At least eight people were killed and about two dozen injured when a high-octane Travis Scott show ― typically a sold-out event replete with mosh pits and stage diving ― descended into scenes of total chaos Friday evening.
Authorities have yet to determine whether any safety protocols had been ignored at Houston’s Astroworld music festival or whether anyone may be to blame. Among the few details they’ve provided so far, officials said the “mass casualty event” was set in motion when “the crowd began to compress toward the front of the stage,” and people panicked. Witnesses described the extraordinary physical pressure exerted by other bodies caught in the crush.
Tightly packed groups of people who start to panic are known to turn deadly, such as in 1979, when a concert by The Who left 11 people trampled to death outside a Cincinnati venue in a matter of minutes.
Scott is particularly well known, however, for giving raucous live performances that have led to legal consequences. He’s been arrested at least twice over accusations that he encouraged fans to rush past security barriers. Four years ago, one young fan suffered injuries that led to his paralysis during a show in Manhattan.
Speaking with GQ in 2015, the artist likened his live performances to professional wrestling, saying, “I always want to make it feel like it’s the WWF or some shit. You know, raging and having fun and expressing good feelings is something I plan on doing and spreading across the globe.”
“We don’t like people who just stand,” he added. “This is a no-stand zone.”
On Saturday, the rapper signaled disbelief at the violent turn of events in his Texas hometown.
“I’m absolutely devastated by what took place last night,” Scott said Saturday in a statement pledging to cooperate fully with law enforcement.
“My prayers go out to the families and all those impacted by what happened at Astroworld Festival,” he said, signing off: “Love You All.”
Scott cemented his reputation for rowdy shows during 2015’s Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, when he took the stage for a packed crowd ― albeit briefly. Police arrested Scott and charged him with disorderly conduct after only a few minutes, saying that he was encouraging fans to jump barriers and rush the stage in defiance of festival security measures.
“Middle finger up to security right now!” Scott shouted into the microphone, Rolling Stone reported at the time.
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year of probation, according to The Associated Press.
In early 2017, Scott was arrested again on a similar charge: Police accused him of inciting a riot during a show at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion. Several people, including a security guard, had been injured while Scott was on stage allegedly encouraging people to join him. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a deal with prosecutors, reportedly in exchange for dropping more serious charges.
Weeks later came the New York City show that changed the life of one fan, Kyle Green, who was 23 at the time. Green said he was pushed from a third-story balcony and then dragged on stage while watching Scott perform. The rapper had specifically encouraged fans on the second-floor balcony to jump down into the crowd, according to The New York Times, citing a video from the event.
“Don’t be scared,” Scott can be heard telling his fans in the video. “They’re going to catch you.” After Green’s fall, Scott ordered bystanders to scoop Green up and bring him to the stage to put a ring on his finger, the Times said. Green later sued the rapper ― along with his manager, a concert promoter and a security company that covered the event ― in a still ongoing case alleging that they all engaged in “recklessness” that left Green partially paralyzed and in need of a wheelchair.
But the sky-high energy of Scott’s performances have continued to enthrall many people who come for the music and the mayhem. Compilations of fans leaping into the crowd from the stage are easyto find on YouTube, as are videos of Scott showing contempt for security personnel bent on shutting down the revelry at his shows. People magazine described his ability to keep security guards from reaching his fans as a quality that endears him to crowds, declaring after one 2018 incident: “Travis Scott will always have his fans’ backs.”
After his second arrest for allegedly inciting a crowd to riot, a trending hashtag emerged on social media: #FreeTravisScott.
To Houston Chronicle reporter Joey Guerra, it seemed that Scott’s vantage point from the stage did not give him a clear view of what was going on in front of him. Guerra told the BBC that Scott stopped the show “several times” to address problems in the crowd, adding, “I don’t think he was aware of the extent of what was going on.”
Others have sharply criticized Scott for apparently failing to take heed of warnings from the crowd. Videos from the evening posted to social media show multiple people jumping onto the stage begging Scott to stop the show, only to be waved away by his staff.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.