The Astroworld Festival tragedy is sparking new attention to campus concert safety

The deaths at Travis Scott’s festival are putting students on ‘high alert.’

A wide photo of the crowd at night with concert lights in the air.

Eight people were confirmed dead Monday morning after initial reports of casualties at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival on Nov. 5 at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Although the exact causes of death have not been determined, investigators confirmed that a crowd surge led to the casualties. The youngest victim was 14 years old.

This tragedy is raising questions about the safety of live performances, particularly about how to avoid overcrowding and ensure proper medical care for anyone injured during a show. And with the USC Concerts Committee’s annual Conquest! concert around the corner, these concerns are more urgent than ever.

Safety and overcrowding at concerts is an issue USC has grappled with before. In April of 2017, Springfest — another annual concert put together by the Concerts Committee — was cancelled before headliner Rae Sremmurd came on stage because the venue exceeded max capacity, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department. No attendees died, although one student was transported to the hospital.

Rap group Migos, who was performing when the crowd first became dangerous, urged students to step back and seek medical attention if necessary. Students who interviewed with Annenberg Media in 2017 said people were falling over and looking disoriented.

“It was absolutely horrible. My glasses flew off. I didn’t care about anything at that point. I just wanted to get out,” former student Etienne Smith said to Annenberg Media at the time.

Conquest! is scheduled for Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. on McCarthy Quad in order to celebrate the rivalry USC vs. UCLA football game. The lineup has yet to be announced, but the committee has announced that there will be an assortment of food trucks at the event. In addition, a USC ID will be required to enter along with a Trojan Check, and no guests will be allowed in order to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.

Sophie Moser, a senior majoring in music industry, is the co-director of the Concerts Committee and oversees the committee’s event planning.

Moser saw what happened at Astroworld Festival this weekend as a “horrifying and heartbreaking” example of a recurring issue within the industry: “crowd crush,” where people get trapped, suffocated, trampled or knocked down within a crowd. According to Moser, this has been an issue at many concerts before and can be mitigated by learning from past mistakes of other artists and venues.

“I think this concert is a really chilling example of the attitude that can be out there that’s like, ‘Oh, I can cut corners, that won’t happen to me,’” Moser said in an interview with Annenberg Media.

The USC Concerts Committee intends to make safety their number one priority as they plan upcoming shows for the community. Although attendance at upcoming events will be much smaller than Astroworld Festival’s estimated 50,000-person crowd, the committee intends to work diligently with DPS and the L.A. Fire Department.

“I think most of all, we’re just on high alert and understanding that people are feeling a little bit emotional or nervous in general after seeing something like that,” said Moser. “We’re definitely going to be monitoring things closely.”

Sophia Barber, a senior studying music industry, is the director of another student-run music festival called FemFest. She is also the USC Concerts Committee’s director of hospitality. According to Barber, she was “completely devastated,” “shocked” and “overwhelmed with feelings” after hearing the news about the Astroworld Festival, and that learning more about the tragedy’s preventability made her even more upset.

“I think that there could have been safety measures and steps taken by the artists, the security, the organizers, that could have completely stopped that from happening,” Barber said in an interview. “It’s just been a really tough time to be in live music, because we’re all responsible for the safety of people that go to concerts.”

This academic year’s FemFest won’t be held until April 2022, so many of the details regarding security and risk management have yet to be determined. However, Barber said that FemFest works with DPS, the LAPD, and the L.A. Fire Department and is given strict safety protocols to follow. These include security at every entrance and exit as well as a vulnerable point in the pit area for security to monitor the crowd.

With Conquest! coming up, USC students are feeling the emotional aftermath of this weekend’s news. Lauren Pickard, a freshman studying biomedical engineering, enjoyed the Welcome Week Concert and said “the moshing was cute and safe, but we need to be more aware and make sure everyone is okay.”

Barber hopes that Astroworld Festival can serve as an example of the importance of concert safety and the potential danger of poor organizing.

“I hate calling tragedies a learning opportunity because I never want to diminish what has happened and how horrible it was,” Barber said in an interview. “But I just hope that everyone in the music community, whether they’re event producers, artists, fans, or anything like that, really take this to heart and think about their part in preventing this from happening again.”