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After the deaths at Astroworld, some people may give up on crowded music events

A woman walks past a memorial to those who died at the Astroworld Festival outside of NRG Park on Nov. 9, 2021 in Houston.
A woman walks past a memorial to those who died at the Astroworld Festival outside of NRG Park on Nov. 9, 2021 in Houston.

Some frequent concertgoers are rethinking whether they will attend large live music performances in the future after a crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival a week ago in Houston left at least nine people dead and hundreds more injured.

Caitlin Amorin, 23, left the Sad Summer Festival in Worcester, Mass., this past July with bruises wrapped around her leg and down her calf. During their performance, the rock band Grayscale asked everyone to move to the front causing a massive crowd surge. Amorin says security did nothing to stop it.

"They had to pull my friends and I over the barricade just to get us out because people were crowd surfing and moshing," Amorin said. "There was zero room to move."

After the events that occurred at Astroworld this weekend, Amorin doesn't plan on going to any more large festivals.

"When I heard about Astroworld... I was thinking [about] when there was a crowd surge at Summerfest, because all I could think [at the time] was 'how do I survive this?' " Amorin said.

For Victoria Torres, an experience at a festival earlier this year convinced her to stay away from some live music events.

The 22-year-old decided she wasn't going to any more rap festivals after seeing Travis Scott at Rolling Loud Miami in July.

"When [Scott] came out it started getting really crowded and he insinuated for the crowd to start opening mosh pits," Torres recalled. "They can get really scary because it's huge guys pushing each other around."

Torres was toward the front of the crowd and said within the first 10 minutes a huge mosh pit started opening up right next to her. Torres pushed everyone out of the way and sprinted out of the crowd. She watched the rest of the show from the sidelines.

"You couldn't even see anything, it was just these big sweating bodies on top of you. It was honestly pretty terrible," Torres said.

Living in California, Torres has attended over 15 festivals on the West Coast — from indie to EDM to pop — but Miami was the first time she had experienced that kind of crowd surge. So, she wasn't shocked at the events that happened in Astroworld, but was "surprised that so many people died and it really got this bad."

The Astroworld tragedy isn't scaring everyone away

Leah Johnson, 27, doesn't think people should stop attending the shows of artists they love. She says the responsibility for their safety should lie with the management companies running the festivals.

"I think that artists, particularly Travis Scott, have an opportunity and responsibility to cultivate a culture of care at their shows, which is absolutely possible," Johnson said.

Fans at Astroworld on Nov. 5, 2021. A crowd surge at the festival led to several deaths and injuries.
Omar Vega / FilmMagic
Fans at Astroworld on Nov. 5, 2021. A crowd surge at the festival led to several deaths and injuries.

Jim Briggs prefers to see bands in venues of less than 1,000 people. He thinks it's difficult to manage the risks associated with a gathering of 50,000 people.

"I've been going to concerts since I was 10 years old and I'll never stop,'' the 42-year-old said, "but I do think it's more important than ever to attend them with the mutual respect for people who are there to enjoy the music."

The worst shows he attended were the ones where the focus shifted away from the music. Briggs thinks that performances in smaller club venues highlight the music more than bigger events that prioritize putting on a spectacle to communicate with the crowd.

This weekend, Daniel Ajabshir is headed to the Electric Daisy Carnival music festival in Orlando. The events of Astroworld and his own experience while watching XXXTentacion at Rolling Loud in 2017, have made him think about how he can take more precautions.

At the concert that year, Ajabshir was pushed toward the stage and started having trouble breathing. He and a friend got separated and the 23-year-old was stuck and unable to navigate his way out of the crowd.

"I learned to never get too close because it is never worth it," Ajabshir said. "The feeling of not leaving...whenever you want is actually traumatizing and the closer you are, the more uncomfortable, and the worse the show is."

Organizers should consider including mental health resources at concerts

Teresa Brown, a certified clinical trauma specialist, says for future concerts it would be beneficial to have areas set up for medical and mental health triage, as the first thought for concertgoers after last weekend — especially in Houston — may be the events of Astroworld.

"They don't know how they feel until they get there," Brown said. "That's what is interesting about trauma, it could come up at a time when it's very unexpected.

"When concerts start to be normal again here," she adds," there are going to be people who think they can do it, and then they get there [and] it's a lot harder than they thought it was."

The best safety precaution is to stop the surge before it starts

Steve Allen, a crowd, security & safety consultant, says what happened at Astroworld was preventable. The way the barriers were set up allowed for crowds to move from behind and compress the area, Allen said, and it's practically impossible to control a crowd once a surge has erupted.

"You are squeezed, you've got significant temperature around you, you've got people around you and you can't get out," Allen said.

And people going to these concerts get caught up in the moment. They start getting close to the crowd, texting their friends and publishing it on social media.

"That euphoric excitement of getting that ticket and then actually turning up and being there — everything else takes a backseat," Allen said.

It is the responsibility of the management team to bring concertgoers to an environment that is safe with the best laid out plans, Allen said. In a crowd that tends to get more riled up, like Astroworld, there should be a team in place that is able to deal with the safety risks.

"I was horrified to think that in a first world country, the United States, something like this can happen," Allen said. "Those people went to that concert to have a great night, to come away with lifelong memories to talk about forever, and look how tragic that ended up for them."

Camila Beiner is an intern on NPR's National Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.