‘There Were People All Around Me Screaming’: Firsthand Accounts of the Astroworld Tragedy

Attendees share firsthand accounts of the tragedy at Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival 2021. They cite stories of overcrowding and panic at the Houston event.

Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival 2021

Image via Getty/Erika Goldring

Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival 2021

Over 50,000 fans gathered at Houston’s NRG Park to see their favorite artists perform at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival 2021 on Nov. 5, but the night ended in tragedy. Eight people have been confirmed dead, dozens ended up in the hospital, and everyone who attended will forever carry the memories of one of the deadliest concerts ever. 

Travis Scott is known to encourage “raging” at his shows, but that furious call to action couldn’t withstand the number of people present at Friday night’s performance. Hoards of nonpaying people barged into NRG Park and overcrowded the festival grounds, creating a situation where thousands of people could barely move or breathe during show sets. There’s currently an investigation underway into the cause of the eight deaths, and there’s been a report about a security guard being injected by a needle, but the attendees we spoke with share stories of overcrowding, panic, and injuries caused by crowd surging. 

Multiple Astroworld attendees suggest the event didn’t have adequate security to stop the nonpayers, and had too little medical personnel to handle the surge of people who suffered breathing issues and were trampled. As a concertgoer named Arvomck puts it, she was “legitimately scared for my life.”

The headlines rightfully focused on the tragic occurrences during Travis’ night-closing set, but Astroworld attendee Andrea Contreras tells Complex that crowd congestion caused problems long before Travis hit the stage. The festival was so packed that she found herself unable to move during both Master P and Don Toliver’s sets earlier in the day. 

During Don Toliver’s set, “people were starting a mosh pit and we got pushed aggressively,” she says. “I have a few bruises from everything. It got pretty bad, so we tried to call this one security guard to let us out again.” But the security guard “stared at me and walked away.” Another security guard came to help her and her friend out of the pack of people. 

Contreras had a similar experience during a later set. She was waiting for Metro Boomin to come out “in the very front center of the crowd, leaning against the railing, and was able to make conversation with the security guards,” she says. “A few of them saw how me and my other two friends were shorter than the rest of the crowd, so they were told to watch over us in case we get pushed.” When Master P came out, that’s when she says “it got crazy.”

“I somehow ended up pushed back from the rail and was submerged and hit by a bunch of people,” Contreras recalls. “At one point, someone passed out and had to be surfed through the crowd to exit the front where I was. I just remember her body being pushed on top of me, hitting me in the head. Eventually, it got overly crowded and everyone was jumping and pushing forward and my friend couldn’t handle it anymore so she told me she wanted to get out. It was so bad to where I couldn’t even move my arms or my legs, I was stuck.” 

Astroworld 2021 Festival

Contreras and her friend tried to hop the railing near them, but they couldn’t move. She says a security guard was eventually able to help them climb over to safety.

She says a lot of the people appeared “high or drunk” at the festival. “A guy was stumbling trying to leave the crowd and completely passed out on top of this girl and she was screaming for help, so security dragged him out. Another time, this girl behind me passed out out of nowhere for a second and woke back up.”

Those experiences made her wary of being in the middle of the crowd during Travis’ set. Contreras and her friend stood on the side of the crowd so she wouldn’t be in the midst of the moshing, and she says she didn’t end up seeing the people who passed out or needed CPR. 

Travis’ headlining set was the last of the night, so all 50,000-plus attendees packed the area in front of his stage. Arvomck says she noticed that some people were already trying to leave the increasingly overcrowded area during the countdown to Travis’ set. 

“Some guy was crowd surfing [and screaming], ‘Get me out!’ and trying to get all the way to the back,” she says. “At the time, no one really thought [anything of it]. Then at the two-minute mark, a big-ass trail of people pushed out. At that point, someone I was with stated in a joking way ‘they must know something we don’t.’”

There were so many people in the area around her that it was impossible for her to see the madness that was already occurring near the stage. Arvomck says she felt a rush as the countdown waned and Travis started his set, but that immediately changed once he called out to the crammed crowd.

“The 10-second countdown came on and the adrenaline and excitement was coursing through the crowd,” she recalls. “You could feel the bass shaking you. To any normal concertgoer, it felt amazing. But then that changed the minute he made his first ad-lib noise. When I tell you the crowd lifted, they lifted. Then it was a constant feeling of pressure on my body. It was maintainable at first, but then it got scary.”

“There were people all around me screaming, ‘I need to get out! Help me!’”

There was a mix of people who were excitedly moshing and dancing to Travis’ set and others who were in a state of panic but couldn’t move or breathe with all the bodies stacked on top of them. 

“I turned around and saw a girl with her eyes rolling in the back of her head,” Arvomck says. “She seemed lifeless. Behind me, my brother was fighting to keep it together and began to panic as well. I felt myself starting to panic because I thought, ‘Yo, you might actually die here.’ I had to reassure myself that I’d be OK, somehow, and my brother helped me keep fighting back the rave.”

Concertgoer Zach Collins says that from his vantage point, the trampling started when someone yelled, “Gun, gun.” Then he got separated from his group of friends in the resulting bedlam.

“We’re in the back, watching people get carted off a couple times,” he says. “Then someone [the medics] were carrying, they dropped them on the concrete headfirst, so I have no clue what happened to that person.” 

Travis Scott at Astroworld Festival 2021

Collins points out that scenes like this aren’t entirely uncommon at large festivals, and he didn’t think the scene was out of the ordinary at first. “People pass out all the time at concerts and festivals,” he says. “I go to them all the time, so I didn’t think too much into it. I had no idea this was so serious. I’m not too proud of myself that I kept enjoying a good time when all this tragedy kept going on.”

Arvomck recalls what happened next, explaining, “[Travis’] first song ended and the nine seconds or so in between the songs you could hear the crowd chanting, ‘Stop the show! Please stop the show!’ Then ‘Butterfly Effect’ came on. My heart fell into my ass ’cause I knew how wild it was about to get. There were people all around me screaming, ‘I need to get out! Help me! Please help me! Oh my God!’ The crowd is moving so harsh, left and right, back and forth.” 

During Travis’ set, concertgoer Samir Dar and his friends were behind the cameras that Apple Music had erected to stream the event. He wasn’t in the worst area of the pushing and shoving at first, but he still experienced commotion. He says his friend started breathing heavier as the set went on and people were squeezed into each other. Then things got bad in his section once Drake came out for “Sicko Mode.”

“[People] wanted to get as close as they could to see the monitors or see Drake himself, and that’s when everyone really got hyped,” he says. “That’s when all the mosh pits started happening, and unfortunately people were falling over.”

“I turned around and saw a girl with her eyes rolling in the back of her head. She seemed lifeless.”

Dar says he noticed people trying to run out of the crowd, and a lot of people were falling, so everyone around him picked people up when they fell. Similarly, Arvomck says she got out of the pack thanks to fellow concertgoers in her immediate area who helped her push through the pack of people.  

“Way more people than were supposed to be [in attendance] were there,” she observes.

Indeed, the event was overrun by people who snuck inside the event. Several videos went viral of people racing past security to rush into the VIP area and knocking down barricades to enter the festival. Twenty-three people have reportedly been arrested for trespassing at the event.

“When we arrived to the stadium, we saw people broke down the gate to the first entrance and everyone started running [in],” Contreras says. She also heard rumors that people had broken another barricade elsewhere on the festival grounds. 

Arvomck saw social media accounts of people saying they were going to sneak into the festival “because the only thing stopping fans were some weak walls and cones.” She also saw a crowd of people sprinting into the VIP section, including someone who “literally climbed on top of another to grab the camera.”

Dar says that earlier in the day “they had everyone hold up their wristbands just to double-check everyone. But throughout the concert, that wristband becomes irrelevant. Once you’re in, you’re in.” And unfortunately, there were too many people “in,” and too little security or medical personnel to help the overcapacity crowd. 

Dar was in the merch line when he saw hoards of people barge into the festival. 

“The way that they set it up, as soon as you walk into the festival, you immediately see the merch area,” he explains. “And that VIP [section] that they pushed through was all the way on the right side, so that’s when they stormed in. They had the police on horses trying to detain some of them. But there were just so many of them and not enough security personnel to really stop everyone. And that just increased the chaos in our merch line, because we already had no organization to it. Everyone was just jumping in.” He recalls hearing someone in the merch line note that they were almost tased by the cops. 

“In just VIP alone, there were maybe six cops on our side for maybe, what, a couple hundred people? So if everyone just started pushing the barricade, [it was] only so much they could do,” Dar says. 

There have been rumors of drug spiking at the event being behind some of the accounts of cardiac arrest. On Saturday, TMZ reported that Houston police are investigating whether someone “went crazy” and started injecting people with a drug. Houston PD confirmed a festival security guard’s account that they were pricked in the neck with a needle while trying to secure the crowd. Dar says he didn’t see anything like that, but found it plausible because of the lax security. 

“They weren’t really checking bags or anything like that,” he says. ”I brought a camel bag and they just looked at it and passed it through. They didn’t fully check it out.” Arvomck says that when she arrived, the people working security refused to open the gates until they saw everyone’s wristbands, but feels that overall the gates were “very loosely secured.”

“I’ve been supporting Travis for years and I wouldn’t want him to stop doing shows, but there needs to be changes and accommodations for the safety of his own fans which he says he loves and adores.”

This isn’t the first time chaos has unfolded at a Travis Scott performance. The 30-year-old artist, who said in an Instagram post that he was “devastated” by the events that took place on Friday night, is known to encourage his fans to “rage” at his shows. He has a famous “it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries” line on “Stargazing.” He was charged with disorderly conduct after his 2015 Lollapalooza set was cut short when he encouraged fans to rush to the stage and reportedly screamed, “middle finger up to security right now!” In 2017, he pled guilty to disorderly conduct after police accused him of inciting a riot at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion.

Weeks later, 23-year-old Kyle Green was paralyzed after he was pushed from the third level of New York City’s Terminal 5 during a show. Travis reportedly encouraged concertgoers in the upper level to jump into the crowd, telling fans, “Don’t be scared; they’re gonna catch you.” A portion of his Netflix documentary is devoted to his fans’ debauchery. And there are reports he continued playing his set at Astroworld 2021 for 37 minutes after Houston officials had declared it a mass casualty event. 

Travis Scott fan Angie Arellano recalls a chaotic experience at the 2018 Astroworld Festival. “I was stuck in the mid-center of the crowd and lifted off my feet for 45 minutes straight because people were squishing me,” she says. “Many times, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. People around me tried calling out for security to pull me out, but I couldn’t even get through, and that was me trying throughout Travis Scott’s whole set time.”

“I love Travis and his music,” Arellano adds. “I’ve been supporting him for years and I wouldn’t want him to stop doing shows, but there needs to be changes and accommodations for the safety of his own fans which he says he loves and adores.”

Dar agrees, pointing out that the rowdiness of Travis Scott shows “played a huge part [in Friday night], because people were all just raging.” He explains, “You don’t care about the person actually if they fall down or whatever. You’re just there to go hard—to rage. And that’s what I think happened with most people getting trampled, unfortunately.”

Arvomck says that “leaving the show was quiet and somber.” She remembers, “People were missing shoes, limping, leaning on one another, just sad. I truly wish it didn’t end the way it did. He’s aware of his fanbase. We all knew something like this would happen, but not to this magnitude. I hope he has plans for some type of reimbursement for attendees and especially to these families hindered by a simple festival.”

Dar says he isn’t deterred from going to large concerts or festivals going forward, and would even consider going to another Astroworld Festival down the line after seeing how the next one would play out. 

“It has me worried a bit,” he admits. “But at the same time, I’m hopeful that it’s a one-time thing, and that it doesn’t repeat itself. But I definitely would be a little bit more wary.”

Arvomck says that her experience at Astroworld 2021 has already made a major impact on her perspective. 

“This experience changed a lot for me,” she says. “Not only festivals, my viewpoint on people have changed, [in terms of] who has a heart and who’s not for real. It’s scary to believe [in people]. I’m just thankful for the fans who helped,” adding that the fans who jumped on ambulance trucks and didn’t try to help those being trampled “were being heartless.”

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