Live music is one of the best things humans do. It’s the crux around which we form our history, a commonality between our too often distant cultures and customs, and the best tool we have to bring people together. Unfortunately, with something so human, there is a never-ending opportunity for the worst elements of human behaviour to overshadow the purely uplifting experience that attending a gig or festival should be.
On Friday, 8 people died (5 of which were under 18), over 300 people were sent to the hospital (including a 9 year old who remains in critical condition) and thousands more were left traumatised in the wake of Travis Scott’s performance at Astroworld Festival. The total reality of this twisted tragedy is made even more unbearable when we consider that Astroworld had already learnt these lessons before after three people were hospitalised in 2019 during an eerily foreshadowing stampede to the main stage.
Since then, Travis Scott has pledged to pay for all 8 confirmed fatalities’ funerals, partnered with BetterHelp to provide free therapy sessions for those affected by the events, pulled out of an upcoming headline slot, and promised to refund all attendees of Astroworld. For some, this is too little too late – and at least 27 lawsuits have been filed against the musician at the time of writing.
The tactless truth is that moshpit deaths have plagued the pavilions and hallways of music history from Beatlemania to Bashment. It can happen for any number of reasons, whether it be unreliable and untrained security like the Hells Angels bouncers at a 1969 Rolling Stones show or because of horrid oversight like the Kiss nightclub fire in 2013. Either way, these tragedies occur not because of the featured genre of music or artist, or the attitude of the crowd in attendance, but because of a lack of preparation and a sickening willingness to cut corners. Here though, it seems impossible to ignore the artist: Scott has had a history of inciting violence and ‘raging’ at his show, and as seen in multiple videos from Friday’s event, directly looked at a lifeless body being taken out of the crowd whilst still performing. With Astroworld being only the most recent in a growing list of tragic concert calamities, we think it’s crucial we vocalise some of the often unsaid truisms about the common mishandling of live music events by the organiser, artist and attendee.
To The Event Organisers
The total amount of tickets that you sell should be less than the maximum capacity that you can handle if all your onsite resources only work with a well-dispersed crowd. It is illogical to ignore the obvious reality that nearly 100% of your attendees would swarm around the main stage for the headline performance of the very artist that founded the festival. Especially if he plans on bringing out the biggest rapper on the planet, in this instance Drake.
Protect female fans and make them feel welcomed and safe. On Friday night, 20-year-old Basil Braig watched his brother die as he tried to save his fiancé from an onslaught of punches and crushing blows that eventually put her in the hospital. You cannot elicit and create a frat-boy style of mob mentality when there are families and children in attendance. It is no longer acceptable to cater to your crowd as if they are all 20-something college boys who enjoy the violence and bad hygiene. Facilities, services, emergency response plans, security briefs and crowd distribution schemes should all reflect the diversity of the fans attending the gig, not assume that people can just handle whatever comes their way. The easiest way to make your festival more inclusive is to stop overselling spaces and allocating square footage estimates to guests like factory farmers do to cattle.
Thousands of amazing moments in music history have taken place in more complex and chaotic locations, periods of history, or cultural climates and avoided tragedy. It can be done and it should only ever be done. If you can’t do it then you shouldn’t be putting on the festival in the first place. You owe it to your artists to guarantee that every single fan gets home safe without something so dehumanising as a human stampede threatening their safety.
To The Fans
Enforcing moshpit manners is the single most important thing we can do to help revive and restore the live music industry. Music venues, events companies, promotions and start-ups have a hard enough time staying open these days without us caring more about an inch difference in our proximity to Travis Scott than we do about our fellow fans. The best part about loving a certain genre or niche of music is that you become part of an inclusive community that doesn’t care about any detail outside of the dance. One of the most faith restoring experiences you can have is being picked up by a total stranger or seeing multiple people crowd around someone as they gather their feet before rejoining the unfolding riot. It’s a beautiful thing that births and baptises new initiates into the cult of controlled chaos that is the moshpit. If we don’t preserve that respect for our fellow ravers then one day they may go away and we only just got them back.
We all depend on events like Astroworld to interact with the music we love in the way that it was designed. The majority of us have saved and scrimped every penny just to get there in the first place, so don’t ruin it by thinking that you or your view of the stage is more important than the music or the safety of anyone else. If you want to be at the front then skip the beer tent and go and queue up as if you are a real human being with thoughts and consideration for others. Try and rave on the side of the stage closest to the welfare tents or medical stations if you are worried about the conditions. Most importantly, if you see someone struggling, do something to help because you know you would want some too if you were in their position.
To The Artists
Performing your music live music has always been the best part but the most unpredictable aspect of your artistry. Unfortunately, like many other elements of our lives, horrible things happen even if all precautions have been taken, but let’s face it, rarely have all precautions been taken. To you, it must seem unimaginable that something so soul-destroying and avoidable could happen amid something so ruthlessly equalising and joyous. Nevertheless, it’s your name on the door that people have come to see so you must hold everyone that’s working under you to account for the experience that unfolds.
If something does happen, don’t stand there wondering if you should bring in the next beat. Stop the show until medical services can deal with the situation because if they are your ‘family’ when they’re dancing for you then they should be your ‘family’ when they’re down. Linkin Park, Rage Against The Machine, Chevelle, Nirvana, Queen and the Foo Fighters have all stopped shows to back their fans when audiences or security turn sour. You won’t look any less Rock n’Roll or risk seeming any less anti-establishment than your music portrays if you refuse to perform until everyone is moved back and people are picked off the ground. Chester Bennington of Linkin Park once made a whole area response to his question “When someone falls down, what do we do?”, with the answer we “Pick them up!”. You can’t get much more Rock n’ Roll than that.