More than 100 lawsuits were filed and a criminal investigation was opened after Travis Scott’s deadly performance at the Astroworld festival in Houston, Texas.
Let’s take a look at what went wrong and what performers and festival organizers are legally required to do to protect spectators.
Who is Travis Scott?
Travis Scott, whose real name is Jacques Webster, is a 30-year-old rapper and record producer from Houston, Texas.
Travis released his debut album Rodeo in 2015. He followed up Rodeo with Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight, which became his first number 1 album on the Billboard 200. In 2018, Travis’ 3rd studio album Astroworld was released to critical acclaim. The album included the rapper’s 1st Billboard Hot 100 number 1 single “Sicko Mode.”
To promote the release of Astroworld, Travis founded the Astroworld Festival. Since its founding, the annual music festival has featured a number of high-profile performers, including Post Malone, Metro Boomin, Lil Wayne, Bad Bunny, SZA, Young Thug, and Baby Keem.
Travis has been nominated for 8 Grammy Awards and he won a Billboard Music Award in 2019.
On November 5, 2021, Travis Scott was scheduled to perform at NRG Park in Houston in front of a crowd of 50,000 at the Astroworld Festival.
Hours before his performance, hundreds of unticketed fans knocked down entrance gates at NRG Park to get into the sold-out concert. Although security guards responded within minutes, some people were injured when they got trapped underneath the crowd pushing past the gates.
When Travis Scott took the stage at approximately 9:00 p.m., the crowd had whipped itself into a frenzy. As Travis began his first song, a large portion of the crowd began to surge toward the stage, causing the people in the front of the crowd to be compressed.
“Once he started, all hell broke loose,” concertgoer Alex Guavin said. “I’m 6 feet tall and could at least put my head up to breathe, but others weren’t so fortunate.”
A number of fans attempted to stop the show when they realized that people were getting hurt.
Cell phone footage taken by one concertgoer shows a young fan climbing onto a platform where a camera operator was filming the event. The fan can be heard begging the camera operator to stop the show. In other videos, concertgoers can be heard chanting “stop the show” and shouting that people were dying.
At approximately 9:30, Houston’s police and firefighters began responding to emergency calls from concertgoers. At the same time, police allegedly told the show’s producers that people in the crowd were being injured.
At 9:38, the Houston Fire Department declared the 2021 Astroworld Festival a “mass casualty event.”
As emergency vehicles struggled to reach injured concertgoers, Travis continued to perform. Although some video footage appears to show Travis instructing the crowd to let the emergency vehicles through, he ultimately performed his entire schedule set.
Investigators stress that the details of what happened in NRG Park are still murky. For example, there have been reports that a member of the audience was injecting people with drugs. At one point, a security officer, who appeared to have an injection mark in his neck, had to be revived with anti-drug overdose medicine.
“This is a very, very active investigation, and we will probably be at it for quite some time to determine what exactly happened,” Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said.
Houston Police Department Chief Troy Finner added:
“This is now a criminal investigation that’s going to involve our homicide division, as well as narcotics, and we’re going to get down to the bottom of it.”
Although much of what happened remains unclear, what’s certain is that 8 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.
Who are the victims of the Travis Scott concert?
Travis Scott’s music appeals to a young audience. Those who died ranged in age from 14 to 27. So far, they have been identified as Mirza Danish Baig, Rodolfo Pena, Madison Dubiski, Franco Patino, Axel Acosta Avila, Jacob Jurinek, Brianna Rodriguez, and the youngest victim, John Hilgert.
Hundreds of other concertgoers were injured, including 9-year-old Ezra Blount who suffered severe swelling in his brain and went into cardiac arrest at the concert. Ezra is currently in a medically-induced coma fighting for his life.
How do people die in crowd surges?
Tragedies like the one that occurred during the Astroworld Festival on November 5, 2021, are not uncommon. A couple of the more notable examples from recent history include:
- Riverfront Coliseum. In 1979, 11 people died when a huge crowd rushed toward 2 open doors at the entrance of the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio, mistakenly believing that The Who had taken the stage early and that the other doors would not be opened.
- Hillsborough Stadium. In 1989, minutes before a soccer match at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, nearly 100 people were killed when thousands of fans rushed into a narrow tunnel leading to the stadium.
When a crowd surges, concertgoers may be impacted from behind (when the crowd pushes forward) and from the front (when the concertgoers meet hard barriers or other people trying to escape). When people fall, pressure can come from above.
The bottom line:
When a crowd surges, people can be squeezed so hard that their lungs are unable to get enough oxygen into the blood.
According to Dr. GK Still, an expert in crowd science and a visiting professor at the University of Suffolk, deadly crowd surges typically have 3 things in common:
- The density of the crowd exceeds the legal guidelines. Keep in mind that while the number of tickets sold may be appropriate for the size of the venue, trespassing fans may cause the density of the crowd to exceed the legal guidelines.
- Poor crowd-management systems. Security guards, adequate exits, and other crowd-management measures must be in place to prevent a crowd surge.
- A catalyst. Crowd surges require a catalyst—for example, a performer encouraging the crowd to rush the stage or a hazard that the crowd is trying to escape.
Hundreds of lawsuits filed in the wake of the Astroworld Festival tragedy
More than one hundred lawsuits were filed against Travis Scott and other festival organizers, including Live Nation and ScoreMore. The lawsuits allege that:
- The festival organizers failed to provide adequate security for maintaining proper crowd control,
- The festival organizers failed to provide adequate medical services, and
- Travis Scott failed to stop the show after he became aware that people were being injured
According to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Houston resident Wasem Abulawi who was injured during the concert:
"Conditions were created and consented to by the festival organizers that caused several stampedes and a crowd compression that resulted in the tragic deaths of 8 individuals and the serious injuries of hundreds more.”
At the time of publication, only two lawsuits have been resolved. The wrongful death lawsuits that were resolved were filed by the families of Axel Acosta, a 21-year-old victim, and Brianna Rodriguez, a 16-year-old victim.
The settlement terms for both lawsuits are confidential.
What are the owners and operators of music venues required to do to protect spectators?
Under premises liability laws, owners and operators of concert venues have a common law duty to keep their properties safe with respect to the people visiting the venues.
More specifically, owners and operators have a duty to maintain their premises in a “reasonably safe condition” and to make a “reasonable effort” to maintain order among the patrons and employees in light of the activities taking place at the venue.
This legal obligation is why hockey teams put up glass around the ice rink and why concert venues hire security guards and provide adequate exits.
Exactly what constitutes a “reasonably safe condition” is a question of fact to be decided by the judge or jury depending on the specific case. Owners and operators aren’t expected to prevent ALL injuries. Rather, their duty is to take reasonable steps to prevent FORESEEABLE injuries.
In the case of the Astroworld Festival, it’s likely that asphyxiation as a result of a crowd surge would be considered a foreseeable injury. This is particularly true given the large number of concertgoers and the fact that similar injuries were sustained in previous Travis Scott shows.
Whether or not the companies behind the Astroworld Festival took reasonable steps to prevent asphyxiation is not yet known. There is, however, some initial evidence that the venue lacked an adequate number of security guards and that the show’s producers failed to stop the show after being told that people were getting hurt.
Could Travis Scott be held criminally liable for Astroworld Festival deaths?
Under Texas law, Travis could be charged criminally if he acted in a way that he knew was creating an unjustifiable risk of harm.
Whether or not Travis is criminally charged will depend in large part on what he knew (and when).
If it’s determined that Travis continued to perform or encouraged the crowd to rush the stage after becoming aware that people were being injured or killed, he could be charged with creating an unjustifiable risk to his concertgoers.
According to a report in the New York Times, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner personally visited Travis’ trailer to express "concerns about the energy of the crowd" ahead of the performance.
Notably, Travis has a history of reckless behavior while performing. Travis was arrested in 2015 after telling his fans to jump the barricades during his Lollapalooza performance. He later pleaded guilty to reckless conduct. In 2017, he was again arrested for encouraging people to rush the stage at a show in Arkansas. Multiple people were injured and he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
The investigation into the tragic events at the 2021 Astroworld Festival is ongoing. We’ll do our best to keep you updated.