Travis Scott tried to elevate Houston. Did you disappoint him?

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Playwright ShaWanna Renee Rivon was speaking at her alma mater – the University of Houston – a few months ago when a student told her he wouldn’t be able to attend her next writing workshop: she was going to Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival. .

“He expected something historical. I saw it on her face. It was just a sense of pride, “Rivon said.

When news broke that the November 5 concert had gone deadly, ultimately causing nine deaths, Rivon rushed to check on the student. He survived, he said, but was shaken. As were many Houstonians who were proud of Scott and his reimagining of the Space City urban theme park that once stood next to the Astrodome and shaped childhood across the lines of race and class.

AstroWorld was razed in 2006 when Scott, born Jacques Bermon Webster II, was 15 years old. But his memory hung over him and the other Houstonians. With a nostalgic nod, he titled his 2018 album “Astroworld” and launched his two-day music festival of the same name at the former theme park site the same year, making the entrance gate a cross between its image and one of the iconic attractions, the Texas cyclone.

The approximately one-hundred-acre park opened in 1968 next to the Interstate 610 ring surrounding the center. Rides included the Texas Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster modeled after the one in New York Coney Island Cyclone – and Thunder River, considered the world’s first river run when it opened in 1980. It has grown to include a water park and nightclub, Studio A, which aired a show on local television, “Videocity.”

“When you got to a certain age, in the summer, we took out a summer pass. Your parents would take you up there and it was just a place to be, “said Rivon, 43, who recalled dancing at the club.” It was just a sense of freedom. “

The park’s Southern Star Amphitheater has hosted artists including the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead and AC / DC, introducing many Houston youth – in an era before the internet and streaming music – to genres they had never heard. said John Chiles, an adjunct professor in the University of Houston’s African American Studies program.

Houston is a city carved into neighborhoods, from the villas of River Oaks and Rice Village to the low-income apartments of Greenspoint and Sharpstown. It was also originally divided into wards, which were often related to ethnic communities. The fifth ward was Latin; the Third Ward – where Scott’s grandmother lived and to which she often refers in her songs – was historically black.

For many, AstroWorld has transcended those divisions, Chiles said. Houstonians didn’t grow up just attending the theme park, which was eventually included by Six Flags, he said; they worked there, often together with people from completely different parts of the city.

“AstroWorld is really woven into the Houston community,” said Chiles, 58.

After the deadly throng at the festival during Scott’s set, Chiles said: “The citizens of Houston are heartbroken.”

“It goes back to the fact that AstroWorld has been a positive experience for so many,” he said.

Chiles said Houstonians are not only following the ongoing police-led investigation, but are also “taking it personally.”

“There’s a lot of pride here, especially in the hip-hop community,” said Chiles, who teaches about Houston’s hip-hop legends, inviting local artists to speak to his class.

Beyoncé grew up in the Third Ward and the name checks it in her songs as Scott does (he’s also known to visit Frenchy’s Chicken and Shipley Do-Nuts, bringing girlfriend Kylie Jenner, who posted donuts on Instagram). Megan Thee Stallion also grew up in Houston and is expected to graduate from Chiles’ alma mater in Third Ward, Texas Southern University, a historically black school next month. But neither created a music festival the size of Astroworld, which premiered in 2018, returned in 2019, then was postponed last year due to the pandemic.

A visitor writes a note at a memorial outside the canceled Astroworld festival in Houston, Texas.

A visitor writes a note at a memorial outside the canceled Astroworld Festival on November 7.

(Alex Bierens de Haan / Getty Images)

Unlike other “pop superstars,” Scott used his music, and the Astroworld Festival in particular, to attract artists of other genres to Houston, Chiles said: In addition to hip-hop stands like Drake and Young Thug, this year’s lineup included Bad Bunny; Taming the Impala; Earth, wind and fire; and SZA. Locals also noted that Scott was donating in other ways, to charities and specifically to young people, Chiles said. Mayor Sylvester Turner gave Scott a key to the city a year after his first Astroworld Festival.

“People who know Travis Scott know he is a good person. He does a lot of things here in silence “ Chiles said, noting that Scott teamed up with his grandmother to dedicate one of eight Houston public school gardens that his foundation helped build days before Astroworld.

Chiles, who met with Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, said he “fell out of line; he cares. “But he was troubled to see Finner and other officials blaming Scott for not closing the concert (Finner pointed out in a briefing on Wednesday that Scott had the authority to stop the show.)

“We have to look at the crowd’s willingness to be handled,” Chiles said. “This happened in Houston, but this isn’t Houston’s problem.”

Many of Houston’s hip-hop stars, including Paul Wall and Slim Thug, have remained silent after the Astroworld disaster. Rapper Bun B, also known as Bernard Freeman, 48, took to Instagram Live from Houston on Monday to talk about the tragedy.

“The city has a lot to do with,” he said. “I wasn’t even there and I kind of feel … extremely excited about the situation.”

Bun B said her loved ones who were at the festival were safe, but noted how much trauma everyone involved experienced. He said he flew from Houston to Los Angeles last weekend for ComplexCon with onlookers returning to California after attending Astroworld, and one young man looked particularly traumatized, wearing headphones in the plane, “trying to process it through the Travis Scott’s music, which was his all reason to go. “

“What are we not achieving as a community with this? We have sent our children, and I mean collectively, from all over the world, “said Bun B.

Houston disc jockey Michael Pierangeli, who attended all three Astroworld festivals, said the crowds have been heavier this year.

“The anticipation was obviously higher because we are in the middle of a pandemic, this is the first big event outside and it’s Travis Scott. You have a lot of people coming from all over, “said Pierangeli, Jan.

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, a former Republican mayoral candidate and River Oaks resident, grew up going to AstroWorld park.

“There’s that nostalgia,” Buzbee said. “Most of the people who went to that concert don’t know what AstroWorld was, but the people who run the city do.”

Buzbee said she allowed her teenage children to attend the festival in 2019, but they felt insecure and didn’t return. Buzbee represents the family of one of the people killed this month, 21-year-old Axel Acosta, and said he held both organizers and Scott accountable.

“You can’t encourage people to rebel. You can’t do these things as a responsible person, no matter how popular you are, no matter if you are the genesis of it, no matter if the mayor gave you the key to the city and they stop the traffic to give you a special place to park your Lamborghini. “said Buzbee.” Did he go to an after-party after this concert? I’ll ask him when I drop him. “

Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, is also considered by many to be the most diverse. This was reflected in the Astroworld crowd and victims, which included black, white, Latino and American Indian participants, ages 14 to 27.

Among them was Bharti Shahani, 22, whose parents had emigrated from India, settled in Houston, opened a clothing store, and sent her to Texas A&M University.

“Houston is a diverse community of immigrants, people looking for better opportunities for the next generation,” said one of Shahanis’ attorneys, Mohammed Nabulsi, as he stood next to them during a briefing Thursday. “Bharti played the role that the older brothers of the first generation play: they are the glue of the family, they are the connections, the mentors…. This is what not only the Shahani family has lost, but what our entire community has lost: a bright star. “

Attorney James Lassiter, whose firm represents the family, recalled going to AstroWorld as a child, as the park had “always been a symbol of family and all the good things in Houston.”

Lassiter said his 17-year-old son was also at the festival and “I was blessed he came home that night.”

Ezra Blount, a 9-year-old who attended Astroworld with his father, was left in critical condition in a Houston hospital on Friday after being stepped on during his crush, said his grandmother Tericia Blount, who lives in the Houston suburbs.

Blount, 52, a retired nurse, was at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she said doctors were trying to take Ezra off the medications that kept him in a coma for a week as they coped with brain swelling and heart problems. .

He said his son had taken Ezra to Astroworld because Scott had classified it as a family event.

“He had face painting for the kids, ferris wheels and rides,” he said. “It was said to be a family event for all ages. So you’d think we can all go, him and his son, to bond. And then your whole world is completely turned upside down. “

Blount said the family, which hired attorney Ben Crump, want everyone involved to be held accountable, including Scott.

“He could have stopped,” Blount said. “He saw things, but he kept going on.”

Friday night, a week after the concert, a memorial at the Astroworld Festival fence had grown to include photographs of the dead, postcards, balloons, and hundreds of bouquets of flowers.

At dusk, Toni Tacorda was the only visitor. The University of Houston student said she worked for security at the concert and came to pay her respects on behalf of her security team, who live throughout the state. He said one of them, an 18-year-old, had extracted the body of the 14-year-old who had died.

“We could only have saved so many people,” said Tacorda, 21. “We were doing our job.”

Tacorda moved to Houston from the Philippines at the age of 6 and considered it a welcoming place. She was heartened to see that the memorial had grown as people added tribute.

“That’s the thing about my city: there’s always someone there for you,” she said.

She attended the last two Astroworld concerts and was inspired by Scott’s rise, but she didn’t think it could save the festival from such a tragedy.

“Astroworld is not going to happen again,” he said. “It will be another Houston associated disaster.”

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