We’ve spent the last few days sifting through dozens (hundreds?) of firsthand accounts, videos, media reports, and scientific journals to produce what we hope can be a comprehensive guide on what happened at Astroworld. It has been extremely difficult. We’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of pain, betrayal, and trauma that has befallen so many members of our music community – and we have also been enraged, not only by the negligence that took place at this event, but by the flagrant misinformation spread in its wake.
Our synopses on the bigger issues with Astroworld (DanceSafe’s Evaluations) are below. This response serves as one part of a living document that will be updated with additional links as we publish additional expansions on these topics. We hope that you take the time to read all of them as they are released, as they contain crucial debunking and life-saving information.
Significant CW/TW: Some of the material discussed in this article will be graphic and upsetting. Content warning for body gore, death, and overdose.
Claims of injection drug attacks (full response here)
DanceSafe’s verdict: While it is technically possible to dose someone by injecting them with a needle, it is extremely improbable that this actually took place even once, let alone with several people in a massive crowd.
- UPDATE: Within a few days of the initial claim about this attack, the Houston Police Department issued a retraction statement acknowledging that it never happened. The guard was hit in the head and woke up in the medical tent. No drugs were involved. This article was written before the retraction was released.
- It is recklessly negligent to suggest as such without any sort of concrete proof, since this a) is very unlikely given all of the factors at play and b) detracts from conversations about how crowd crushing and trampling contributed to these tragic and preventable deaths. It also misrepresents the prevalence of a type of assault that is already widely regarded as being an anomaly by public health experts.
Crowd crushing & crowd collapse
DanceSafe’s verdict: The most likely cause of death for these individuals was crowd crushing, although autopsy reports will be the ultimate determinant.
- There is staggering evidence of life-threatening levels of crowding, suffocation, and injury, based on slews of individual testimonies and videos. It is likely that the majority of those who passed out (non-fatally) fainted due to panic, overheating from pyro effects and body heat, or oxygen deprivation.
- Crowd crushing can cause asphyxiation when the space around you contracts so much that you exhale and don’t have room to inhale again. This can be deadly due to oxygen deprivation or fainting, which leads to falling and being trampled or crushed. When “crowd collapse” takes place (a domino effect of people falling over), thousands of pounds of weight can land on someone and kill them. Many people have reported full-body bruising or limb injury after escaping the crowd.
- It is deeply insulting that the Houston Police Department would suggest that “one of the narratives” surrounding these deaths was injection drug attacks, given the near-zero likelihood of this actually being the case and the obvious probability of these deaths being explained by crowd crushing. This (once again) demonstrates the use of drugs as a scapegoat for human error, and removes accountability from LiveNation for inadequate crowd control and emergency measures. There is no reason to attribute these deaths to injection drug attacks. This claim was effectively pulled out of thin air to explain a tragic situation.
Astroworld promoter/organizer negligence
DanceSafe’s verdict: LiveNation and its security contractors/vendors did not sufficiently prepare staff. Security staff were inadequately trained and medical staff were inadequately resourced. Some staff failed to act when alerted to problems in the crowd, and as far as we are aware there was no plan in place for crowd control or responding to crowd crushing.
- There are conflicting reports on the preparedness of medical teams, with the most pressing issue appearing to be a lack of material resources given the unexpected swell of major medical emergencies. There have been additional eyewitness reports of medical staff performing CPR incorrectly or being insufficiently equipped with rescue materials like crash bags and backboards.
- Security members have reported being hired without any formal training, as well as complete lack of preparation and leadership before or during the show. Security contractor ScoreMore Shows did not include plans for assessing and responding to crowd crushing and trampling, which is an essential part of hosting any large-scale event.
- ScoreMore Shows also did not include specifications for evaluating the credentials and experience of staff chosen by the security vendor. Their safety plan also does not specify the number or placement of security guards.
- The security plan appears to state that only the Festival Director or Executive Producer had the ultimate authority to halt the show, but this does not change the fact that producers are capable of alerting artists to crowd issues and requesting their assistance on the microphone.
- Hundreds or even thousands of people stormed the gates and entered the festival without tickets, making it unclear how many people were actually in attendance.
- Houston Police raised concerns about event safety to Travis Scott before the event even began, but no action was taken.
- Scott’s set was intentionally scheduled to be the only music at the time, pushing all 50,000 attendees to one stage. Aerial footage of the event clearly shows overcrowding. This could have been caught and responded to by producers cutting the music and/or facilitating crowd expansion from the back.
- LiveNation did not provide adequate sources of water, and security staff have reported feeling like the event was chaotic and dangerous. Additionally, LiveNation has a long history of safety violations, which is likely related to the lack of regulation in place for event producers.
- It should be noted that the fact that we even need regulations for event producers is a tragedy in its own right, due to apparent lack of regard for the basic health and safety of their own event patrons.
- From CBS: “Kherkher Garcia, LLP sent a team of inspectors to the NRG Park on Monday and Tuesday. In a statement on Wednesday, the firm said it found that the “pit” in front of the stage where Scott and others performed was “completely inadequate in size and unnecessary cordoned off by ‘moat’ barricades that were ineffective in crowd control” and that medical treatment areas were “not readily accessible by the crowd.” It also claims that the “security and medical personnel at the overall festival site were completely inadequate based on the size of the premises and the number of concertgoers.’”
The Big Picture
We need to zoom out when we look at this tragedy. This is not the first time this year that we have released material in response to preventable deaths or distress at events; Elements Music Festival garnered similarly bad press (for different reasons) as a product of promoter negligence and lack of health and safety initiatives.
Beyond this, a myriad of large events have been held in unsafe or downright dangerous conditions in 2021 alone. Festivals have been held in 100 degree heat, where alcohol was served directly inside the entrance and water stations were a half mile walk away. Massive events have been thrown at the peak of the Delta surge without any sort of COVID precautions in place. Camping festivals have left ADA patrons stuck in shin-deep mud without assistance, and others waiting in line for shuttles for upwards of 10 hours.
The world has been throwing events for a long, long time, and gathering is an activity as old as humanity itself. We are heartbroken and exhausted every time we see yet another incident in which people’s lives or safety are threatened because of promoter negligence or community misconduct.
Behind every action is an individual, or a group of individuals, that did or did not dissent to injustice. Accountability looks like transparency, attentiveness, action, and compassion. If you are throwing an event for the people who attend it, it is very obvious by its planning and execution. If you are throwing an event for profit or for personal gain, it is also very obvious by its planning and execution.
It’s okay to not be an expert on health and safety – not many people are. What is not okay is collecting the funds, time, and resources to throw an event without investing in hiring people who are experts to make sure that it happens right. Otherwise, it is no longer about the experience of the patrons: it’s about the brand. And boy, is it easy to underestimate just how many bases there are to cover when it comes to properly implementing health and safety.
We’ve said it before, and we will say it here: People who throw events create a container for attendees, and attendees become reliant on the resources and safety measures that organizers have put in place. Attendees are no longer capable of caring for themselves as they would normally be able to because there are certain restrictions in place that limit their behaviors, resources, and movement.
The phrase “health and safety” feels fluffy sometimes, but what it really alludes to is a vast practice of promoting fulfillment and protecting lives. People die at events without health and safety measures in place. Period. Everything else can wait until the patrons are safe – including the show itself.
Honoring the Victims
Nine people have been reported dead so far, and counting. This does not include countless injuries. Their names:
- Bharti Shahani, 22
- John Hilgert, 14
- Brianna Rodriguez, 16
- Jacob Jurinek, 20
- Franco Patiño, 21
- Axel Acosta, 21
- Rudy Peña, 23
- Madison Dubiski, 23
- Danish Baig, 27
9-year-old Ezra Blount is in a medically induced coma as of 11/12/21.