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Monday, November 29, 2021

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‘This year was different’: Students recall Astroworld in weeks after tragedy


astroworld attendee

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Bhagwat Patel, a finance junior at UH, has been going to Astroworld since its start in 2018. He has always had a good time listening to his favorite artists and hanging out with his friends. But this year, everything was different. 

Unlike some other attendees, Patel got to the festival later in the day, around 4 p.m. He described the first thing he saw when he got to the NRG Park, where Astroworld was being held. 

​​”I saw cops chasing a guy,” Patel said. “And then when all the cops started chasing the guy and they went away from the fences, that’s when like 60 or 70 people ran away from the line and tried to jump over all the fences. That’s when I knew this year was different.”

In past years, Patel has been able to have a good time at the festival. He would get food with his friends, and towards the end of the night, they would stand near the back of the festival grounds while listening to their favorite artists perform. 

“Staying in the back is kind of like a safe option,” Patel said. “There’s not going to be much, like it’s not going to be too hectic. Obviously it’s still the final set of the night so it is going to be a lot of moving but it’s not going to be as bad as it is in the front. This year we did the same thing.”

While reflecting, Patel recalled standing in the back to be just as bad as it would have been in the front. 

“We’re getting pushed left and right, like all of our friends were holding each other up and we could barely stand,” he said. “There’s water bottles and shoes and things flying in the air. You literally have to constantly look up to make sure you didn’t get hit by some random flying object.”

Patel grew up in Fort Bend County and went to Elkins High School, just like Travis Scott, the artist behind Astroworld and the festival’s headliner. He has been listening to his music since 2016. 

“His music means something to me because I went to the same high school as him so it was always like, this is the home of Travis Scott, you have to be a fan,” Patel said. 

Many UH students share Patel’s sentiments. For most fans who grew up in Houston, being a Travis Scott fan is a sense of pride. Gabby Avila, a strategic communications junior, feels the same way as him. 

“I’ve been a fan for a while,” Avila said. “I mean, he was born in Houston, so watching his music blow up a lot when I was in high school, like 2018, was so cool. Every party I went to, every event, Travis was always playing.”

She went to Astroworld in 2019, and had tickets for the festival’s second day this year, but based on the videos she’d seen from her friends and online, she could tell this year was different from when she went. 

“The incident just makes me feel like his true colors really show,” she said. “He’s really just there to influence people to like rage and I get that’s the thing, to rage, to like you know like really go hard for his music, but you know he kept the concert going, kept the rage going, while people got hurt.”

Patel feels the same way after attending the concert.

“Its really unfortunate for those who were injured and lost their lives at the festival,” he said. “I hope the families of the victims get the justice and closure they are looking for.”

This year, the festival resulted in the deaths of 10 attendees, and multiple injuries. While officials have not determined the primary cause of each death, they do say the concert’s chaos contributed to the casualties. 

UH’s Director of the Trauma and Stress Studies Center and associate professor of psychology, Anka Vujanovic, said fans could be shaken after attending the concert. 

“Any time that such horrific tragedies occur is a time of collective grief and mourning,” Vujanovic said. “The incident will likely affect fans differently based on their experiences and interpretations of the events that transpired.”

Vujanovic added that witnessing death or severe injury is one of the defining characteristics of trauma. 

“Most people who witness trauma may feel distressed in the immediate aftermath, and that distress may take the form of increased anxiety, depressed mood or sleep disturbance,” she said. “For a majority of people, those symptoms should dissipate over the days or weeks following the traumatic event. For a subset of individuals, symptoms may stabilize or worsen.”

She understands that coping in the aftermath of loss and grief can be challenging. As more news comes out about the events that transpired at Astroworld, Vujanovic suggests taking care of yourself to be a priority.

“Maintaining physical, emotional and spiritual self-care is important,” she said. “Being aware of changes in thoughts, feelings or behaviors is also important. And reaching out for professional help if symptoms persist or begin to interfere with functioning over a period of time.”

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