. It wasn’t until I got home an hour later that I checked social media, learning of the hundreds of injuries and several potential deaths. I was stunned.

I did not know how to feel or how to react. Had I just seen a dead body in that crowd of people behind me? Did I ignore somebody near me that needed help? Were these deaths drug involved or just due to an out-of-control crowd? Did Travis know?

I woke up the next morning to dozens of curious texts about my well-being, and checked Twitter and all social media to see my timelines flooded with sensitive videos of lifeless bodies and countless different opinions on who was accountable. It was overwhelming. I had to log off for a few hours just to get it off my mind. It’s not easy to process that people died around you and you did not and could not help them.

The festival was cancelled and the following days resulted in dozens of lawsuits levied against Travis — apologies from those involved, accusations, tributes, memes and hot takes from people who just wanted to be on the right side of history.

While I understand every major event becomes trivialized on social media in its aftermath, it is tough to swallow when you were there to see the event. I was lucky enough to not have to go through the suffering many people did at Astroworld, but it absolutely makes me more weary of ever going to show in the future.

If you ask me who is to blame for the tragic loss of lives, I would tell you everybody involved. Travis Scott was the organizer of the event, and is responsible for not being more attentive to his fans and their cries for help. But, organizers like NRG Park, Live Nation, Houston Police and everyone who played a part in putting the event together did a horrible job of maintaining stability and enforcing security.

Ultimately, these results came from performers like Travis and organizers like Live Nation getting off the hook in the past. Attendees’ well-being has rarely ever been a priority at shows like these, and it got to a point where fans became numb to the concerns of their fellow concert-goers.

Fundamental change is needed, and it seems that this was used as a wake up call for rappers and artists at their subsequent shows following the Astroworld mayhem. While simply checking on your fans and issuing warnings for misconduct are baby steps towards change, they are baby steps in the right direction.

I urge you to be mindful of the safety of those next to you at your next concert mosh pit, and if you feel unsafe, take the necessary steps to ensure you do not risk your health for a concert. No performance is worth injury, let alone a loss of life.

Our Generation sends its deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives at Astroworld.