Though Travis Scott fans are intimately familiar with the chaotic nature of the artist’s live shows, the tragic events of last Friday’s Astroworld concert in Houston that left nine people dead were unfathomable. “I know he has a history of encouraging fans to get rowdy and stuff at a show,” said Kylie Cameron, a 21-year-old student at the University of Iowa who attended the festival. “So like, I went into [it] knowing that is the culture there.”
Cameron told me she had been a fan of Scott since 2017. She first experienced one of Scott’s live performances a few years ago, in 2018 in Phoenix. “That was a fun show and everything, because we had seats [and] we weren’t in the pit,” she said. “When we were looking down, because we were [on the] upper level, like right above the stage, we could see the pit was crazy. Like all his shows I've ever seen, people are constantly getting pulled out of the pit.” At the Phoenix show, Cameron said she and her brother had a game plan, having come up with meetup spots in case things went awry.
Unfortunately, during this year’s Astroworld festival, which she went to while on a trip to celebrate a friend’s 21st birthday, Cameron found herself in the thick of what would later be called a “mass casualty” incident by the Houston police. For Cameron, the problems at the venue began prior to Scott’s set. “I was probably about 10, 15 people back from the barricade,” she said, telling me about the already claustrophobic atmosphere during rapper Don Toliver’s performance. “And that’s when I realized I was in a lot of trouble. I’d put my phone up to take a video of him, and I couldn’t bring my elbows back down to my side anymore — and people were compressed very tightly against me.” She ended up being pulled from the pit by a security guard and lost a shoe because people kept stepping on her feet. “I had a lot of bruises on my legs as a result of it, my knee is very swollen.” Though Cameron said she has been experiencing pain, she has been reluctant to go to the hospital. “This is America, so [we] don’t really have the best health insurance,” she said.
The horrific event and its aftermath forever changed Cameron. “I went to an ASAP Mob concert and was a part of the mosh pit there,” Cameron said. “And those were totally different. If you fell down, people instantly helped you up, like making sure you were OK. But at Astroworld, this time around, Travis would just yell for people to mosh even though it was an all-age [event]. Like, there was a 5-year-old by me.” While Cameron was listening to music at the airport, waiting to return home, one of Scott’s songs came on. “I had to skip it immediately,” she said. “Like, I can't even listen to him.”
And the fallout over Astroworld continues, with dozens of lawsuits piling up, many of them implicating Scott, including a lawsuit from the family of a 9-year-old who remains in a coma after attending last week’s event. Another attendee, a 22-year-old college senior, was pronounced brain-dead and died on Thursday. In response, Scott has vowed to assist the families of the victims with funeral costs and promoted teletherapy (through a partnership with BetterHelp) for those who survived, though Scott listed the incorrect number for those mental health services on his Instagram and only updated the hotline after BuzzFeed News reached out for comment.
Meanwhile fans are divided over whether or not Scott should carry most of the blame.
Pedro Vasquez, 31, lives in Massachusetts and works a government job. A fan of Scott since 2013, Vasquez has been to three concerts by the artist, though he didn’t attend the one in Houston. He described the Scott events he went to in the past as a “zoo,” adding, “It’s kinda wild, but not so much chaotic. It’s just like the energy — you’re jumping up and down and everything is a cohesive movement.” When you depart from a Scott concert, Vasquez said, “you leave tired. It’s like a whole workout.”
Although he’s aware of how a Scott concert typically plays out, Vasquez said he was “surprised” by the number of casualties and people hurt last week. “Through all of these shows that I’ve gone to, there [were] never any casualties,” he said. But he added, “I feel like, in a sense, this is something that was going to happen. Maybe one casualty, but I feel like eight happening was just, like, that’s a lot.” Vasquez believes the tragedy was “avoidable,” saying, “But I think it was the hype. Travis Scott, he brings this crowd, and it’s so much hype that I think people become unaware or desensitized to the people around them.”
The swell of energy that encapsulates a Scott concert has been well documented, perhaps most notably in his 2019 Netflix documentary Look Mom I Can Fly. The film covers a wide range of the artist’s life, from him putting the finishing touches on the album Astroworld to the birth of his daughter, Stormi, with Kylie Jenner. It also explains the inspiration behind the Astroworld festival’s origins. It was a Six Flags theme park Scott would frequent with his family until it was demolished in 2005. “I grew up here my whole life. I was inspired by Astroworld,” Scott says a little more than halfway through the documentary. “In ‘05 when they took it away, it kind of took a big piece of my heart away. I didn’t have anywhere to go. So I just kinda wanted to bring back that feeling and give this city something they could always have [something] fun to do.”
It’s an unmistakable moment of sincerity, one that also comes across with the rapper’s connection with his fans, known as “ragers.” The documentary shows several moments when fans crowd-surf and rush toward the stage, sometimes at Scott’s urging. And on at least two separate occasions, Scott pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to his live performances. In 2015 at Lollapalooza in Chicago, the star was charged with disorderly conduct for encouraging fans to leap over security barricades and rush the stage, and in 2017, he was arrested for inciting a riot at a show in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Security, let ‘em through,” Scott yells in a video taken from that concert as fans flock to the stage.
Cameron's view of a mosh pit in the crowd at the Astroworld concert on Nov. 5, 2021
How Astroworld attendees feel about the festival and Scott overall, seems to depend on where they were during the performance. Jerry Stanley, 31, another longtime fan of Scott, was at Astroworld last week, but he was “pretty far back.” Stanley, who’s from Virginia and works as an operations manager, attended the event with a friend. Having gone to a Scott show before, they knew to stay away from the mosh pit.
Stanley was situated “in the middle, right in front of the concession stand.” He had seen Scott previously at Rolling Loud and remembers telling his friend, “We’re not going to get too close [to the stage]. I don’t want to be way up there because people are going to be mosh pitting, and I don’t want to end up in it.” Once Scott’s performance started, the energy began to pick up, but Stanley said the people around him remained “sensible.” They enjoyed the show and left right before Drake got onstage, Stanley said, because he began feeling nauseated.
While outside of the venue, waiting on an Uber for more than half an hour, Stanley recalled seeing “all of a sudden ambulances, police cars are flying down the street,” but it wasn’t clear to them that authorities had arrived because of the mayhem happening inside.
Stanley and Vasquez were both shocked by the tragedy at Astroworld, but they didn’t necessarily believe Scott deserves all the blame. “I don’t put Travis Scott at fault because [he] is the artist, and I feel like the only reason so many fingers are being pointed at him is because he’s the face [of the event],” Stanley told me. “Nobody’s saying, ‘Oh, we need to sue NRG Park for being understaffed during this event.” He also pointed to previous concerts, some where he said Scott would “put a pin in his performance, maybe not stop the whole show, but had the music come down” in order to relieve pressure on people who were being crushed toward the stage. Vasquez felt similarly, saying he thinks Scott has become the “fall guy” for the disaster. In the future, Vasquez said, he will likely still attend Scott’s shows but will probably vibe out from a safe distance.
Cameron, however, feels differently. “I will never go to a concert where I don't have a physical seat again,” she told me. “This has really changed everything for me. I'll never go to a festival like this. I will never be in a pit or anything like that ever again.” Since the event, Cameron had wiped not only Scott’s music from her playlists, but some of Drake’s records and Lil Baby’s too. “I will never listen to Travis Scott again. I removed him from all my Spotify playlists,” she said. “Just knowing what happened, I haven't been able to hear any of those songs.”
To Cameron, Scott’s statements on the deaths at his concert feel insincere, saying, “I just feel like he hasn't done enough.” For the mental health partnership with BetterHelp, the services aren’t fully covered, she said. Scott and BetterHelp will cover a month of therapy services for free, and the price for continuing the service afterward is between $60 and $90 per week. All this is on top of the criticism that one month of therapy likely isn’t sufficient for those who have endured a traumatic event. “It’s more of a partnership where it would still come at a cost for those who attended to pay for it,” she said. “I feel like he needs to open up his pockets a little more and close his mouth because his statements have just come off as insensitive and not genuine to me.” ●