Travis Scott’s attorney has called for an end to the “finger-pointing” – especially from city officials in Houston – following last week’s Astroworld tragedy, arguing that the focus should be on the formal investigation into the events that occurred during his client’s performance at the festival last Friday night, so that “we can identify exactly what transpired and how we can prevent anything like this from happening again”.
Eight people died and hundreds more were injured as a result of a crowd surge that occurred during the first night of Astroworld, the festival Scott founded and headlined. A criminal investigation is underway seeking to identify the sequence of events that led to the injuries and deaths, and to what extent poor planning or bad decision making on the ground contributed to the tragedy.
A big talking point in the week since the crowd surge incident is why Scott’s headline set continued for more than 30 minutes after police had declared a “mass-casualty event”.
The authorities became aware that a significant number of fans were being injured in the ongoing crowd surge – and that on-site medical staff were dealing with multiple unconscious festival-goers – from about 9.30pm, making the “mass-casualty event” declaration at around 9.40pm. Yet Scott continued performing until about 10.15pm.
When Houston Police Chief Troy Finner was initially asked about why Scott continued to perform as the tragedy unfolded, he argued that if the authorities had immediately pulled the plug on the show it could have instigated a riot amongst the 50,000 strong crowd, making matters much worse.
That position was repeated by Houston mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday, who told reporters: “You want to be very careful when you stop things when you’ve got 50,000 people that are there”.
“Those in a certain area, they may know what’s happening”, he added, “but you got thousands and thousands that are crammed in, and they don’t know what’s happening. So if you just stop something abruptly, then you don’t want to make the situation worse. So it’s a sensitive situation”.
However, officials have also started to pass the buck when it comes to the decision not to stop Scott’s performance, suggesting that it was the responsibility of the rapper and his team to make that call.
Although not explicitly saying Scott should have stopped the show last Friday night, in media interviews Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña told reporters that – in emergency situations like what occurred at Astroworld – a performer can play a key role in managing the situation.
He told The New York Times on Sunday that “the one person who can really call for and get a tactical pause when something goes wrong is [the] performer. They have that bully pulpit and they have a responsibility. If somebody would have said, ‘Hey, shut this thing down and turn on the lights until this thing gets corrected’ – and that’s coming from the person with the mic – I think [that] could have been very helpful”.
Then, at a press conference yesterday, Finner also switched position somewhat. Again asked why police didn’t use their powers to end the show sooner, he said: “When you say ‘authority and ability to end a show’, we don’t hold the plug. But it’s always in the plan … we had those discussions with the production staff. [But] the ultimate authority to end a show is with production … and the entertainer”.
Sources close to Scott have repeatedly insisted that the rapper was not aware of the scale the problems during his show. While he did pause on a couple of occasions – once when an ambulance was trying to move through the crowds, another time when he spotted that a fan had collapsed near the front of the stage – he seemingly believed that those were isolated incidents.
The same sources insist that the way the show was lit and the in-ear monitors Scott was using mean that he could not see or hear the drama unfolding in front of him – and that video footage filmed from the crowd suggesting otherwise is simply misleading. Therefore, the rapper would need to be told by production staff if he needed to stop the show.
In his statement, Scott’s lawyer Edwin F McPherson takes aim at the recent comments from city officials. “There has been multiple finger-pointing, much of which has been by city officials, who have sent inconsistent messages and have backtracked from original statements”, he said.
Honing in on Finner’s comments in particular, he continued: “Houston Police Chief Troy Finner was quoted in the New York Times as saying, ‘You cannot just close when you got 50,000 … individuals. We have to worry about rioting, riots, when you have a group that’s that young’. Yet, just a short time later, Chief Finner states the responsibility to stop the show falls on Travis”.
McPherson then references the festival’s operations plan, which was obtained and reported on by CNN earlier this week. “It was reported that the operations plan designated that only the festival director and executive producers have authority to stop the show, neither of which is part of Travis’s crew”, he observed.
Meanwhile, he added, Finner’s claim that the police didn’t “hold the plug”, and therefore weren’t able to unilaterally end the show, “runs afoul of Houston Police Department’s own previous actions when it shut down the power and sound at this very festival when the performance ran over [by] five minutes back in 2019”.
McPherson then concluded: “Investigations should start proceeding over finger-pointing so that, together, we can identify exactly what transpired and how we can prevent anything like this from happening again”.
Both the ongoing criminal investigation – and the countless lawsuits against Scott and Astroworld promoters Live Nation and Scoremore – will partly focus on what can be learned from last weekend’s tragedy, even if the main aim is to assess who can be held liable for the injuries and deaths. Meanwhile, state-level government in Texas has also announced plans to review safety at concerts and festivals in general in the wake of last week’s events.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated yesterday: “Live music is a source of joy, entertainment, and community for so many Texans – and the last thing concertgoers should have to worry about is their safety and security. To ensure that the tragedy that occurred at the Astroworld festival never happens again in the Lone Star State, I am forming the Texas Task Force On Concert Safety”.
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