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Travis Scott escapes criminal charges for the deadly crowd surge at his concert

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Rapper Travis Scott will not face criminal charges for a deadly crowd surge at his 2021 Astroworld festival.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIM OGG: The grand jury of the 228th District Court of Harris County found that no crime did occur, that no single individual was criminally responsible.

SIMON: More than 50,000 people attended the festival in Houston, which had been promoted as a chaotic and even dangerous concert. Ten people were crushed to death at the event, and over a thousand people were injured. Houston Chronicle music critic Joey Guerra has been following the investigation and decision not to indict Travis Scott. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Guerra.

JOEY GUERRA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You were also a guest at the concert that night. What did you see? What do you remember?

GUERRY: I did see some things that now, when I think about it, absolutely seem like red flags. I saw, like, a small emergency vehicle kind of going through the crowd at one point. I saw them taking someone out on a stretcher. I think when you're in the moment, especially at an event like that and then having covered so many different outdoor festivals and big shows like that - those things happen frequently, so they didn't really set off any major alarm bells for me at the time. It wasn't until after that I realized those were part of the bigger, ongoing incident that was happening.

SIMON: What do you make of the grand jury decision not to indict Travis Scott?

GUERRY: You know, I think this is a very difficult thing because when festivals are this big with an artist of his caliber, there are so many people involved. I mean, there's literally dozens and dozens of, you know, heads of security, heads of the event. You know, it was really tough for them to find one specific person to blame, which is, again, though, what I think most people are looking for, right? Most people are - want someone to blame. And because Travis is the face, the name, the brand of this event, he's the one that people see as, you know, the primary person who should have stopped this, who should have done something.

SIMON: The Houston Police Department released a 1,300-page report critical of what I'll refer to as Travis Scott's entourage. I wonder what you thought of that report and if you can tell us what they found.

GUERRY: Ultimately, the report pointed to several factors that kind of exacerbated the situation - a lack of training, a lack of experience. You know, Travis Scott sort of promotes this culture of chaos, right? That doesn't really lend itself to running these types of things in an organized fashion. The report really stopped short of putting the blame on any specific person. It didn't say Travis was to blame.

SIMON: Mr. Guerra, you cover these kinds of events and concerts. How involved do stars and their entourage get in the security concerns?

GUERRY: I think the bigger the star is, the less direct involvement they may have with what's really being planned out for the day, for better or worse, you know? And I think that's part of what the police report cited, was that there was really a lack of clear lines of communication, who was in charge of what. There were people who were inexperienced in the positions they were. I mean, I know that these types of festivals hire basically kids sometimes to run security that maybe stand at the back, that, you know, do certain things in other locations. They're hiring people for the week, so they're just putting out kind of blanket ads - help wanted, you know, want to work at the Astroworld Festival, want to come for free? And, you know, you have lots of people who respond to these that are maybe fans that have no real training in any of these fields.

SIMON: I wonder if you have some feeling for the people who were harmed and injured and the families of those who died. This was a human-made event, and they're feeling that some group of people should be held responsible for allowing this to happen.

GUERRY: I can't begin to imagine what these people felt or are feeling when these decisions came down because that's sort of been what they've been looking for, somebody to sort of be held accountable for everything that happened. There are civil lawsuits that are still pending. I think a lot of the reason that we haven't heard a lot of information about other court proceedings is because there were gag orders placed. Nobody can really talk about what's going on or what's happening because they're not allowed to.

SIMON: We should note that Live Nation, the event organizer, I guess, has settled with the family of at least one of the victims.

GUERRY: Yes, there were two victims that settled so far that we know of.

SIMON: Travis Scott's just released his fourth studio album, "Utopia." Can you hear it in his music, what happened?

GUERRY: He, in some way, does address this. The song "My Eyes," which talks about him being on stage and not being able to see and if he could, you know, he would save a child - the lyric is something along that line. That's one point. You know, I think his music, for the most part, sounds the way it always did, for better or worse. And he's not really, I think, the type of person who we're going to get bracing honesty from in his lyrics, right? I mean, if you listen to this album, the bulk of it is about, you know, partying, and it's about isolation and wealth and loneliness and, you know, these different things that, you know, he says he goes through as a public figure.

SIMON: Can you tell what he feels for his audience?

GUERRY: He does frequently mention his fans. He talks about how they motivate him, how they're the reason he does what he does. And if you talk to these fans - like, there was a Netflix documentary that came out that sort of chronicled how connected his fans felt to him - mostly young males, mostly Black and Latino males. That's part of why he's been so successful, is he has created this really tight bond where these people feel like they know him.

SIMON: Joey Guerra is music critic with the Houston Chronicle. Thank you so much for being with us.

GUERRY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.