It’s Not Up to Artists to Prevent Tragedies Like Astroworld
It's nice that Adele and Dave Grohl police the crowds at their shows, but they shouldn't have to
In the wake of the tragedy at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston — in which eight people died and more than 300 were injured after a crowd surge caused many to be suffocated, crushed or trampled — videos of other artists policing the crowds at their concerts have gone viral on social media.
One clip, which has racked up more than 4.8 million views on TikTok, shows Adele pausing her performance of “Rolling in the Deep” to point out to medics that someone in the crowd had passed out and asking the crowd to move aside to allow them to reach the person. “Can you see?” she says in the video. “Can someone act like they care, please? Someone’s fainted over there.”
Another video, which currently has 1.8 million views on Twitter, shows Dave Grohl calling out a fan for getting violent during a Foo Fighters show. “You don’t fucking fight at my show, you asshole,” Grohl says in the clip, before pointing out the fan to security and having him kicked out of the venue. A similar clip of Chester Bennington reminding fans in the mosh pit at a Linkin Park show to pick each other up when they fall has also gone similarly viral, with fans on Twitter suggesting that “Travis Scott should watch this clip.”
The implication, of course, is that Scott failed his fans by encouraging them to get rowdy and then failing to stop performing as soon as things began to get out of hand and that artists like Adele, Grohl and Bennington are to be championed for doing the right thing and looking out for their fans. That’s true, to a certain degree — Scott does have a problematic history of egging his fans on. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Arkansas after he encouraged fans to rush the stage at a show in that state. (Two other charges related to the incident, including inciting a riot, were eventually dismissed.) He also plead guilty to reckless conduct charges in 2015 after encouraging fans at Lollapalooza to vault security barricades. And of course, artists who go out of their way to look out for their fans’ safety are certainly to be commended.
But it’s important to remember that ultimately, it’s not the responsibility of the artists onstage to police the crowds at music festivals or concerts. Scott, in this particular case, does deserve some of the blame — and the pending investigation into the tragedy will reveal just how much of the blame lies with him — but moreso as an organizer of the festival that bears his name than as a performer who happened to be onstage at the time of the crowd surge. It’s not the job of musicians — who, thanks to stage lighting setups, often can’t even see the crowd — to spot trouble brewing in a sea of thousands of people and put a stop to it; that’s why events like this have security teams in place and other protocols to prevent surges, stampedes, bottlenecks and other dangerous crowd situations. But Astroworld is a sad reminder of just how frequently the safety standards at big music festivals like this are lacking.
Of the 18 lawsuits filed in the wake of Astroworld so far, festival organizer Live Nation Entertainment was named as a defendant in all but one. That makes sense, given that promoters and organizers so often cut corners when it comes to safety measures at shows in order to maximize their profits. We won’t know all the particulars of the Astroworld disaster until the investigation is complete, but it’s common practice for some music festivals to rely on volunteers to work security. They get free labor, and the volunteers get to attend the fest for free. But a volunteer with minimal training who just wanted to go to a show for free isn’t going to be as attentive as a professional, and organizers should be willing to spend whatever it takes to ensure that people with the proper skills and training are in place to monitor the crowd.
Beyond that, even the physical layouts of big festivals can often be dangerous. Companies like Live Nation obviously are looking to maximize profits, and that means cramming as many people as they possibly can into whatever the venue happens to be. But to prevent tragedies like Astroworld from happening, they have to do things like limit the number of people who can stand in front of a stage, create pathways in the crowd that are large enough to allow an ambulance to get through to fans in need of aid (something that was reportedly an issue at Astroworld) and setting up enough exits to ensure that attendees don’t get trapped in a bottleneck. All of those measures mean cutting back on the amount of space that paying customers can squeeze into, of course.
“This was a preventable tragedy,” Paul Wertheimer, a crowd-safety consultant who has been studying concerts for more than 40 years, recently told Texas Monthly. “It was preventable because there are techniques that are known to prevent crowd crushing, crowd surging, and crowd collapse — the kind of chaos that occurs in front of the stage.”
Houston fire chief Samuel Peña told CNN on Monday that someone in charge at Astroworld should have stopped the performance immediately once it became clear that people in the crowd were in distress. “If the lights would have been turned on — [if] the promoter or the artist called for that — it would have chilled the crowd, and who knows? Who knows what the outcome would have been? But everybody in that venue, starting from the artist on down, has a responsibility for public safety, I believe.”
The artist, sure, but again, ultimately it’s the responsibility of the promotors and organizers to pull the plug when things get out of hand. Someone from Astroworld or Live Nation — not necessarily Scott — should have realized the severity of the situation and put a stop to the show as soon as it became dangerous. We can applaud artists like Adele and Dave Grohl for being proactive about crowd safety during their shows, but the fact of the matter is, an artist spotting trouble in a crowd before security does represents a failure by the security team more than it does any sort of commendable safety measure. We shouldn’t have to rely on performers who are clearly more focused on putting on a good show and often partially blinded by lights to monitor crowds. It’s nice when they do, but they should never have to.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.
Suggested for you