At Day N Vegas, Houston’s Don Toliver mourns his city’s Astroworld losses

Hip-hop artist Don Toliver jumps in the air on a stage decorated with a flame-painted limo and giant psychedelic mushrooms.
Don Toliver performs on the Frank Stage on the second day of the three-day Day N Vegas hip-hop music festival on Saturday.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

No rapper at Day N Vegas had more at stake — viscerally, personally — than Houston’s Don Toliver.

The 27-old-old MC was, until a week ago, Travis Scott’s heir apparent to the melancholy-slicked Houston trap, which Scott helped turn into a festival and chart phenomenon. Signed to Scott’s Cactus Jack label imprint, Toliver performed at Astroworld on Nov. 5 just hours before a crowd crush claimed nine lives and left hundreds injured. Their hometown will be forever changed by it.

Whatever pain and chaos Toliver saw from backstage that day, it wore on his face at Day N Vegas on Saturday. Bearing witness to a tragedy like that, and also losing your mentor to public scorn and potentially billions in lawsuits — imagine processing that in time to get onstage for one of the biggest shows of your life.


There’s no way Toliver couldn’t acknowledge Astroworld during his show; but there was also no way to fully do it justice. In the end, Toliver handled it as gracefully as he could have, pausing his show for a few seconds. “Let’s take a moment of silence for the people we lost at the festival,” he said, bowing his head and closing his eyes. Everyone knew exactly what he was talking about; no one was privy to what was fully going on in his head.

Toliver had a breakout year during the start of the pandemic, when his 2020 debut LP “Heaven or Hell” took off on TikTok with singles like “After Party” and “No Idea.” He shares a lot sonically with Scott, but Toliver’s vocals edge closer to mournful singing, and he uses a wider palette of sounds that liven up trap’s drag. His song “Lemonade” with Internet Money, Gunna and Nav hit No. 6 on the Hot 100; new album “Life of a DON” hit No. 2 on the album charts late in October.

In another world, he still could have stood on his own as Houston’s new champion. But to watch him perform Saturday, in front of a flame-painted limo and giant psychedelic mushrooms, you could tell that Astroworld was fresh in his mind, and would stay there a long time.

“You need to come out? You good?” He asked one fan up front during his show, and waited for them to find their footing again. The crowd erupted in cheers, some of the loudest of the night, for a simple act of caretaking. “Y’all got to back up. If you can’t breathe, come on out.”

Under other circumstances, this night still would have been a career-shifting set for Toliver — a huge crowd primed to anoint him as an inheritor of Houston trap, and rocket him into superstardom on his own right.

He did indeed walk off the Day N Vegas stage as Scott’s heir apparent, but under some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. Scott will, in all likelihood, next be seen in court as dozens of lawsuits (and possibly criminal charges) around Astroworld wind their way through. A festival, named for a former theme park beloved by so many children of all races and classes in Houston, will join Altamont, the Station nightclub fire and Woodstock ‘99 in the ledger of concert disasters in the U.S.

When Toliver sang, “Know I’m here for a good time / I don’t wanna go to sleep babe” on “No Idea,” it seemed he was mourning the thought of ever being carefree like that again onstage.

As hip-hop and Houston look for answers and healing, Toliver, the city’s most promising new star, is going to have a heavy weight to carry for his hometown. For an hour on Saturday, he held it up for the first time.