Austin musicians talk concert safety after deaths at Houston’s Astroworld festival

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Following the deadly stampede at the Astroworld music festival, Austin musicians are taking a hard look at safety precautions at local shows and festivals.

Fans attending the Houston event surged toward the stage during a performance by rapper Travis Scott. Eight people were killed and several were hurt, authorities said.

The Executive Director of the Austin Texas Musicians Patrick Buchta said the tragedy has left artists and industry professionals across the Texas music scene reeling.

“Everybody is really feeling this at a deeply personal level cause any of them could have been on that stage or in that crowd,” he said. “You have to ask yourself in that situation, ‘Who’s responsible? When do you pull the plug on something like this?'”

He said it raises questions about staffing, security, capacity, and even actions on behalf of the artist. As a local singer and songwriter himself, he said he’s had to call out crowd behavior from the stage before.

“People are looking up to you on that stage and ultimately you are responsible,” he said. “Really when you are up there on stage, you may be one of the only people who has a perspective of what’s going on in the crowd.”

In 2014, artist Tyler the Creator was arrested for starting a riot, after encouraging fans to push past the gates of an event at Scoot Inn that hit maximum capacity during the South by Southwest festival.

A screengrab from an APD video shown in KXAN's news coverage in 2014, after fans stormed a SXSW event.
A screengrab from an APD video shown in KXAN’s news coverage in 2014, after fans stormed a SXSW event.

According to KXAN coverage at the time of the incident, the performer yelled, “All y’all outside the gates, y’all push through.” Police on scene working security said that the crowd began pushing past employees and making their way inside. One employee reported he was punched in the face by someone in the crowd.

The same year, a driver sped down a crowded street during the event, killing four people and injuring many others.

The city of Austin released an event evaluation report on the 2014 festival. In the report, they noted that more needed to be done — despite previous changes. They had already implemented a Unified Command Center to respond to incidents, started staggering event cut-off times to avoid crowds, begun allowing for earlier deadlines for permit reviews, and staffing more Public Assembly Code Enforcement (PACE) personnel at events.

“Despite these efforts, the City finds itself at a critical point where public safety could be compromised if
policies are not put in place for the 2015 SXSW festival and the non-sanctioned events surrounding it,” it read.

At the time, the report said officials would increase coordination with venues on capacity and focus more on traffic and crowd management. The report also recommended increasing funding for PACE personnel.

Buchta remembers a marked difference in safety protocols after those events.

Grace Rowland, the frontwoman of the Austin-based band The Deer, said this kind of organization and proactive planning could mean the difference between a safe event and a dangerous one.

“There’s a huge, moving machine with so many parts: volunteers, paid staff, festival organizers,” she said.

She said it’s more important than ever that the “machine” is working, as more people feel comfortable attending events and crowds at these events grow.

The Executive Director of the Austin Texas Musicians explains why the tragedy at Houston's Astroworld festival hit so close to home. (KXAN Photo/ Todd Bynum)
The Executive Director of the Austin Texas Musicians explains why the tragedy at Houston’s Astroworld festival hit so close to home. (KXAN photo/Todd Bynum)

“Being locked out of it for so long, people are really excited to return,” she said. “I think venues are seeing possibilities of selling overcapacity. Like, ‘How much can we fudge? What can we do to get people in?'”

Houston officials confirmed more police officers and security had been hired at this year’s Astroworld festival than years past and that the event was under the allotted capacity.

Buchta said he wants artists, and fans, to know they are part of that machine too — and everyone has to be on the same wavelength.

“When you go to a show — I hate to sound like an old hippie — but check in with your buddy next to you, and make sure everybody around you is okay,” he said.

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