Wednesday, July 6th, 2022

Let’s get at the root cause of Astroworld tragedy. It’s bigger than Travis Scott

Let’s get at the root cause of Astroworld tragedy. It’s bigger than Travis Scott

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Promoter Monique Taylor told the Portland Mercury a year earlier that so many Black-owned hip-hop clubs have been shut down in the last decade in Portland, Oregon that she can’t keep track of them. She described “constant police surveillance of her parties, and discriminatory club policies she’s seen go unchecked by law enforcement.” When she once asked an officer why he frequently stood outside one hip-hop club, she told the Portland Mercury his answer was: “‘We don’t like hip-hop. We don’t want all these ghetto Black people in here.’”

It is sentiments like that of the officer’s that make any conversation about greater restriction in the name of public safety an issue of race requiring legislation applied equally to protect all concert crowds. Keith Still, a visiting professor at the University of Suffolk and a crowd safety expert, told The Washington Post “sadly, the music industry hasn’t learned anything” from its decades-long history of concert stampedes. In 1979, 11 people were killed when thousands of people packed the outside of a Cincinnati music venue in the hopes of seeing the British rock band The Who, the Post reported. In 1991, three teens were killed when an AC/DC crowd in Salt Lake City rushed the stage, crushing the children.

Still suggested looking at a performer’s history during the safety planning process. “You have to look at the sort of problems at events that are similar in nature and design a safety system around those risks,” the professor said. The Post mentioned Scott’s disorderly conduct charge, which ended in him pleading guilty in 2018. The rapper, who’s from Houston, was shown on video encouraging a fan to jump from a second-floor balcony at a concert on April 30, 2017 in Manhattan, Rolling Stone reported. He’s been known to encourage fans to rush the stage and form mosh pits and as NPR noted Scott is known to some as hip hop’s “King of Rage.” He, however, isn’t the first musician to encourage a concert fan to behave recklessly nor is he the only one to have earned a criminal conviction. 

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New York Times music critic John Rockwell posed the question in 1979: “Is Rock the Music of Violence?” The journalist wrote of the Who guitarist Pete Townshend that he “is an avowed mystic, a follower of the late Meher Baba, the Indian guru.”

“In the days after Cincinnati, many thoughts swirled through Mr. Townshend’s head, and among them was the notion that ‘the whole purpose of a rock concert is for people to forget themselves, to lose their egos in the crowd and to disappear — a temporary sort of flight,'” Rockwell wrote. “It is an alluring idea, and one that helps explain not only the positive connection between rock and violence, but also the Who’s own seemingly bifurcated image as the band that, on the one hand, introduced ritualized destruction to the rock stage — the smashing of guitars and drum kits —and, on the other hand, created an entire “rock opera” about transcendental experience in ‘Tommy.’”

Ultimately, Rockwell ended up both recommending that rock concerts be run “in such a way that young people are encouraged to behave responsibly” and noting “a danger of overreaction” in dismissing rock as violent.

He wrote, “it would seem that so‐called ‘festival’ seating of the sort used in Cincinnati — unreserved tickets that lead to a buildup of impatient fans at the gates followed by a mad dash for the best positions when the hall finally opens its doors — will be curtailed. And legislation may be enacted to ensure a proper degree of concert security.”

That did not happen, according to the account of Paul Wertheimer, dubbed “the marshal of the mosh pit” and chief of staff for a task force to investigate the 1979 stampede. He told The Washington Post in a recent interview that despite his calls for stricter national standards and a required crowd management plan for concert organizers, there have been no such rules for managing large crowds.

“Overcrowding and crowd crushing is the original sin of event planners and promoters,” Wertheimer told the Post. “The crowd in Houston never should have gotten that big and dense. It was a preventable tragedy that happened because safety precautions were ignored — and have been ignored time and time again because there are millions of dollars to be made here.”

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