At Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival, a Sudden Life-and-Death Struggle

Eight people died at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival, and hundreds more were injured as investigators sought to determine why and how a surging crowd turned deadly.

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HOUSTON — Panic and then desperation spread through the crowd of 50,000 mostly young people just as the popular hometown rapper they had come to see, Travis Scott, took the stage Friday night. It came like a wave, an unstoppable movement of bodies that could not be held back.

Some collapsed. Others fought for air. Concertgoers lifted up the unconscious bodies of friends and strangers and surfed them over the top of the crowd, hoping to send them to safety. Others shouted out for help with CPR and pleaded for the concert to stop.

It kept going.

In the end, eight people died, ranging in age from 16 to 23, according to city officials. Hundreds more were treated for injuries at a field hospital at the concert venue, the NRG Stadium in Houston, or at local hospitals. Among those treated at a hospital was a 10-year-old child.

By Saturday, officials in Houston were at a loss to explain how the concert, part of the two-day Astroworld music festival organized by Live Nation and Mr. Scott, had transformed in an instant from a celebration to a struggle for life. So too were those who had been at the concert, who described a thrust of the crowd around 9 p.m. as Mr. Scott took the stage that would not let up.

“It was like hell,” said Nick Johnson, 17, who still had his concert bracelet on as he spoke on Saturday morning. “Everybody was just in the back, trying to rush to the front.”

“People were literally grabbing and pinching at my body trying to get up from the ground,” said Chris Leigh, 23, adding that he lost contact with his friends as he tried to flee the venue. “I was fighting for my life; there was no way out.”

The event immediately entered the grim ledger of crowd control disasters at large events, including a German event in 2010 at which 18 people were trapped and crushed, a 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati where 11 people died as concertgoers rushed the entrance and a concert in New York in 2013 at which multiple overdoses happened. But the deaths in Houston had a particularly devastating impact at a time when the rapture of live events was being felt following months of pandemic restrictions.

Mr. Scott continued playing through his set of music, urging the crowd on at times, at other times pausing to acknowledge that something appeared to be wrong, including when an ambulance entered the crowd around 9:30 p.m.

Live Nation stopped the concert 30 minutes earlier than planned, around 10:15 p.m. — 45 minutes after city officials said the “mass casualty event” had begun.

It was not clear how much of the chaos could be seen from the stage or when concert organizers became aware of a serious problem beyond the usual number of injuries that can take place at a large event.

Investigators were looking into both the circumstances of the surging crowd — studying the numerous videos recorded from inside the venue and talking to concertgoers — and into what had caused eight people to die, including whether drugs played a part.

One element of the investigation, according to a county official, would be whether too many people had been in attendance. Earlier in the day, some had rushed the gate, and some people may have entered without tickets. It was not clear how that earlier episode affected the capacity of the venue, the official said.

In a video of the concert, which was later taken down, Mr. Scott could be heard telling the crowd: “I want to see some rages. Who want to rage?” Moments later he said, “There’s an ambulance in the crowd, whoa, whoa, whoa,” apparently trying to calm the commotion.

For several seconds, the music appeared to stop. Mr. Scott looked toward the crowd and appeared to ask what was happening.

Away from the stage, chaotic scenes were playing out.

Madeline Eskins, a 23-year-old intensive care nurse who was at the concert, said that she lost consciousness and her boyfriend carried her out of the crowd. She awoke in an area where the injured were being brought and noticed a man who looked dead.

“I told the security guard that I am an I.C.U. nurse, please let me look at him,” she said. The man did not have a pulse, Ms. Eskins said. “His eyes were rolled in back of his head, his pupils weren’t reacting,” she said. “Then another security guard overheard that I was a nurse and he said, ‘Can you come help us?'”

She said she was taken to an area where three people were laid on the ground, all receiving CPR. “The medical personnel that were there did not know how to check a pulse, they were not making the compression deep or fast enough,” she said. “Some of them weren’t even doing it; they looked terrified.”

Asked about whether those who were unconscious appeared to have overdosed, she said, “I didn’t see any of that.” She added, “People were suffocating, people were getting trampled.”

Mr. Scott, in a statement, said that he was “absolutely devastated by what took place last night” and pledged to work with the investigation.

A spokeswoman for Live Nation did not respond to emailed questions but referred to a statement on Instagram that said that organizers of the event would be “supporting local officials however we can.” The second day of the festival was canceled.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, who on Saturday called for a complete investigation, said in a telephone interview that the city had provided hundreds of police officers for security at the event, in addition to roughly 250 private security personnel who were on hand.

“We had more security over there than we had at the World Series games,” the mayor said.

Mr. Turner has longstanding ties to the family of Mr. Scott, who is from Houston, and has celebrated the musician’s career and his foundation’s work on behalf of underserved communities in Houston. The mayor gave Mr. Scott a key to the city in 2019. “This is a tragic case, and that’s why I want a very, very thorough investigation of this,” he said.

Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement on Saturday that “our hearts are with those who lost their lives and those who were injured in the terrifying crowd surge.”

Tightly crowded conditions at a concert are not unheard-of, and some at the concert said that they did not realize that anyone had been seriously injured or killed until after they got back home.

But even those who had seen Mr. Scott perform before — he held a version of the festival in Houston in 2019 as well — said something about the crowd this time was different.

“It was crazier than in 2019,” said Ms. Johnson, who also saw Mr. Scott perform at that show, in which similar scenes, though less intense, had played out. “I’ve been to a lot of festivals and people always pass out.”

A 26-second video posted on Reddit showed one person climbing up onto a riser from which a cameraman was recording the concert, and calling for the performance to stop, shouting that people were dying. Other people could be heard insulting him and telling him to “calm down.”

Police said their early investigation showed that the injuries had occurred suddenly.

“It happened all at once,” Larry Satterwhite, the executive assistant chief of the Houston police, told reporters. At one point, he said, several people in the crowd fell to the ground and began experiencing what he called medical episodes.

Amid the chaos, people lost track of one another.

“There was absolutely no connection; if you lost someone, you couldn’t call or text them,” said Fulya Degirmenci, 21, a student at the University of Texas.

Angel Rodriguez, 17, a high school senior who was also at the festival, said he “turned around and saw someone with their eyes closed, passed out.”

He said that while the weather was cold that day, it became sweltering inside the venue.

“Once people pushed forward, people pushed back, and I could see groups of people falling over,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

In video of the concert, Mr. Scott could be heard saying, “If everybody good, put a middle finger up to the sky.” The video showed the ambulance in the crowd, surrounded by people holding their phones, many with a middle finger extended.

Then, two men who appeared to be part of Mr. Scott’s entourage approached him on the stage. He shooed them away and turned to the crowd, asking those present to put “two hands to the sky.”

The video showed the performer raising his hands in the air.

“Y’all know what you came to do,” Mr. Scott said to the crowd. Then, as the music resumed, he urged the crowd to make the “ground shake.”

The concert, which continued for about another 30 minutes, ended with Mr. Scott waving to the crowd and jogging offstage as he said: “I love y’all. Make it home safe. Good night!”

Eduardo Medina, Edgar Sandoval, Ben Sisario, Dan Bilefsky, Joe Coscarelli and Sophie Kasakove contributed reporting.

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