the pandemic should have made live music safer. it hasn’t.
The fatalities at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston were totally avoidable.. but there is money to be made.
Queering the Burbs is a weekly-ish distillation of pop culture, politics and queerness written by Joe Erbentraut. If you like what you see, please consider subscribing (it’s free!), liking or sharing this piece.
As I sit to write what’s on my mind this week, I keep coming back to the (at least) eight people who were killed Friday night at rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston. I’m beyond frustrated and incredibly saddened by a tragedy that should have been avoided — and I believe it’s an indictment of the entire industry that it was allowed to play out as it did.
So what exactly led up to a crowd surge that as of this writing has injured hundreds and hospitalized dozens (including a 9-year-old boy who is currently in a coma)? This timeline from local TV affiliate KHOU spells it out in detail.
As someone who has seen a great deal of live music — and at one point was seriously pursuing a career in the industry — what really strikes me about what went wrong in Houston is how evidently unprepared the festival organizers were for a crowd of 50,000 getting hyped up for one of the most popular artists in the industry right now.
Any festival this size would typically be equipped with a small army of security guards ensuring a safe environment, and a medical staff with a plethora of equipment ready to go if needed. But it appears none of that was the case in Houston, even though the event promoters — the massive conglomerate of Live Nation among them — clearly should have had the resources at their fingertips to avoid this mass casualty event.
But Live Nation has a reputation for cutting corners — as NPR notes, the company is connected to about 200 deaths, at least 750 injuries and numerous safety violations over the past 15 years. While some of these included terrorist attacks like the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, others include a stage collapse in Indiana in 2011, and a concert staffer who suffered brain damage in a forklift incident in New York in 2013.
Despite this record and despite the ongoing pandemic that completely shut down the global live music industry for more than a year, Live Nation remains hugely successful. The company’s many subsidiaries include Ticketmaster, C3 Presents (which produces major festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits) and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. If you like seeing live music, they are basically unavoidable. In the latest report of its finances to the SEC, its revenues surged to $2.7 billion in Q3 of this year, which the company credited to “pent-up demand for live events” where “fans are eager to re-connect in person.” The news, reported last week, brought the company’s stock to an all-time high — though that number has fallen following the Astroworld tragedies and news of the company being named in multiple lawsuits.
So, if anyone could afford to do a massive live event like Astroworld correctly, it should have been Live Nation and its partners. Especially considering that we are only just now returning to a somewhat normal live music calendar after the industry was completely upended. The pandemic could have caused any number of industries to take a look at a mirror and consider how a new, safer, more sustainable environment could be brought about — perhaps, in the case of live music, an environment that is safer for women, easier on the planet, more accessible for fans with disabilities, or perhaps one where more women are booked as headliners of major music festivals?
Instead, it appears we’re on the fast track to a return to business as usual, pure and simple, except this time we will probably be without many of the independent, non-Live Nation venues who lack the financial reserves to withstand the pandemic. (Visit Save Our Stages to learn more about what you might be able to do about that.)
Live music is a magical thing. Our return to seeing live shows since getting our vaccines has made me incredibly grateful for the science that made the return possible, and the art that made the experiences memorable. This summer we saw Erykah Badu, Yves Tumor and Caroline Polachek at the Pitchfork festival, Orville Peck at a tiny Iowa club, Jenny Lewis and Harry Styles at the massive United Center, Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls at Ravinia. At one point in the Indigo Girls set this September, Lucy Wainwright Roche joined the duo to sing some of the most patently beautiful three-part harmonies I’ve ever witnessed. Coupled with the weed gummy pulsing through my veins, it felt like I was staring straight into a rainbow.
But no one should be risking their lives for a chance to experience this sort of magic. If we’re stuck with these corporate overlords as the middle men between us and our fix, the least they can do is just try and do even a little bit better.
LINKS, LINKS, WHO WANTS LINKS?
Actress Shailene Woodley says the media is “disparaging” her hairy-handed fiancé Aaron Rodgers after the Packers quarterback tested positive for Covid-19 and confirmed he is unvaccinated (seemingly in violation of the NFL’s Covid-19 protocols). Rodgers has claimed he is “immunized” and has taken ivermectin. He says the “woke mob” is coming for him and that he got his information from podcast host Joe Rogan. Woodley has previously indicated she, too, has some alternative views on medicine like eating clay (which a cab driver told her to do). The New York Times is reporting on why Rodgers’ misinformation is so dangerous from a public health perspective.
Missy Elliott was just inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Lizzo played tribute beautifully to the music icon at the induction ceremony.
A few weeks ago I loudly sang the praises of Dakota Johnson. Well, what can I say? Mistakes were made: In a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, the product of nepotism called “cancel culture” a “fucking downer” and defended the likes of “great artists” like Johnny Depp, Shia LaBeouf and Armie Hammer.
There is a new U.K. dating show called Love Trap and, I cannot emphasize this enough, this 50-second clip of the ending of one of its episodes is one of my favorite things I’ve ever witnessed.
The ultra-wealthy are truly built different, as billionaire oil heiress Ivy Getty’s wedding makes painfully clear. Getty’s nuptials were officiated by Nancy Pelosi and Earth Wind & Fire performed. In attendance were Anya Taylor-Joy, Governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Reporting on all the goings on without a hint of irony, were our friends at Vogue.
The stars of the upcoming Wicked film — Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo — were just announced and the internet is working proactively to organize against air-humping bridge troll James Corden’s possible (seemingly likely) casting in the film. As of this writing, nearly 74,000 people have signed this Change.org petition.
Hilary Duff’s iconic choreography to her 2007 single “With Love” is trending on TikTok and I simply cannot look away.
The near-future voice of Garfield himself (Chris Pratt) reportedly went to bed “upset” and “depressed” after he was rightfully criticized for a cringeworthy Instagram tribute to his wife Katherine Schwarzenegger. Now he knows how the rest of us feel at bedtime.
Fictional bird Big Bird got “vaccinated” against Covid-19 and Republicans are reacting very reasonably.
Big Bird @BigBirdI got the COVID-19 vaccine today! My wing is feeling a little sore, but it'll give my body an extra protective boost that keeps me and others healthy. Ms. @EricaRHill even said I’ve been getting vaccines since I was a little bird. I had no idea!
Some of my best friends are heterosexual and yet.. this teary-eyed TikTok video shared from “enemy territory (a rehearsal dinner for a straight wedding on a race car track)”? I can’t say I can’t relate.
Maryland artist Snail Mail — the solo project of Lindsey Jordan — released a new album called Valentine and it is stunning and devastating. This is peak sad-girl fall content for fans of the likes of Fiona Apple, Sonic Youth and the ultimate sad-girl fall band, The Cranberries. Here’s the track “Ben Franklin.”
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