‘All I Could See Was Hell’

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  • Natalie Hollis, a 20-year-old Louisiana resident, attended Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston.
  • Astroworld became a “mass casualty” event, with nine known deaths so far.
  • This was Hollis’ experience, as told to freelance writer Jamie Killin.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with 20-year-old Natalie Hollis, who attended Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in Houston. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

I’m Natalie Hollis, a 20-year-old Louisiana resident who attended Travis Scott’s Astroworld — the Houston festival that became a “mass casualty” event, where nine people died and hundreds more were injured.

I escaped with soreness in my back, chest, and head from being crushed in the crowd.

I’m an avid concertgoer — that’s what I do. So, Astroworld wasn’t my first pandemic-era show, but it was my first festival. For a lot of my friends, it was their first concert ever, and we were really excited.

We got our tickets for more than $300 each when they first dropped in May, and we booked our Airbnb even before that. We said we were going no matter what.

It was the first time all of us were seeing Scott perform. We saw his documentary, we listened to his music, we watched his concert videos, and we knew that it was going to be a crazy crowd. But a lot of us get in mosh pits and have a good time at concerts anyway, so we weren’t worried.

But what happened at that festival wasn’t normal.

Natalie Hollis' view at Astroworld.

 

Natalie Hollis’ view.

Courtesy of Natalie Hollis

The first day of Astroworld — the second was canceled — we got to Houston and arrived at the festival around noon. By then, it was already hectic. Even when people weren’t storming the gates, security and wristband checks were a mess.

When my friends and I got in, we immediately went to the merch line because we knew that would be an all-day thing with all the attendees. While we were there, we realized things were out of control because kids started breaking down fences, running in, and people started swarming the merch barricades, so we got pushed even farther back in line. We were aggravated.

A few of my friends and I felt like we’d spent too much money to just stand in line, so we went to see Don Toliver perform. Then, we went and got our spots for Scott.

We waited for Scott for about three hours, and we were right by the front-row barricade because — he was the favorite artist of some of my friends, and we wanted the show to be special. You often want to be right by the barricade at these things; it’s usually a fun spot, you can see everything, and it’s good energy.

The countdown started for Scott about an hour before the show, and it just got jam packed in there, shoulder to shoulder, and we couldn’t move. I started having a


panic attack

. I knew it wasn’t normal. At all.

About 10 minutes before Scott went on, my friends and I looked at each other and knew we had to get out of there. It was going to get worse, and even though we’d waited three hours, we didn’t think it was worth it. We knew once Scott went on, we weren’t getting out, so we headed toward the back barricade.

There were thousands of people — I don’t even know how we got to the back. Scott started, and we were all separated and lost in the crowd.

Travis Scott Astroworld

 

Travis Scott performs on Day One of the Astroworld Music Festival at NRG Park on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in Houston.

Amy Harris/Invision/AP

I was with just one friend, and we were being crushed. We didn’t hit the ground, thankfully, but I was stuck between ginormous men — screaming that I was going to die, I can’t breathe, I need help. People refused to help us.

There were other people trying to escape who were holding the back of my head, ripping my hair out trying to stay connected to me so they could get out with me. Everyone was crying and screaming.

When we got out, my friend and I were on the VIP stage where the media and celebrities were, and all we could see was hell. Some people had broken bones. Others were passed out.

I came to find out later that one of my friends was trampled for 30 minutes and was robbed. All of our wallets and IDs were with her, so we had nothing. Instead of someone helping her, they just ripped her bag off her and ran.

My friends said at one point, they were stepping over people lying on the ground as they tried to get out. It was scary.

The concert was unlike anything I’d seen before. I saw the hip-hop duo $uicideboy$ in concert a month ago, and the whole time, they were making sure everything was good. They could see everything going on. They said things like: “If somebody falls, make sure they get back up.”

When I went to see Jack Harlow and girls were passing out, he said we needed to take a break and told everyone to back up. That’s the kind of behavior I expect from artists.

astroworld crowd surge

 

Traffic on Main Street passes by a sign announcing the cancellation of Astroworld the day after at least eight died — now nine — and scored were injured during a concert by rapper Travis Scott at his two-day event in Houston.

Associated Press/Michael Wyke

You can see all the videos on social media of kids trying to tell Scott to stop the show. Not long after the festival, the Houston Chronicle posted a timeline of what happened. It was headlined: “For 37 minutes after officials declared a ‘mass casualty’ at Astroworld, Travis Scott played on.”

Fans in the crowd struggled for a lot longer than that, too.

I could hear everything going on when I got out. Even in videos where I’ve seen people enjoying the show, you can hear screaming in the background.

The attendees were in a trance, almost. They were so focused on Scott that they lost their regard for the people around them. (What does bother me, though, is the fringe theory that it was some kind of demonic ritual — it wasn’t. It was just a poorly planned festival.)

I tried to explain to my friends that what happened wasn’t normal, but they’re traumatized, and they’ll probably never go to a concert again. I’m a little hesitant about going to another festival myself, but I don’t want this experience to keep me from something I genuinely enjoy.

Astroworld stage aftermath

 

An empty stage is seen at the 2021 Astroworld Festival days after the event.

Nathan Frandino/Reuters

Astroworld is offering mental-health services and refunds, but even those approaches have come under extreme scrutiny — and for good reason.

Thankfully we’re all physically OK now, and my friend who was trampled is healing well, but a lot of us have survivor’s guilt. I had to delete TikTok just to get off social media, because I was sitting in my bed crying knowing we got out in time while a lot of people didn’t. Those people didn’t get to go home to their families, and we did.

I deleted all of Scott’s music off my phone. Any merchandise I had from him, I got rid of. I’m not


streaming

his music anymore, and I wish others wouldn’t either. I love concerts, and it broke my heart that people died and my friends left terrified.

Concerts are supposed to bring people together, and the only thing this brought me was suffering.

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