I had a different post written for today, but I can’t stop thinking about the disaster that occurred over the weekend.
I’m referring to the tragic deaths and injuries that occurred at a music festival in Texas. “At least 8 dead and many injured after crowd surge at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston” (CNN).
Rest in peace to the victims. Several were teenagers, and all were under the age of 27 (NYT). How heartbreaking for their families. Imagine buying concert tickets for your child, and then they die of suffocation while standing right below their favorite artist, who just continues singing into the mic? It makes me sick to my stomach.
Last night I stayed up late on a Wikipedia binge. I learned there have been a lot of human crushes throughout history. The science of these tragedies is horrific yet fascinating.
A crowd crush happens when people are squeezed together so densely that they no longer move as individuals. At a large enough scale humans behave like a fluid. Shockwaves ripple through the crowd, increasing the pressure. And no one can do anything. You can’t move in a different direction. You can’t lift your arms and legs, let alone pick someone up if they’ve fallen down. At a certain point, the pressure prevents you from taking a breath. Compressive asphyxia results in death.
In general, the term “crush” is preferred to “stampede.” Because the latter word gives the impression that the crowd is a like a pack of mindless wild animals who don’t care about anyone around them. In past events (such as the Hillsborough disaster where nearly 100 people were crushed to death at a soccer game) the media has condemned the crowd instead of holding the event organizers responsible for their poor planning.
Blaming the fans ignores the reality that at a large enough density, humans are complete victims of physics.
Now about Astroworld. Yes, there were some rowdy and belligerent people in the crowd. Fans blocking ambulances? Despicable. Yes, Travis Scott should have stopped the show. However, I get the sense that he just didn’t have a clue what was unfolding. Not that that makes it any better. Part of the performer’s job is to use their vantage point on stage to pay attention to crowd dynamics.
In my opinion, the main culprit is Live Nation, the entertainment company who oversold tickets while also reducing staff. Greedy, greedy. There was so little security that 1000’s of people were able to rush the turnstiles and break into the already overcrowded venue. Which leads us back to Travis Scott’s culpability, since he encourages his fans to do stuff like this.
Then there’s the troubling fact that Apple Music had an exclusive deal to livestream the Astroworld show. Did the people on stage have a sense that things were going wrong, yet hesitated to pause the livestream because “the show must go on”?
It feels very dystopian.
I went to a Travis Scott concert once. In 2017.
I was way too close to the stage because I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I’d been to a fair amount of concerts, but none with a vibe like this. I was elbowed and stepped on before the show began. Then everyone started moshing the instant the first note sounded through the speakers. Someone punched me in the chest, and when I got my breath back I panicked. But I was able to push my way out of the crowd.
As I stumbled through the fans, I saw a rabid look in their eyes. They looked almost demonic. Maybe everyone was high or maybe it was the red glow of the stage lighting, but either way it was one of the freakiest moments of my life. I felt truly claustrophobic. And that wasn’t even close to what happened at Astroworld…
The last concert I went to was a couple years ago to see Mick Jenkins. The venue was small and not overly crowded, but I stayed near the back where there was plenty of space. I no longer desired to be in the heart of the crowd.
That night, I realized I appreciate his music even more when I’m alone, just skating around listening through my headphones. Since then I kind of lost my desire to go to concerts.
Is it worth it to see our favorite artists perform live? Maybe not, if we can get just as much enjoyment from a recording.
But it’s definitely not worth it if there’s a risk of suffocating to death.
Again, rest in peace to the victims. I hope more care will be taken in the future to ensure public safety at large events. Venues should not oversell tickets and there needs to be more security to prevent people from rushing the gates. Also performers should be encouraged to pause the concert if there is a disturbance at any time.
Everyone is looking up to the person on stage. In that moment, they are more of a god than an artist. They have the power to prevent another tragedy.