The Astroworld Tragedy Proves We Must Make Gigs Safer

It is time to totally re-think crowd safety at gigs.

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Over the weekend, a stage rush at Travis Scott’s Astroworld gig claimed eight lives, making the disaster one of the “deadliest live music events in US history”.

In the hours since the tragedy, social media has been inundated with disturbing videos, including several that appear to depict Scott continuing to play, even as ambulances rushed to save the trapped souls. According to The Guardian, Scott finished his set some 36 minutes after the disaster had already become “apparent”.

It is not the first time that Scott has been accused of creating unsafe conditions for his audience members. As the ABC notes, Scott has a history of reckless behaviour, including inciting a riot, and urging fans to scale the security barricades designed to ensure gig-goers’ safety.

But the mistake would be to assume that this is an isolated incident, or that Scott is the only performer culpable. This is a systemic issue, one which incorporates a range of different players, from security guards to venue owners to ticket sellers. Too often, financial incentives override the safety of those whose wellbeing should remain paramount, and measures that could save lives are ignored.

Take, for instance, the chaos that ensued during a Pearl Jam set back in 2000, a stampede that saw nine fans die. Or the disaster at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco, during which 11 died and 40 were injured after crowds rushed towards the exit. In each of these cases, poor planning and improper safety protocols took the lives of people who simply wanted to spend a day with their friends, listening to live music. These are preventable horrors, ones that can be averted by properly investing in the resources and support needed to avoid vicious stampedes and stage crushes.

Making such a widespread change will take work. It will require a re-thinking of an entire culture, a shake-up of cost-benefit analysis from those in charge of organising festivals. It will require assistance from a range of experts; carefully co-ordinated safety plans; adequate medical support. It will, in short, cost money. But this is what is owed to those who love live music. Nobody should die because they have decided to attend a gig.

And, make no mistake, this is not a problem that will merely go away by itself. After the Roskilde disaster, Pearl Jam insisted that they would only play those gigs that had a proper and extensive safety plan. That kind of forward thinking — that refusal to let the tragedy appear as simply a one-off freak of nature — is what we need, from our performers, from our ticket-sellers, from our festival organisers. Astroworld was a terrible, shocking tragedy. It need never happen again.

Header image credit: Flickr / Iñaki Espejo-Saavedra.