70 minutes at Astroworld: Countdown to disaster

Anticipation was built up by hours, but never more than now, as the red numbers on the countdown clock disappeared and the first synthesized notes vibrated. An image of an eagle in a fireball hovered over the stage, a non-red tunnel appeared and eight towers of flames rose into the sky. Jumping from darkness into brightness, rapper Travis Scott appeared, the moment for which tens of thousands gathered before him waited.

In the excitement of the moment, screaming for an idol, many pushed forward, pushing feasts into feasts, more and more and closer, until it seemed as if every inch was swallowed up. Then, fighting the compression or seeking escape, people pushed from front to back, and new ripples came with it.

What followed last Friday in Houston is obscured by unanswered questions and strikingly different experiences based on where someone stood, what swellings of movement reached them, and how they dealt with the romance. But in the 70 minutes the head catcher was on stage in a show that left nine dead, one thing was certain: Almost everyone felt the waves of humanity, carried away by excitement but soaked in risk, as they spread.

“You’ve become an organism,” said 26-year-old Steven Gutierrez of Ellenville, New York, who is 6-foot 2 and 391 pounds, yet found himself struck by the power of the thrusts that sent him drifting from his place. “We are all one. You move with the crowd. The crowd is like water. It’s like an ocean. ”

The enthusiasm of about 50,000 spectators at the sold-out Astroworld festival was evident from the time gates opened seven hours earlier, when some of the earliest arrivals. hurried through entrances with such force that metal detectors were dropped when security guards and police officers on horseback struggled to make ends meet. Although the concert hall hosted many acts, Scott, a Houston-born musician who founded the festival in 2018 after the heels of his bestselling book “Astroworld,” was definitely the tallest. Some fans headed to the stage built solely for the headliner, setting up positions they would hold for hours under the fabricated peaks of “Utopia Mountain”.

As the afternoon turned to evening and the countdown clock appeared around 8:30 p.m., the crowd grew thicker and thicker, attendees said, and the first waves of motion began to ripple.

With five minutes remaining and delays pushing in, it got tighter.

In the final 30 seconds on the clock, the steep peaks of the mountain stage turned into a volcano, and when the time came, the crowd chanted, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six …”

Scott appeared. The thrusts intensified. The first shock waves of fear appeared.

Eligio Garcia, 18, of Corpus Christi, Texas, assumes it was only 40 seconds into Scott’s set that he watched his girlfriend with care. They felt heat shake their bodies. It became difficult to breathe.

Shouts echoed, begging, “Please help me!” Behind him people fell. It looked to him like human whirlpool. They felt the thrust and his left arm slipped away from her.

In an instant, both found themselves entangled on the ground in a mass of bodies.

They managed to get up, and Garcia said they shouted to nearby production staff for help but received no response. Every exit seemed impossible, but they finally went to safety.

“We have to get out of here,” he told his girlfriend. “We can’t fall back into this pit.”

Travis Scott’s fans are called “ragers” and are expected to be in constant motion at a show. The rapper, who dreamed of being a wrestler as a kid and said he wants his shows to look like WWF matches, cheers up chaos from the stage and awakens crazy energy. He even has a gold necklace imitating a street sign: a jewel-encrusted red circle with a person standing motionless, a diagonal red slash across the body.

The message is clear: No spectators at concerts. Ragers only.

And so the show went on, Scott banging his head and screaming, running through a quick succession of hits.

Some experienced concertgoers in the crowd grabbed whistles around their necks or shouted “Open it!” to trigger those around them to form mosh pits, circles that were the only voids in the crowded horde. Moshers pushed and lifted their bodies against each other in an aggressive ritual toe plucking the boundary between dance and violence. Around the perimeter of mosh pits, circles of participants turned and crowdsurfers took off.

Moshers want their pits to grow as large as possible. Their external thrust, combined with the rotations of participants, can create a swirl of motion that moves through the crowd. It was nothing new for many at the show. But, combined with the push to the stage, others felt the crowd compress in ways they hadn’t before had.

Billy Nasser, 24, of Indianapolis, noticed it a few songs in. His raised arms no longer had a place to go down. People fell. Some stepped on the lifeless body of a fainted man with his eyes turned back in his head.

“I had to let him go. It was every man for himself,” Nasser said. “And then I realized how bad it is because I literally had to drop him and no one else would help me.”

As flashbacks appeared in some places, the show continued. Lasers springing from the stage tunnel made it look at times like a prism capturing a noisy sun.

About 530 Houston police officers were on the scene and their walkie-talkies crackled with a warning: Don’t leave your group. No less than 10 officers together. Danger threatens.

“We have some structural problems that could be catastrophic,” a voice warned.

About 22 minutes into his set, Scott seemed to see something in the crowd.

“Make sure he’s good,” he said. “Take a walk with him. Take him. ”

Around the same time, on a police radio, a voice advised: “People come out of the crowd complaining of difficulty breathing, crushing typical injuries. It seems that the crowd is compressing.”

The crowd continued to strain at points, but escape routes remained.

Kevin Perez, 19, of Davenport, Florida, saw a mosquito pit collapse behind him and realized he was no longer in control of his own movement. His forearms felt tied to his chest, his hands clenched into fists near his neck. He bowed his chin to the sky for shallow breaths.

“It went from excited to scared,” he said. “People tried to get out.”

Perez followed a snake of people cutting through the crowd. Others climbed barricades.

After their escapes, tonight’s moments would take on a new meaning.

An opening song titled “Escape Plan.” T-shirts waved with “Goodbye.” A man in the crowd holding a white sign that asked “Will we survive.”

The situation seemed to get worse, the waves were getting stronger, the chances were less.

“It got to the point,” said 21-year-old Jason Rodriguez of Texas City, Texas, “where no one could move.”

About 28 minutes into Scott’s set, a golf cart with flashing blue and red lights barely passed through the sea.

“There’s an ambulance in the crowd,” the rapper said. “Ho, ho, ho.”

He paused for about a minute. Scott told the audience to raise their hands to the sky. “You all know what you came here to do,” he said, an indication for two men who were chosen from the crowd to launch onto stage.

Scott finished “Upper Echelon” when he hit the 30-minute mark on stage. Houston police chief Troy Finner later said this was the point his section noticed that attendees were “getting off.”

At the medical tent, where the capacity was only 10 people, according to permit files, concern grew. A word was broadcast on police radio: “There are a lot of people trampled and they are fainting.”

On the perimeter of the concert hall, people were pushed against metal barricades. Some began to bend.

During the next song, a young woman was captured on video climbing platform with cameraman.

“There’s someone dying!” she cried. “There’s someone dead!”

A young man joined her on the camera platform, shouting, “Stop the show! Stop the show!”

The show went on.

What the rapper could see remains unknown. He soon had a new advantage on an elevated platform at the center stage and said at one point he could see “all the way in the back.” But in videos watching the viewers, thousands of glowing phones look like a sky of shining stars. His lawyers said later that he did not know about the deaths or injuries until after the show.

As Scott sang from the platform, security guards were seen responding in the crowd, saying “He doesn’t have a pulse” and “It’s like four people here without a pulse.” Police say the festival’s promoter, Live Nation, agreed to shorten the show around that time. Inexplicably, however, the concert went on.

Forty minutes had passed since Scott took the stage, and again he stopped short.

“We need some help. Someone fainted right here, ”he said.

He returned to work soon after, singing lyrics that speak of “standing in the ocean.” Before him, the real life sea of ​​humanity was bubbling with problems. Panic spread.

“I must go out!” I have to get out! ”Ariel Little cried, her chest throbbing beneath the crowd.

“You’ll be trampled!” Miguel Suarez said to himself, struggling not to fall.

“I’m going to die here!” Stacey Vine shoot thought as she tried to escape.

One woman bit a man to get through. A man said people turned to animals as the situation spiraled.

To some it seemed as if it could not get worse, but another impetus is coming. Fifty-two minutes into Scott’s set, superstar rapper Drake appeared on stage, a surprise that sent the crowd pushing again.

Gutierrez, a huge former lifeguard, returned to the crowd after a brief retreat after leading two people to safety. Now, he was back between them, overwhelmed by the joy of seeing Drake in front of him.

“You felt the speed to the stage and it was a big push,” he said. “The Drake effect.”

Scott and Drake shared the stage for 14 minutes until, alone again, Scott delivered a final song as the mountain behind him burst with color and fireworks rocked up.

“Make it home safe!” he shouted before trotting off the stage.

The ocean receded, stripping a ground covered with shoes and clothes and rubbish. A field hospital swelled with the wounded. And, from the lips of concertgoers, a word of tragedy spread.

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Sedensky can be reached at msedensky@ap.org and https://twitter.com/sedensky

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Juan Lozano, Jamie Stengle and Robert Bumsted in Houston; Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles; and David Sharp in Portland, Maine.

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