Astroworld Aftermath: Asking The Right Questions As The Artist-Curated Festival Blurs The Line Between Promoter and Artist

Elizabeth Conley / Houston Chronicle via AP
– Astroworld
People walk past a sign announcing Astroworld is canceled outside NRG in Houston on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Several people died and numerous others were injured in what officials described as a surge of the crowd at the music festival while Travis Scott was performing. Officials declared a “mass casualty incident” just after 9 p.m. Friday during the festival where an estimated 50,000 people were in attendance, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters at a news conference.

Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, launched in 2018, quickly became a blueprint for large-scale artist-curated events. The hottest artist generating the most hype, with show announcements just weeks before the event, going onsale without a lineup yet – all creating an urgency for fans who can’t get enough of one of the most exciting performers in recent memory. 

The event was largely developed by Austin-based ScoreMore Shows, which was acquired by Live Nation in 2018, known for working closely with artists and with a focus on hospitality in the red-hot hip-hop space and developing strong relations with artists like J. Cole, who puts on his own Dreamville event in North Carolina.  
“Our style was different. We took really good care of the artists,” ScoreMore founder Sascha Stone Guttfreund told Pollstar in a 2017 profile, on the eve of the artist-curated festival boom. “It was all about hospitality and we made sure they had a great experience. The artists also appreciated we were really passionate about the music.”
At these types of events, the artist largely owns the environment, experience and atmosphere as the music festival continues to evolve and grow as some of music fans’ favorite ways to enjoy music. That all took a turn for the horrific, as what’s known as a chaotic “rager” in the most exciting ways became an uncontrollable powder keg in Houston Friday night, with hundreds injured and at least eight lives lost in one of the worst concert tragedies to take place in decades.  

There are few answers but innumerable questions. The Event Safety Alliance, in a thoughtful post related to the incident, provides some starting points that likely local law enforcement as well as legal experts will soon be looking into. Staffing is on everyone’s mind, as long lines have become common at major events with difficulties securing enough staff for events has been apparent at all types of concerts post-COVID. Stagehands, drivers, supplies and other essential staffing have become scarce as event producers rush to meet the demand of fans hungry for the live experience and artists eager to perform. 
 However, not only having enough bodies but trained, experienced personnel are needed in a highly specialized industry where lives are at stake. In an inherently chaotic situation to start, as reports continue to surface of fans breaking into the event and attendees reporting an uneasy setting throughout the day, security and crowd control staff were likely already taxed before things got out of hand in front of the main stage.
“It is extremely difficult to prevent a crowd crush. Even a reasonably attentive observer who can see a tightly packed crowd will probably perceive no imminent danger until people start falling down,” the Event Safety Alliance’s Steve Adelman wrote. “The issue, therefore, is how long after the first indication of trouble did it take until help arrived? The human body cannot survive long without sufficient oxygen, so time is of the essence. This is why there should be as much visual access into a GA crowd as reasonably possible.”
While Travis Scott’s shows are known for high-energy crowds and have a penchant for anti-authority, the safety of the attendees, artists, and crew are of the utmost responsibility for any event organizer. With the proliferation of the artist-curated festival, using the artist as a brand rather than a long-running festival property or lifestyle event, more questions remain when determining who may be at fault and just went wrong.
Scoremore posted the following statement on Twitter Nov. 8, which Live Nation retweeted: 

“We wanted to provide an update on the steps that Scoremore, Live Nation and the Astroworld Fest team have been taking. Throughout the weekend, we have been working to provide local authorities with everything they need from us in order to complete their investigation and get everyone the answers they are looking for. 
“Our staff has met with local authorities to provide information, and we have also provided them with all footage from our CCTV cameras. Load out of the site and equipment is currently paused to give investigators the time they requested to walk and document the grounds. Full refunds are being offered for all those who purchased tickets. 
“And most importantly we are working on ways to support attendees, teh families of victims, and staff, from providing mental health counseling to setting up a health fund to help with costs for medical expenses. 
“Our entire team is mourning alongside the community.”