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  • Jasmine Ledesma

What happened, Travis Scott?

“Man serves the interests of no creature except himself.”

-- George Orwell, Animal Farm

I do not know much about Travis Scott. But like most of us, I am aware of his presence in the periphery of our collective culture. I know this much -- Scott is first and foremost a musician. His last released album Astroworld, an ode to the now-demolished amusement park in Houston Scott often frequented as a child, solidified his place as one of the more adventurous and dynamic rappers on the scene. He is known for his explosive, white-hot stage presence and even more eruptive live shows in which mosh-pits burst and fires sing back up. He is a voice for the ferocious, young dogs on chains. Sometimes he is a Kardashian, a result of his on-again, off-again relationship with Kylie Jenner. However, this week Scott is, as he has been in the past, a trending topic as he finds himself in the wake of last week’s disastrous concert.

Scott first held his Astroworld Festival, an annual music festival that has gained massive notoriety among fans, in the fall of 2018. Since then, the festival has evolved into a highly-anticipated, elite event that sells out within the first few minutes of opening ticket sales. This year, the festival was to be held on November 5th and 6th. But now, the future of the festival isn’t quite clear as the public continues to make sense of what happened on the 5th.

As news first broke out about an incident at the festival, many were quick to draw conclusions on their own -- perhaps there was a shooting or fire or bombing. As the dust settled, it was finally concluded that what happened was a crowd crush.

I find this concept fascinating. Even the name -- crowd crush -- evokes images of suffocation. A crowd crush is a modernistic spin on the word stampede, typically used to describe a situation in which a large hoard of animals, cattle, horses, and pigs for example, begin to run in the same direction, resulting in everything being eliminated in the path of the stampede. Much like that of a huge storm sweeping over a town. But with humans, a stampede is much more dangerous and thus given the alternative name crush.

There have been less than fifty documented cases of crowd crushes in history, with the more popular case being the 1989 Hillsborough disaster in which 97 people were killed during a football match in Yorkshire after fans were rushed into terraces in an effort to ease the growing crowds outside the stadium, and the more recent case being in April of this year when 45 people were killed in Israel during a religious celebration.

In the context of the Astroworld festival, the setting was NRG Park in Houston, Texas, a complex in which the original Astroworld park sat. 100,000 people were expected to attend. Before the show began, there were small, queasy queries of concern. While the security for the show was double-downed, with almost 800 police officers reported to be stationed at the stadium and twenty ambulances on stand-by outside, there were inklings that not everything was in place. Darius Williams, an employee of CSC who acted as the show’s event security contractor has said that he quit the day of the incident as he realized this.

That morning, a request for a dry-run of NRG Park, an effort to prepare for similar stampedes that occurred in the years prior, none so deadly as this one, was denied. As the show grew closer, staff lost control of the perimeter as fans streamed in, some even using bolt-cutters to get themselves over the barricades. As the day went on, medics began responding to calls related to overdoses, much earlier than typically was expected. EMTs began to get overwhelmed. Narcan had run out. Treatment was delayed. Radios were overrun. It was getting dark, the evening dissolving beneath the weight of the hot, sullen night. Audience members were being asked to perform CPR on other members declared unconscious. Things were unraveling quickly and continuously. As the time for Scott to begin his performance grew closer, A video was posted of a few members attempting to escape the crush by leaping over the barricade. Nobody was listening.

When Scott finally appeared on stage six minutes after nine, the crowd crush was in full force. An enormous surge of bodies began to press forward towards the stage. People began to fall as the music started. Some concertgoers were being crowd-surfed towards help, as later documented by witnesses at the show. Fans closest to the stage began to reach out to the singer onstage for possible help. Scott paid no mind. He asked for more lights. He went on to announce that the crowd, that sea divided between the dying and oblivious, were ready to “rage.” Only after noticing an ambulance in the crowd did he ask if they were alright to which most of the audience agreed. At the same time, others were pleading with authorities for help. Medics were using golf carts to get around.

Eight people died that night, all from the ages 14 to 27 and a whopping total of 300 were injured. The event has been marked as a mass-casualty incident.

And now, almost ten days after the incident, headlines continue to stream in. Reports of Drake spending a million dollars at a strip club the evening after the show, a comment made by the father of a 9-year-old who is on life support as a result of being trampled, and lists of pending lawsuits all have come out in the last twenty-four hours alone. Was Scott responsible? Who had the authority to stop the concert? How did nobody notice? These are the questions we have. But nobody has answers.

What happened at Astroworld was awful. And completely avoidable. Those in charge of organizing the event knew of the instability of management, the great potential for death. And they still allowed the show to go on. Still allowed the crowd to surge in. Straight into the maw of greedy, crafted helplessness.

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Jasmine Ledesma is both a writer based in New York and a Pyrrhic contributor. Her work has appeared in or is set to appear in places such as Crazyhorse, Rattle, and [PANK] among others. Her work was nominated for both Best of The Net and the Pushcart Prize in 2020. She was named a Brooklyn Poets fellow in 2021.

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