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70 minutes. That's how long Travis Scott was on stage at Astroworld. His annual festival in his hometown of Houston is a highly-anticipated event attracting 50,000 fans from around the world as well as industry insiders. I was thinking about going. The lineup featured performers like Drake and Roddy Ricch and live-streamed by Apple Music.
What happened last Friday during Scott's headlining set has been called a "mass casualty." “From 2 o’clock until 9 p.m. I was having a fantastic time,” 20-year old Reese Bludau said about his first-ever music festival. “I was definitely prepared for chaos. Obviously not just that extreme." It appears that crowd surges, avalanches of bodies as fans rushed the stage, caused the melee. “Honestly, it was like a movie,” said concert-goer Alfredo Escobedo. “Everyone was going crazy, people were falling, passing out, had to carry 10 people just to get air. It was crazy.” "You became an organism,” said 26-year-old Steven Gutierrez who was moved by the crowd surge. “We’re all one. You’re moving with the crowd. The crowd’s like water. It’s like an ocean.”
Investigations are ongoing and questions remain unanswered, including what Travis Scott knew, his history of promoting "raging" at his shows and his personal responsibility to stop it. Lawsuits have begun (nearly 100 at the time of this article) with Scott, Live Nation, NRG Park, Drake and others being named as defendants. According to Thomas J. Henry, a lawyer representing 68 victims, the damages could total in the billions.
We're going to hear a lot about Astroworld in the coming months (and possibly years). Travis Scott is one of the biggest names in hip-hop and he's connected to every household name from Nike and McDonald's to Kylie Jenner. In a way, the bold-faced names involved could expedite investigations and help to enact change in the concert industry.
Let's be clear: Travis Scott is not the victim. Neither is his slew of corporate sponsors and pending business deals. Not even the Kardashians. Save the "thoughts and prayers" for the real victims. The people we should be focusing on--the nine people between the ages of 14 and 27--who lost their lives and the countless fans with physical and emotional trauma that may never heal.
On Thursday, the ninth concertgoer, Bharti Shahani, who had been hospitalized after the festival, died. The 22-year-old Texas A&M University senior succumbed to critical injuries after being placed on a ventilator. "There have been a lot of questions, and I think it's common knowledge, but there was a video going around that most people have seen of a young lady falling from a gurney as they were trying to get her out there - evacuate her. That was Bharti Shahani," attorney James Lassiter said.
Like so much of this story, her tragedy went viral on social media first. I've seen the disturbing video and you probably have too. But that wasn't what's stayed with me. Maybe it's because she was Indian-American or because she was studious (Bharti has been studying electronics systems engineering and already had a summer internship). Or maybe it's because, according to family members who accompanied her to the show, this was her trying to be normal and have fun. "For the first time in her life she just wanted to have fun, and that was taken from her," said her sister Namrata Shahani.
I didn't know Bharti personally, but I can guess that Astroworld was special for her. For most Indian-Americans (or anyone from an immigrant or conservative culture), the runway of allowable rebellion--what "normal" Americans do--is limited. There's a constant pressure to walk the straight and narrow. There's no allowance for youthful exploits. And if you're a part of a larger community--religious or cultural--the streets (i.e. aunties, uncles, Facebook friends of your parents) are always
watching talking judging.
Music, hip-hop specifically, was my escape growing up. No matter what was going on at home, at school or in my own confused head, I could put on my Sony Discman and be transported. I can only imagine that going to her first music festival was exciting for Bharti. Getting out of the house, being around other young people, independence, even for only a few hours.
Bharti Shahani, 22
Mirza Baig, 27
Rodolfo Peña, 23
Madison Dubiski, 23
Franco Patiño, 21
Jacob Jurinke, 20
John Hilgert, 14,
Axel Acosta Avila, 21,
Brianna Rodriguez, 16