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.

40 thoughts on “Crowd Crush: the tragedy of humans in large numbers

  1. I guess I’m old. The last live concert was a music concert of an Indian sitar player. The crowd numbered under 40 and the median ager was over 40. Much respect for the artist and the music was provided… These type of tragedies could all be avoided – you are absolutely correct – money over lives, greed before conscience!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now I know I’d enjoy a small concert like you describe, with mutual respect between artist and crowd!
      Yes, corporation’s greed is getting out of control. Safety needs to come before profits but that’s clearly not happening.
      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s horrible what happened! The more I read about it, the more disgusted I feel. Thank you for your post- it was very insightful and I can relate to your attitude towards concerts now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I hadn’t heard of this. Horrible. I’m soon going to be afraid of letting ky kids out at all! How could he just continue singing? How can people be fans of someone like that?
    I was once at a New Year’s Eve party that the City organised outdoors. It was boring but we stayed til the end. When it ended, the masses kicked in. We couldn’t control which way to go and it was scary. Some people were drunk and shoving. I’m not a fan of large events…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. I told my husband if we ever have kids I don’t want them going to music festivals. It’s too dangerous. And like your example, even after an event is over, things can still get bad in a crowd! I imagine it’s terrifying not to be able to control where your body is moving!

      I think Travis Scott could have stopped the show. Even heavy metal bands will stop their shows if someone falls down in the mosh pit. I have nostalgic memories associated with his music but I don’t feel like listening to it anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s so horrific whatever you want to call it–a crush or a stampede. The word crush is better. I totally agree with you. Stampede is more suitable to describe a herd of raging buffaloes or wildebeests. I never feel comfortable even in a tiered classroom with more than a 100 people. I went to big stadiums several times for a football game, a baseball game, both I can’t understand much. And once for a religious event. I consider these activities very boring for me. It’s much better I stay at home to read a book. Be careful. I mean whenever a crush or a stampede happens, women are more likely to be victims since we don’t have the muscle strength of a man, especially in our arms. Also the height makes a difference too. I mean if one is shorter than others, one can easily get pushed around. I mean being an Asian, I am quite aware of all the disadvantages. Yes, be careful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also hear “stampede” and think of a herd of buffalo. Based on what I read on Wikipedia, stampede is when everyone is running and people get trampled. For example, trying to escape a burning building when there’s not enough exits. But the phenomenon of people pressing together and suffocating is considered a crush. Either way, terrible way to die.
      It’s scary to think how powerless the human body is in a dense crowd. Like you said, being shorter and having less muscle strength makes the outcome even more grim. I think it’s no coincidence that several of the victims of Astroworld were children.
      PSA to concert attendees: with the big screens and loud speakers, you could enjoy the show just as much from the back of the crowd!!!

      Like

  5. it was qutie a tragedy. thanks for explaining the sceince of such crowd behavior; it must be a terrible feeling to be so helpless in such a situation. I enjoy concerts, but only fromt eh safety, and comfort, of an assigned seat…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. LiziRose, I was crushed, no pun intended, when I heard about this over the weekend. 😥 I can’t even imagine the sheer terror everyone who witnessed this tragedy felt. I love your analysis of historical comparisons, and you articulated your message powerfully. I’m reminded of that incident in Las Vegas a few years ago with that sniper taking out people at the outdoor concert near Mandalay Bay. People panicked, were frightened, and that brought on a stampede as well.

    I am so heartbroken by this because now too many families are grieving. 😭 It doesn’t make sense. Thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt thoughts. 💐

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh, I forgot about the shooting at the concert in Las Vegas. That was so sad and inhumane. 💔 Not only were there the gunshot fatalities, but also numerous people were injured in the panicked stampede.
      It’s hard to wrap my mind around how many things can potentially go wrong at large crowded events. After learning more about this topic I now have more gratitude for event staff and security. They’re often underpaid and under-appreciated, but their job is so important!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you LiziRose 💯 my friend. You think about the stuff the event staff go through to try to control the crowds, at times a few people may get unruly, and they are underpaid as you said and definitely underappreciated. There are so many variables that goes into big events like this. I hate when some thoughtless things and horrific actions come into play and so many people suffer as a result of it. So tragic isn’t it? 😥

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I agree, and event management + security seem to be one of those jobs that aren’t really appreciated until something goes wrong…
        Yes my heart hurts for all the people affected. So sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Yeah Scott’s reaction was pretty awful..he stopped for a few songs, but even with people screaming and chanting “stop the show” he ignored those pleas and continued on…that to me is pathetic. I remember experiencing crowd rushes back in the day when I was a teen attending standing room only shows, at 17 I was pushed into the sweaty back of some burly biker at an Ace Frehley concert, I wasn’t being crushed per se but it still royally sucked and made me never want to attend a show where I didn’t have an actual seat. Honestly, this Concert reminded e to an extent of the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont in 1969, where a dude brandishing a gun was stabbed to death by a Hell’s Angel, the stopped for a moment, but then finished their set despite the tragedy happening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matt I’m glad you brought up the example of the Rolling Stones concert. It’s another example of asking, what is the responsibility of the performer in relation to the crowd??
      What alarms me is learning that Astroworld is not an isolated tragedy. I never realized concerts could be deadly. My husband has been to many more concerts than me and he was unsurprised. He told me that mosh pit deaths happen even at smaller concerts. Yikes. I’m with you: unless I have an actual seat, I don’t want to be there.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I came to know of this incidence via the news. Saddened… Music is to heal, not to kill! Some people get too excited during concerts, and stampedes occur. Though, going to converts can be avoided on a large scale. Blaring music causes noise pollution!
    Thanks for the awesome post :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, music should be a source of healing and not death. Related to what you said, I wonder if there should be a maximum limit on concert size. It’s not only dangerous, but it’s impossible to enjoy the music when the crowd is so big.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading my story and for your comment. I agree there definitely needs to be justice, and an investigation to figure out what exactly went wrong so we can prevent another tragedy…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I sooo agree with you on watching our favourite artists perform live. Headphones give you a better experience without the risk of death.
    I’ve actually never heard of crowd crush. It’s interesting yet tragic. I live in the most densely populated country in thr world and being on crowds is something I’m very used to. When I say crowd, I mean a crowd wherein you can’t breathe or speak. But this story is just straight up TRAGIC with young people having to die. Never knew about these events. Indeed it was greedy of them to sell more tickets and reduce the staff. RIP victims 🙏

    Like

    1. Wow, being from a small town in a rural area, I can hardly imagine living in a crowded place where every day you encounter dense groups of people. I can’t even remember the last time I bumped into a stranger because we are always so spread out in stores or on the street.
      I think if I came to your city I would panic at first! But like you said, being in a crowd is just something to get used to.
      As long as everyone has a direction to move toward and there isn’t a barrier blocking the way, it’s all good 😁

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s