At least eight people were killed and around two dozen injured when a high-octane Travis Scott show – usually a sold-out event filled with mosh pits and stage diving – fell into scenes of utter chaos Friday night.
Authorities have yet to determine if security protocols were being ignored at the Astroworld music festival in Houston or if anyone could be to blame. Among the few details they have provided so far, officials said the “mass casualty event” was sparked when “the crowd began to compress towards the front of the stage” and the people panicked. Witnesses described the extraordinary physical pressure exerted by other bodies caught in the crash.
That this tragedy happened during a Travis Scott show may not come as a surprise to anyone who has attended a Travis Scott show.
Very tight groups of people who start to panic are known to turn deadly, as in 1979, when a concert of The Who left 11 people trampled to death outside a Cincinnati venue within minutes.
Scott is particularly known, however, for giving loud live performances which have had legal consequences. He has been arrested at least twice on charges of encouraging fans to go through security gates. Four years ago, a young fan suffered injuries that led to his paralysis while performing in Manhattan.
Speaking to GQ in 2015, the artist compared his live performances to professional wrestling, saying, “I always want to make it look like it’s WWF or shit. You know, raging, having fun and expressing good feelings is something that I plan to do and spread around the world.
“We don’t like people standing,” he added. “This is an area without a booth. “
On Saturday, the rapper expressed his disbelief at the violent turn of events in his hometown of Texas.
“I am absolutely devastated by what happened last night,” Scott said on Saturday in a declaration committing to cooperate fully with the police.
“My prayers go out to the families and to all those who have been touched by what happened at the Astroworld Festival,” he said as he signed: “I love you all”.
Scott cemented his reputation for rowdy shows at the 2015 Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago, when he took the stage to a packed crowd, albeit briefly. Police arrested Scott and charged him with disorderly conduct after just a few minutes, saying he encouraged fans to jump barriers and rush to the stage in defiance of festival security measures.
“Middle finger up to safety right now!” Scott yelled into the microphone, Rolling Stone reported at the time.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation, according to the Associated Press.
In early 2017, Scott was arrested again on a similar charge: Police charged him with inciting a riot during a performance at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion. Several people, including a security guard, were injured while Scott was on stage, allegedly encouraging people to join him. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct as part of a deal with prosecutors, apparently in exchange for dropping more serious charges.
Weeks later, the New York show changed the life of a fan, Kyle Green, who was 23 at the time. Green said he was pushed from a third-floor balcony and then dragged onto the stage watching Scott perform. The rapper had specifically encouraged fans on the second-floor balcony to jump into the crowd, according to the New York Times, citing a video of the event.
“Have no fear,” Scott can be heard telling his fans in the video. “They will catch you. After Green fell, Scott ordered passers-by to pick up Green and bring him on stage to put a ring on his finger, the Times reported. Green then sued the rapper along with his manager, a concert organizer and a security company that covered the event in a still-pending case alleging that they had all engaged in a “recklessness” that left Green partially paralyzed and needed a wheelchair.
But the dizzying energy of Scott’s performances has continued to captivate many who come for the music and the chaos. Compilations of fans jumping into the crowd from the stage are easy to find on YouTube, as are videos of Scott showing contempt for security personnel determined to end the revelry at his shows. People magazine described his ability to keep security guards from reaching his fans as a quality he loved in the eyes of crowds, saying after an incident in 2018: “Travis Scott will always have his fans back. “
After his second arrest for allegedly inciting a mob to riot, a trending hashtag appeared on social media: #FreeTravisScott.
For Houston Chronicle reporter Joey Guerra, it seemed Scott’s perspective from the stage didn’t give him a clear picture of what was going on in front of him. Guerra told the BBC that Scott had stopped the show “several times” to resolve the crowd’s issues, adding: “I don’t think he was aware of the extent of what was going on.”
Others sharply criticized Scott for apparently ignoring crowd warnings. Videos from the evening posted on social media show several people jumping on stage begging Scott to stop the show, before being repelled by his staff.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.