What Happened at Travis Scott's Astroworld Concert? The Psychology of a Crowd Surge

The crowd at Astroworld seemed to turn violent in an instant — but how does this happen if individuals weren’t behaving violently?

A phenomenon called a crowd surge led to the deaths of eight people and injuries for dozens more at Travis Scott's Astroworld concert in Houston Friday night. But what exactly is a crowd surge? And how is it possible that eight people died at an event reportedly staffed by hundreds of police and private security officers?

What happened at the Travis Scott concert hasn't occurred "in the recent past" thanks to "improved standards" for crowd management, Brian Higgins, certified crowd manager and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told NBCLX. The circumstances of the Astroworld concert are still under criminal investigation by the Houston Police Department in collaboration with the homicide and narcotics divisions, and the cause of death for the eight individuals hasn't been confirmed.

Higgins was quick to stress that the crowd itself likely wasn't violent, even if the night turned out that way. Here's a look at how crowds are typically managed at concerts — and what possibly went wrong.

The psychology of crowds, which led to 8 deaths at Astroworld

Gatherings like concerts lend to crowd surges because the people in the crowd are there for one purpose, in this case, to see Scott perform.

"This is a crowd where everybody's doing the same thing, and what they're focused on is nothing else around them, just the performance in front of them," Higgins said. "They're drawn towards the performance. ... They're not at odds or going in different directions."

"It's violent in the sense that force can crush people to death. We've seen walls knocked down at stadiums across the globe, so the force is incredible," he added. "The people aren't angry. They're just caught up in the moment. ... There's a lot of noise going on."

It's also possible that the people toward the front of the stage were regular concert goers and more comfortable being in a crowd shoulder to shoulder with strangers. As a result, they might've been less likely to notice when the conditions turned unsafe, Higgins suggested.

While research shows that "crowds tend to be very altruistic and help each other out," he explained, "the mayhem" can get to a point "where people don't even realize what's going on. ... Once you hit the ground, it's very difficult to get up, so if you've fallen, not that people are intentionally knocking you over, but they may not see you."

The reports of attendees not being able to breathe also could've contributed to the panic of the crowd.

"When the crowd has gotten to the level where it's literally causing you difficulty breathing, fight or flight takes over," Higgins said. "It's not an intentional stepping over people. It's more of an effort to live and breathe."

Several people were killed and dozens of others were injured at rapper Travis Scott's Astroworld Festival in Houston at NRG Park

What is a crowd surge?

Numerous outlets have said the eight lives were lost in a crowd surge, which can mean a couple of different things, Higgins said. In this situation, it refers to the compression of the crowd getting more intense closer to the stage.

"If you're in the way back and you're pressing forward, you feel like you want to get even closer, and you don't realize how intense this pressure is moving forward," Higgins explained. "When you're at the front part, where people are getting crushed the most, the pressure increases [from the back]."

"At some point, you're going to hit solid mass and not able to move, and then the crowd can't go anywhere. ... The people from the back are still pushing forward. They don't realize that people up front are being crushed," he continued. "This is not an intentional, 'We don't care, we're going to crush you.' This is ... 'Everybody else is moving up. I think I can move closer. There must be a reason everybody's moving.'"

The other definition of a crowd surge is "when there are no people assembled [and] all of a sudden the crowd surges into" one area, Higgins said. For example, at a music festival with multiple stages, the crowd moves from one location to another, and when one artist is especially popular, the crowd will surge into one area.

What happened at Travis Scott's Astroworld concert?

"The crowd began to compress toward the front of the stage" around 9:15 p.m. while Scott was performing, fire chief Samuel Peña said early Saturday, NBC News reported. "That caused some panic, and it started causing some injuries. People began to fall out, become unconscious, and it created additional panic."

NBCLX Producer Carlos Hernandez attended the Astroworld Festival in Houston. The event was packed, but from where he was, attendees didn't know that eight people had died during a performance from rapper Travis Scott until after leaving the event.

Of the 50,000 attendees, more than 300 were treated at an on-site hospital, and 25 were taken to nearby hospitals. One concert-goer told NBC News that the crowd was so tightly packed she struggled to breathe and passed out. If there hadn't been so many people keeping her upright, she said she believes she would've died. Other attendees reported hearing screams and seeing bodies being trampled.

Victims of Travis Scott's Astroworld festival

The eight people who died at the concert were between the ages of 14 and 27, NBC News reported:

  • Mirza Baig, 27
  • Rodolfo Peña, 23
  • Madison Dubiski, 23
  • Franco Patino, 21
  • Jacob Jurinek, 20
  • John Hilgert, 14
  • Axel Acosta Avila, 21
  • Brianna Rodriguez, 16

Those injured include a 9-year-old boy named Ezra Blount, who's in a medically induced coma after he fell off his father's shoulders. Treston Blount passed out as the crowd became more tightly packed. Astroworld organizers Live Nation Entertainment did not immediately respond to NBCLX's request for comment.