On Nov. 5, sophomore Keoni Lieter was in Houston for Astroworld, a two-day music festival with an estimated 50,000 people in attendance according to the Associated Press. The crowd at the festival rushed toward the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott, causing concert goers to squeeze together, killing 10 people.
“My friends and I got to our spots around 5 p.m.,” said Lieter. “Travis Scott didn’t start till 9 p.m., so we just stood there for three and a half hours. 30 minutes before his set, they put up a timer on the screen. At 15 minutes it started getting tight, but it still wasn’t that bad.”
“With five minutes to spare, you started not being able to move. I was stuck. Shoulder to shoulder with anyone around me,” he said. “When the show started, I was having a good time. Now that I think about it, it was probably just pure adrenaline. Two minutes into the show it started to get really bad. People just kept pushing forward; it’s Travis Scott, people wanted to see him.”
From the perspective of public safety officials, pre-planning for these types of large crowd gatherings is key to keeping everyone safe.
“Anytime you have an event, one of the components in preplanning is that of crowd control,” said Gary MacNamara, chief executive director of public safety and government affairs. “Understanding the capacity is important, you want to know how many people the venue can safely hold. Then it’s about how you bring the crowd in, management when there, and an exit plan.”
There are many lawsuits so far that contend there was a lack of crowd control at this concert.
According to the Associated Press, as of Nov. 9, “More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed so far against Scott and several companies. The complaints allege that organizers failed to take simple-crowd control steps, to staff properly and to act on early signs of trouble at the sold-out concert at NRG Park that attracted 50,000 fans.”
“You couldn’t even raise your hand above your head. If you lifted your legs off the ground, you wouldn’t fall, you would just stay there and float on other people’s shoulders,” said Lieter. “I can’t even remember the songs he played; all I could do was focus on breathing.”
Scott’s performances are known for being chaotic and getting the crowd riled up. Mosh pits are a common occurrence.
According to the Associated Press, 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.
“Anytime you have a large event law enforcement, fire, and EMS want to get together to come up with an operational plan,” said MacNamera. “It defines how you’re going to operate during the event, including various scenarios such as a crowd surge. You always want to find a way to get resources in there if you need, and it seems as though there wasn’t one.”
According to MacNamera, a crowd surge happens when there is too much force behind a large crowd that it overwhelms the capacity of either barriers or other people.
As news broke, the next morning fear and panic spread across the families of those in attendance. The majority of those killed or injured were high school and college students.
“None of us knew anything had happened until the next morning when I woke up to seven missed calls from my mom,” said Lieter. “I’m checking Instagram seeing videos of people passing out, that was something that we were sure was going to happen.”
Videos taken from the festival quickly went viral on social media. On TikTok, videos showed concert goers yelling to “stop the show.”
While some attribute the blame to Scott, others say it is the responsibility of those in charge of the safety of both audience members and concert goers.
“The artist most likely isn’t going to have the ability to see and observe. They aren’t necessarily responsible for safety,” said MacNamara. “That safety comes under those people that are there to do their job such as law enforcement. They have to monitor the situation and make decisions based upon what they’re observing, and they should have had the ability if they were all in a command post operating together to say, ‘time out – stop the show.’”
“It may seem like they were loud in the videos,” said Lieter. “But in-person the music drowned them out. If someone fell, you wouldn’t have been able to tell.”
In an interview with the Associated Press on Nov. 11, Namrata Shahani, sister of 22-year old college student Bharti Shahani who died in the incident, said, “For the first time in her life she just wanted to have fun, and that was taken from her.”
Namrata Shahani’s last words to her sister were, “Are you OK?”