The cancellation last year and hype around Travis Scott, meant that anticipation levels were huge ahead of his homecoming concert, but it all turned into a horrific evening that cost eight young people their lives. Going to a concert should never lead to this, and the way it was handled reflects badly on a lot of those involved.
Waking to these images last weekend, it reminded me of the major soccer tragedies of my youth. I can still remember as a boy watching Heysel, Bradford, and Hillsborough unfold in real time on TV, and some of the footage and accounts were horrendous. In Ireland we had the Stardust nightclub fire during the same era. Some 40 or so years on, many of the families of victims of these tragic events are still searching for answers.
In the United States, litigation has already started and the fallout from this concert is likely to impact the pockets and reputations of Travis Scott and others but, ultimately, nothing will bring those youngsters back.
The blame game started immediately and many feel Travis Scott himself could have done a lot more to stop the concert much earlier. He did pause it at times and ask for help, but there is no doubt it warranted a full cancellation — even allowing for the further trouble this would have caused.
The footage of people screaming at the stage, asking for them to hold it up, is very distressing, as are the clips of his fans dancing on an ambulance that was helpless in the face of such huge crowds.
The health and safety plan was obviously insufficient, and the fact that many burst through the barriers and entered for free didn’t help things either.
Having the main focus on the main performance on the main stage was also a bad move. Generally, music festivals with alternate stages run them concurrently, taking the pressure off big zones and spreading the load evenly. This means there are less rushes to the barriers and less pressure on security.
Longitude, where I saw Travis Scott play three years ago, is a good example of a well-run event that adopts this policy. Despite huge numbers, it generally goes off without much trouble. The Travis Scott show, on the weekend he released the iconic Astroworld album, was packed but ran very well.
Last Saturday, a bigger version in Texas ended in the loss of eight lives and started many questions.
It has been said a lot that Travis Scott himself encourages a pretty raucous atmosphere and this is true, although it’s very much part of the culture of all sorts of gigs, from rap and trap to punk and rock and metal. Things have got reckless previously, but it’s more than the culture of moshing that caused this.
His Netflix documentary almost glorifies the whole jock mentality that pervades at his shows, but I still think this whole situation was down to wider failings by him, his organisation, the promoters involved, and some of those attending.
Hopefully we won’t see similar scenes at future festivals.
I’ve seen only one or two dangerous situations over the years at music events here, but the most dangerous occurred in the old Páirc Uí Chaoimh, when a Munster final got so hectic that some of the crowd had to spill on to the pitch. There were some concerns at a Bruce Springsteen show at the revitalised venue a few years ago too but, largely, crowd management has been good here.
Mistakes are going to happen, but lessons have to be learned. Most huge music and sports events pass off without a hitch, and our health and safety obsessed world is here for good reason. Safety, literally, is everything.
Only Travis Scott knows whether he was fully aware of the problems and whether he could have handled it much better. No one has more power than the artist in this situation. It’s all down to him and his team, but surely a better strategy should have been in place for a worst-case-scenario situation?
Sadly this scenario came to pass and a huge celebration turned into a hellish nightmare last weekend in Houston.