When Travis Scott announced Astroworld Festival back in August, it wasn’t necessarily surprising news for anyone following the extravaganza already created by the release of his wildly-anticipated album (also dubbed Astroworld). Just one week in, the album was dominating all streaming platforms, his name (and giant blow-up head) was plastered throughout Houston and social media. He had already successfully surprised Houstonians with a circus-themed album listening party, and thanks to a Kardashian cosign, had simultaneously become one of the biggest names in pop culture. So why not throw a hometown music festival for over 35,000 attendees? Better yet, how about not even announce the lineup until the day before?
Anyone familiar with the difficulty of the music festival business would likely think that such an endeavour was a disaster waiting to happen. However, when dealing with someone with as much cultural and local pull as Travis Scott—one with an endless amount of fans just itching to throw their money at anything attached to his name, all pre-existing norms should be disregarded.
Despite withholding details of the lineup until Friday evening, all general admission tickets sold out nearly two weeks in advance, guaranteeing Travis Scott and his Cactus Jack team the freedom to host whatever event they wanted to. From the moment the lineup was revealed, this level of freedom became apparent. While the majority of music festivals are forced to include an array of genres to satisfy the diverse tastes of your average festival crowd, Astroworld made it known with its trap-heavy lineup that this day was going to be a day for the kids—and that it definitely was.
Following early DJ sets from Metro Boomin and Louis Vuitton fashion-icon, Virgil Abloh, the majority of the daytime performances were lent to rising Soundcloud rappers such as Smokepurpp, Trippie Redd, and Gunna (who together average 21 years old).
Out of these early performances, the far most memorable set came from 20-year old Harlem native, Sheck Wes. Donning his signature smile throughout, the energy he was able to generate from the crowd within his allotted 30 minutes was something truly special, and would go on to set the bar for the rest of the day. Though Wes could have likely hit this mark with his stage presence alone, the lyrical prowess exemplified in each verse (rather than only using the genre’s chant-a-long style) is what really separated himself from the pack.
With an early schedule that consisted of so much young talent of a similar genre, the day’s most refreshing performance came from The Houston All-Stars, a mix of hometown legends such as Bun B, Paul Wall, Slim Thug, and Lil Flip (to name a few). From Bun-B’s “Draped Up” to Slim Thug’s “Still Tippin,” the audience was treated to an assortment of Houston history that added a necessary touch to the day. In testament to the indefinite shelf life of these songs, every word could be heard chanted back to the stage despite the majority of those in attendance being toddlers during the early-’00 Houston hip-hop renaissance.
Further giving the festival a distinct hometown touch was Travis’ way of incorporating Houston-inspired art and experiences throughout the 350-acre grounds of NRG Park. The festival was promoted as an event that sought to “bring back the beloved spirit and nostalgia of Astroworld, making a childhood dream of Travis’ come true, to share with residents of Houston and travelers from across the globe the magic that was AstroWorld.”
To accomplish this, the grounds were littered with everything from an immersive Astrodome experience, to carnival rides and games, to essential Houston grub (Shipley’s Donuts and Frenchy’s Chicken), to a Screwed Up Records & Tapes pop-up shop. Whether it was the way the Ferris wheel was labeled with the “Wish You Were Here Slogan,” or the impressive quality of the Pimp C memorial painted on shipping containers, each offering was presented with a degree of detail and care that made it apparent that this event was everything but thrown together.
As is customary in a festival setting, the sun going down represented a boost in demeanor of an already boisterous crowd. Thankfully, Lil Wayne and Rae Sremmurd were there. Despite coming on nearly 15 minutes late (something not unheard of for a Lil Wayne show), Lil Wayne immediately won the crowd over with his signature rasp of the self-proclaimed “Best Rapper Alive” and a set that consisted primarily of the work in his prime (i.e. the Carter III).
Likewise, Rae Sremmurd, with help of an extraordinary amount of champagne, went on to throw by far the biggest party on stage. With massive hits like “Black Beatles” and “Swang,” the brotherly duo forced the entire crowd to erupt in unison with each bass drop.
Despite plenty of talent from the moment the gates opened, it was clear the one performance on the mind of those in attendance was that of Travis Scott. Following a Post Malone performance that consisted of some of the only harmonic vocals of the trap-heavy day, you saw the entire crowd stay put at the main “Chills” stage to wait for Scott.
Scott's performance made it clear why he’s on top of the hip-hop totem pole of live performers (and would further explain why such a festival was possible in the first place). With the entirety of the 35,000+ attendees crammed forward all the way up to the front rails, Scott made a surprise entrance by coming out on the stage in the back of the crowd. From there, he would launch into an hour and a half of energetic anthems drawing on every period of his career.
While employing stage tricks involving continual pyrotechnics and riding a roller coaster while performing certainly didn’t hurt, Scott most importantly won over his fans with his music, drawn from more than one era. (He was so effective in reaching his fans that Sunday, Mayor Turner honored Jacques "Travis Scott" Webster II with a proclamation "as one of Houston's ambassadors for art, education and youth initiative.")
As a number of music festivals throughout the country continue to consolidate into a risk-averse batch of events with interchangeable lineups and offerings, the inaugural Astroworld Festival at its very least proved itself to be a distinct Houston event with a singular identity. Whether this identity of surprise lineups, trap music, and young crowds is your thing or not, what you couldn’t deny from Saturday was the level of enjoyment that these features brought to the festival-goers throughout the day.
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