Gov. Abbott’s task force on concert safety outlines recommendations
Astroworld Fest 2021. Photo by Jimmie Aggison.

When rapper Travis Scott’s sold-out concert in Houston became a deadly scene of panic and danger in the surging crowd, Edgar Acosta began worrying about his son, who wasn’t answering his phone.

He called hospitals and police, who told him his son was not on the list of victims from the Astroworld festival. They were wrong: Axel Acosta Avila, 21, was among the eight people who died Friday night at the outdoor festival that was attended by some 50,000 people and is now the focus of a criminal investigation.

Authorities have released the names of the dead as they continued looking into what went wrong when a crush of fans pressed forward after Scott took the stage. Houston’s police chief said Monday he had met with Scott before the rapper’s performance on Friday about safety concerns but did not elaborate about what, specifically, concerned him.

“They told me, ‘Mr. Acosta, your son is not on the list so you don’t have to worry about anything. He’s not on the list of dead people or injured people,'” said Edgar Acosta, whose family is among those suing organizers of the festival.

“I told them, ‘Well, he didn’t spend the night at his hotel, so I’m worried about him.'”

Houston police and fire department investigators have said they would review video taken by concert promoter Live Nation, as well as dozens of clips from people at the show that were widely shared on social media. Investigators also planned to speak with Live Nation representatives, Scott and concertgoers.

Live Nation said in a statement Monday that it has provided authorities with all footage from surveillance cameras at the festival, and that it had paused removing equipment at the request of investigators who were walking the grounds. The promoter said full refunds would be offered to all attendees.

Scott’s scheduled appearance at the Day N Vegas Festival in Las Vegas this weekend was canceled, according to a Scott representative who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

Scott, who founded the Astroworld festival, said he would cover funeral costs for the victims. The dead were between the ages of 14 and 27 and were from Texas, Illinois and Washington, according to Harris County authorities. They included high schoolers, an aspiring Border Patrol agent and a computer science student.

Over 300 people were treated at a field hospital on site and at least 13 others were hospitalized. Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said his meeting with Scott before the show included the rapper’s head of a security. But Finner did not go into detail about their conversation in a statement released by the police department.

“I asked Travis Scott and his team to work with HPD for all events over the weekend and to be mindful of his team’s social media messaging on any scheduled events,” Finner said. “The meeting was brief and respectful, and a chance for me to share my public safety concerns as Chief of Police.”

Investigators were also interviewing witnesses and planned to examine the design of safety barriers and the use of crowd control at the event.

“It’s not the crowd’s fault at all, because there was no way you could even move, it was just like a mass loss of control,” said 19-year-old festivalgoer Ben Castro. He returned to the venue Monday to leave flowers at a makeshift memorial that included notes, T-shirts and candles. He said he didn’t know anyone had died until the next day.

Medical examiners have still not released the causes of death, which could take several weeks, said Michele Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Contemporary Services Corp., headquartered in Los Angeles, was responsible for security staff at the festival, according to county records in Texas. The company describes itself online as being “recognized worldwide as the pioneer, expert and only employee-owned company in the crowd management field.” Company representatives have not responded to emails and phone messages seeking comment.

Astroworld’s organizers had laid out security and emergency medical response protocols in festival plans filed with Harris County. A 56-page operations plan, obtained by AP, states “the potential for multiple alcohol/drug related incidents, possible evacuation needs, and the ever-present threat of a mass casualty situation are identified as key concerns.”

The plan instructs staff to “notify Event Control of a suspected deceased victim utilizing the code ‘Smurf’.” It goes on to say, “never use the term ‘dead’ or ‘deceased’ over the radio.” It’s not clear whether the protocol was followed.

None of the people listed in charge of managing Astroworld’s security and operations have responded to requests for comment.

There is a long history of similar catastrophes at concerts, as well as sporting and religious events. In 1979, 11 people were killed as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum to see a concert by The Who. Other crowd catastrophes include the deaths of 97 people at a soccer match in Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters connected with the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Let the People Be Heard

Crystal Washington

We, the public, do not have access to enough information yet to have a full picture and provide informed feedback. Even when we do have the information, most of us lack industry experience, so we’ll project what we think in 20/20 hindsight, versus best practices with knowledge of the possibilities. I know we’re all upset. My prayer is that there will be justice for the victims and their families, and changes that will minimize the chances of similar tragedies in the future.

Jelando Johnson

There’s plenty of blame to go around but to me, the attendees have to be held accountable for this. They communicated on social media where they could ILLEGALLY get in the festival, they jumped over fences, broke metal detectors, rushed the stage…just acted like fools. And all of this is on video. Orderly procedures were put in place to maintain law and order but they did what they wanted to do and it caused chaos and death. They’re trying to cancel Travis Scott, but that’s wrong. All he’s done and still doing should not be negated.

Ramona Dalton

The crowd. They all chose to be in that crowd. I believe it is the right thing to do in refunding all attendees and paying for the funeral and medical bills of those taken to the hospital. All this other pontificating about responsibility is a play by lawyers and greedy folk to get a payday.

Jami Ellison

Why are we even having 50k people events during a pandemic? Whoever thought that was a good idea is at fault.

Patsy Crowder-Latin

“Hopefully, this tragedy will cause concert promoters and hosts to change the settings or formats of these events. Ex. smaller limited crowds, providing additional shows, review of established safety rules with attendees, more security, etc.”

Paula Johnson-Ealy

I hear most of the people who barged through the entrance didnt even have tickets. In my view, tickets sales did not match that crowd. I believe had they known 50,000 were coming, they would have prepared differently. 

Tiffany Steele

I’m so sorry to hear about the senseless deaths and injuries at this event. But, if it was the behavior of the attendees in the crowd that caused injury and death, why should the venue or the performers be held responsible? Why not sue the attendees in the crowd. The performers and venue didn’t cause injury or death; the attendees in the crowd caused injury and death.

Katharyn Briscoe Gray

In 1991, a small time promoter oversold a charity event basketball game in CCNY; 8 people where killed. That promoter grew up to be Diddy. This Astroworld tragedy was not a “first” and likely won’t be a last. Being cooped up for a year and a half likely contributed to the huge overbooking. Security was greater than for some other large event held at the same time there on Houston… almost 500 officers. They almost certainly did NOT anticipate this number. (Attendance should have been capped.) Blame can be shared among EVERYONE involved, including parents. A 10 year old????? 

Crystal Pepsie Johnson

I know enough performers to know they have nothing to do with security & set up at a show. Even when they come into an audience, that has to be okayed by event security beforehand. They also can’t see very far into the crowd- especially at night. They are on a brightly lit stage with spotlights in their eyes looking into a sea of darkness- rarely can they see past the 4th/5th row. They also have speakers in front of them as well as headphones in their ears. My point is that I feel the “blame” lies on the promoters and facility. From what I understand “mosh pits” were commonplace at his shows & from his vantage point it likely looked like a regular mosh pit. Yes I saw the video of him watching a young man being carried away unconscious, to that effect I’ve seen MJ watch unconscious people being carried out as well.

Nyna Hurt

The blame for inciting a riot at this concert is swift, however for inciting a riot at the nation’s capitol is…you know what, nevamind

Katrina Dukes Bryant

Unpopular opinion possibly….I don’t see how this is Travis fault. Maybe more information needs to come out that I’m missing. Crowd surged and people began pushing and trampling others. It appears the show was stopped a couple of times to assist folks that had possibly passed out. It is extremely loud on stage and most performers, sound techs, engineers etc have noise canceling headsets on so they can do their jobs. Either way it is truly a tragedy and I hope they are able to complete they investigation without outside pressures.

Venetric Faye

This new generation makes it difficult for people to go out and have a good time. Artist are not going to want to have concerts here anymore because of this and I don’t blame them. Now artist are not going to be able to comfortably have concerts because of law suits and “so-say” CANCEL CULTURE. Concerts and festivals are always packed, but crowds back then and crowds now are NOT the same! Why would kids trample the gate to get in WAY BEFORE just to get in. What was the point in that? It was a whole stampede and for what? Where are those kids that need to be held responsible?

Nicole Bird-Faulkner

I’ve been listening to people talk about the culture of his concerts. Apparently, there tends to be a strong masculine energy that leans towards violence during his sets. If that is the case, and he has fostered that kind of culture, he may have some liability.

Jade Green

He told people to basically “mess stuff up” on Twitter and during his documentary he said he likes it when he causes havoc.

Juda Brown Hammons

I feel that the first time they stormed the gates they should have closed it down. Certainly after the second time they should have stopped everything and closed it down. I don’t feel that it is Travis’ fault.