A documentary takes an unsparing look at Astroworld disaster
Charlie Minn’s documentary “Concert Crush,” on the Astroworld disaster in November that left 10 concertgoers dead, begins with perhaps the best day of Travis Scott’s life as a native Houstonian.
In 2018, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner named Nov. 18 “Astroworld Day,” after Scott, one of the most popular rappers on the planet, revived the city’s beloved Astroworld amusement park as a music festival. “I was inspired by Astroworld,” Scott said at a press conference that day. “I wanted to bring back that feeling and give to this city something that’s always fun to do. It’s been hurricane after hurricane, disaster after disaster.”
Three years later, Scott’s Astroworld would go down as another one of the city’s darkest days. While a criminal investigation into the incident is ongoing, and thousands of plaintiffs are seeking billions in damages from Scott, promoter Live Nation and others, attendees and families have lived with the trauma for six months.
Minn, who directed and executive produced “Concert Crush,” reconstructs the night’s events from phone footage and interviews with survivors. The documentary comes as attorneys and all parties in the suits are are under a court gag order — and Live Nation alleges that the film might influence a jury in advance.
We spoke to Minn, who previously directed a documentary about the Route 91 mass shooting in Las Vegas, about rebuilding after a terrible night for 50,000 Houstonians, where organizers failed at planning and how the victims are living with the aftermath months later.
There was so much cell phone footage from within the crowd that night. How did you gather and cull that source material to reconstruct the night as it happened?
I had to dig and grind and claw. I don’t have a studio, it’s all me and a labor of love. I got lucky that the Houston Chronicle collaborated, so a lot of footage was donated. I tried to cover as much as possible, but with 50,000 people there and everyone on their phone, imagine how much footage is still out there.
This was a savage festival, a free-for-all, beyond chaotic. The survivors in the film, they gave a good picture of what happened that night, and they were all fortunate they didn’t die or get seriously injured.
How have they been handling the trauma of that night in the months afterwards?
With [post-traumatic stress disorder], you can’t see it — it’s not a sling on an arm or a cast on a leg. Some are still really struggling. You cant unsee all that. It could be in your brain swimming around forever. It was certainly traumatic for thousands of people.
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How has this affected the city of Houston more broadly?
We have to understand the history of Astroworld. The park was built in the ‘60s, and it was beloved. People got so upset when it closed down. When Travis brought it back, he had the city on his side. Now 10 people are dead. People were so disappointed in the aftermath, and now he’s announced four headline dates in South America. I think Houstonians believe he hasn’t shown genuine remorse. Six months later, there’s been no justice for families, none for victims; it’s just an atrocity.
The scene where Scott points out the ambulance in the crowd, then asks people to raise their middle fingers, was really striking when placed in the context of all the screaming, panicking fans. What do you think he saw or knew about onstage?
Travis acknowledged the ambulance and people passing out from onstage, so you can’t tell me he didn’t know there was a problem. It wasn’t an ice cream truck — it’s in the middle of the crowd. Houston police had the power to stop anything and didn’t. There’s plenty of blame to go around — Live Nation, Travis Scott, security and the lack thereof, [local promoter] Scoremore. It was just a complete failure.
Considering all the things he had previously gotten away with, it was certainly enough that it should have been stopped. They should know this rapper encourages this behavior — raging, jumping off balconies, mosh pits. He’s been arrested at his concerts. There was a fan paralyzed at his show. This was an accident waiting to happen, and it finally caught up to him. I don’t understand why he can’t perform and keep fans safe. But that’s who he is, and I think he should be in jail. I don’t know how you get around 10 people dying.
Scott faced a lot of the initial blowback, but where do you think Live Nation’s planning failed to anticipate this as a possibility?
The planning was nonexistent. With the security, there’s a controversy on who exactly they were and how they got the job. [Attorney] Brent Coon heard some people got the job online the day before, that security was a free-for-all. How did they expect that night to go?
At 2 p.m., they opened the gates, and people were just running in like the ending scene in “Scarface.” The people who signed up to be security, a lot of them just wanted to get in for free and get paid — if you have a pulse, you get in. All you had to do was put on a different colored shirt, it’s far from what people think of security.
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There were many more than 50,000 people there that day. The layout was different than in 2018-2019. By the time the crowd all merged into the south quadrant, it was dangerous. The delay of Travis’ set made more people compress.
People were set up to get injured or die. Police fell asleep at the wheel. Perhaps this was a situation where everyone looked around and asked “So are you going to stop it?” No one wanted to be the one to blame. The Houston mayor is buddy-buddy with Travis Scott, he pals around with him to get votes. Scott’s meeting with Houston police Chief Troy Finner before the festival is, to this day, mysterious. If Finner was not concerned, why meet with Travis and his head of security?
Are you worried the the documentary might cause some friction given the court’s gag order?
If the documentary helps get justice and healing for victims, that’s a good thing. Documentaries have influence. When I made the film, I sought the truth, and whatever happens, so be it. I tried to reach Live Nation, but I couldn’t speak to them. All the interviews were done before the gag order.
What would meaningful justice look like for survivors and families?
Jail and a hefty settlement combined. But there will probably be a settlement only.
Travis Scott knew there was a problem. The lack of remorse afterwards has been disgusting.
There was an obvious security issue. Escape planning has to be better, the infrastructure has to be better, planning in general needs to get better. If a plan’s not in place, then the model will break. Live Nation’s model broke.
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