Opinion: When All the Numbers at Astroworld Add up to Nothing But Disaster

Astroworld 2021 was great until it wasn't.
Astroworld 2021 was great until it wasn't. Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Eight dead. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men— not to mention the 528 Houston PD officers and 755 private security workers on site at NRG Friday – couldn’t patch up or undo the awful tally at a Friday night’s Astroworld festival that was supposed to be fun.

Now it’s the subject of a criminal investigation.

“Last night was tragic on many different levels. This is a very, very active investigation and we’ll probably be at it for quite some time,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a joint city-county press conference Saturday afternoon.

Saying he was not aware of any event like this in the last 40 years “where there was loss of life,” Turner sent condolences to the families of the dead and injured and urged people to discount the rumors on social media and wait till investigators have time to figure out what happened.

Of course, then we found out from Police Chief Troy Finner that a security guard collapsed after he felt a prick in his neck and only recovered after he was administered Narcan. So the craziest social media theory of all – that a rogue audience member injected drugs into strangers causing them to fall to the ground and collapse –might have an element of truth to it after all?

Or was it really just too many people rushing forward so that, for some, there was no longer any room to breathe.

14, 16, 21, 21, 23, 23, 27 and one age unknown. A roll call of the dead too soon and in 20-20 hindsight it was clear that putting 50,000 (or was it closer to 75,000 as some have suggested) people compressed into the park at NRG was more than promoter Live Nation and Travis Scott’s people could handle.

“Twenty five were transported to the hospital and 13 are still hospitalized including five that are under the age of 18,” Turner said. “Zero persons are reported missing.”

The arrest tally by Saturday afternoon? Twenty-five arrests with 23 of them trespassing, 1 public intoxication and 1 marijuana possession.
click to enlarge The day-after press conference about Astroworld 2021. - SCREENSHOT
The day-after press conference about Astroworld 2021.
After a week of celebration of all things Astroworld and Travis Scott in Houston, (100,000 tickets sold in less than an hour!) the second-guessing began almost as soon as the extent of the disaster at NRG Park was known. Many dried up old tea leaves were sifted and realities previously ignored were brought to the fore and acknowledged, including the fact that this wasn’t the first time would-be Astroworld attendees had broken through the security perimeters.

The same thing happened the last time the festival was in town in 2019. Supposedly new accommodations were made so that wouldn’t happen again but clearly that was not the case.

And it wasn’t the first time that Live Nation has been in trouble for packing in the fans. They are, no doubt, bracing now for the civil lawsuits sure to follow.

HPD was awaiting video from Live Nation Saturday that would help it review the actions of the night before. It was also counting on video from any attendees with video that might be of help in the investigations to follow.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said it might be that an unfortunate set of occurrences that no one could predict lined up together with a tragic outcome and that it was no one’s fault. But just in case that wasn’t what happened, just in case the plans put together by Astroworld and Live Nation either weren’t good enough or weren’t being followed, she called for an “independent” investigation into what went so very wrong.

This will be needed among an increasing chorus of claims that audience members tried to get the concert stopped by 9:38 p.m. after people started falling and ambulances moving through the crowd, but that Scott continued his performance until 10:15, completing his set.

Hidalgo lauded “the good Samaritans” who stepped in to help out in the situation Friday night. “No parent, no friend, no sibling should see their loved one off to a concert by a world renowned artist and be able to expect them to come home safely.”

For his part, Turner said, “We’ll look at the security plans themselves. We’ll look at the collaboration that took place between the county and the city even leading up to this particular event.” So in their eagerness to host a huge festival that brought in thousands to the area, were they perhaps not stringent enough, not resolute enough in setting rules in place and doing their own part to protect Travis Scott’s very young fans?

We all know what Dallas is known for. It’s 58 years later and people still remember it as where President Kennedy was shot to death on November 22, 1963. Now Houston has its own November notoriety: On November 5, 2021 it became the site of one of the deadliest music concerts ever in the United States. All the "sorrys" in the world won't change anything about what happened.

And it will be an untold number of years before anyone forgets that.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing