A year after Astroworld Festival deaths, no clear answers on accountability

‘The industry just rolls along even though people die, young people especially. It doesn’t change anything.’

HOUSTONWertheimer and Anthony’s interviews are a part of the KPRC2 Investigates documentary Astroworld: Countdown to Tragedy. The show will air on KPRC2+ at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022.

Here’s how you can watch:

  • Search for the KPRC 2+ app on your smart TV or streaming device - including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Google TV.
  • Catch the show on Click2Houston.com/watchlive or in the video player above.
  • Watch on the KPRC 2 News app – which is free to download in your Apple or Android app store.

A year after 10 people died during the 2021 Astroworld Festival, no clear answers have emerged as to who exactly is accountable for the tragedy or what specifically is being done to prevent a similar tragedy in Houston in the future.

Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival is far from the only sprawling, high-energy event to be held at NRG Park.

“We’ve had Super Bowls, we’ve had World Series, we’ve had lots of concerts, we have a big rodeo,” said Dr. Matt Minson, a former state local and federal health official. ”We have lots of things that happen here that are handled very well. They go off without a hitch.”

However, on November 5, 2021 something was different.

“The problem started long before the crisis stage when it was finally acknowledged that this was out of control,” said Paul Wertheimer, founder of Crowd Management Strategies/Crowdsafe.

Wertheimer lives in Los Angeles and has spent the past 40 years studying how crowds behave during all types of live performances.

RELATED: KPRC 2 Investigates to unveil new documentary on Astroworld catastrophe

“Overcrowding is the original sin of live entertainment events,” said Wertheimer. “You don’t have to oversell an event to overcrowd it.”

Wertheimer said his work began in 1979 when he was assigned to a city of Cincinnati task force charged with studying what went wrong at a The Who concert where 11 people were crushed to death.

“A crowd craze is when you move toward something of perceived value and that would be the artists, the artists on stage,” said Wertheimer. “The crowd craze, which creates the crowd surge that ends up in a crowd crush, those dynamics are known.”

“Has the industry gotten better over the last forty years?” asked KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“No, the industry, things have gotten worse for fans,” said Wertheimer.

Wertheimer said an event like Astroworld requires precision planning and crowd management because it was a standing-room event, or what is referred to as festival seating.

“Festival seating is the cash cow for the live entertainment industry,” said Wertheimer. “Festival seating, standing room environments forces people in a crowd to compete against each other for the best, prime location in front of the stage.”

KPRC 2 Investigates tried to get a clearer picture of what was happening leading up to Travis Scott taking the stage by calling the Houston Fire Department inspectors listed in city documents assigned to work the festival that night. None would speak with us on camera and only one said it was “poorly planned,” but asked us not to use their name.

Who had jurisdiction at Astroworld?

The festival happened within city limits, but on county-owned property. There is a memorandum of understanding as to how the two entities will work together on big events at NRG.

“I don’t see that it’s done much other than create confusion and finger-pointing between officials on the county and city side in this case,” said Brendon Anthony, director of the Texas Music Office. “I think we’ll see both sides stand off against one another until the whole thing is settled.”

Anthony also headed the Governor’s Task Force on Concert Safety, which produced a report following the Astroworld Fest deaths.

However, Anthony was clear that it was not the task force’s job to investigate the root cause of this tragedy, instead, they compiled an exhaustive list of best practices and state laws regarding mass gatherings called the Event Production Guide.

“This never should have happened,” said Anthony. “It should never happen again, period, full stop.”

Despite the task force’s findings, the state Music Office is not an enforcement agency. It is a branch of the Governor’s Office tasked with economic development and thus cannot lobby legislators for any potential changes in the law.

RELATED: Former HPD Commander says Astroworld Festival ended his career

Wertheimer is highly critical of the Governor’s task force report, saying it doesn’t provide any new information, especially when it comes to what the city, the county, the police and fire departments, or Live Nation is doing to prevent future tragedies.

“The industry just rolls along even though people die, young people especially. It doesn’t change anything,” said Wertheimer.

What is being done to prevent this from happening in Houston?

On Oct. 31, Harris County Pct. 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said the city-county special events task force is close to finalizing a deal as to how both entities will now oversee mass gatherings at NRG Park, as well as other venues in the county.

“Well, look tragedies, regretfully sometimes, realize the necessity to review things and that’s why this initiative is all forward-looking, we can second guess what happened in the past to some degree, but that’s not what we need to pay attention to, we need to look forward,” said Garcia.

The task force was announced in February 2022, but members were clear their mission, like that of the state’s task force, was not to investigate what happened during the Astroworld Festival but develop a set of best practices moving forward.

KPRC 2 Investigates will continue to follow the outcome of the city-county task force’s review of those best practices.

About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

Nationally-recognized investigative journalist. Passionate about in-depth and investigative stories that are important to the community. Obsessed with my Corgi pup named Chulo.