Nashville NYE adjustments expected following deadly Houston festival

Posted at 9:11 PM, Nov 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-08 22:11:45-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Those who saw the deadly rush of people at Astroworld in Houston say it’s time we consider adjustments to protect concertgoers in Music City.

Butch Spyridon of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp says what happened was heartbreaking, but avoidable. Anytime you have tens of thousands of people in one place, security and communication should be your top priority.

From what he could tell, there was little communication to where headliner Travis Scott could stop the show at the first sight of problems. Scott continued his concert for another 30 minutes as first responders attempted to reach the wounded. Eight people died and another 300 were injured as fans were pushed toward the stage.

"You automatically start thinking about, are we doing everything we can to keep people safe," Spyridon said.

As Nashville continues to be a destination for large crowd events, Spyridon says some changes are necessary. Although they’ve had staff from Nashville CVC on stage over the years, they will now designate someone to stop the concert if they suspect issues.

"The one thing we’ve never said is who would go to the stage to stop a show. That would be in the plan for New Year’s Eve. We’ve always discussed using our emcees to announce weather notices to everybody. We need to make sure we have the script," Spyridon said.

Spyridon believes the message should come from the police, so he hopes they can come to some agreement to have officers make the announcement. Otherwise, he says the Nashville CVC will not hesitate to stop an event if public safety is at risk.

This year’s NYE celebration hosted by CBS will take place at Bicentennial Mall Park, as it has been over the last few years. Spyridon says the park offers more flexibility than Broadway, but they will do a better job of pointing out exits. The fencing around the park will also be easily collapsible so it won’t get in the way of the rush of people.

Spyridon says this is not the first time they’ve adjusted how events operate because of tragedy. He says they now take a much closer look at set design following the Indiana State Fair collapse of 2011. After the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert, Nashville CVC implemented metal detectors leading into almost all major events.

Eric Holt is a concert promoter through Lovenoise, but he also teaches music business at Belmont University. His class just finished a chapter on event security, which he calls timely considering what happened in Houston.

"It’s always one of the big things you have to consider," Holt said.

While some are quick to point at Scott for not stopping the concert much sooner, Holt says this falls on more than one person.

"I know there are videos of people saying stop the show and all that, but he probably couldn’t hear that himself. There’s probably a communication breakdown because the production staff and or the security staff should have gotten to his manager which probably should have gotten him to stop the show at minimum," Holt said.

He says naturally the artists will have to take some accountability because they control much of the energy of the performance. That said, artists are often playing new venues every week. Holt says communication with emergency personnel then changes for each venue.

Holt recalls the Cincinnati concert of 1979 where eleven people died in a stampede to see The Who. Tickets were first-come, first-served, which meant crowds of people pushed their way into the few doors open. Artists and venues began making changes to crowd control following the deadly festival. Holt says he would like to see more venues rely less on festival general admission tickets where thousands are stuck together in one place without much space in-between.

We know Scott did speak with Houston law enforcement before Astroworld, because of concerns surrounding the large unruly crowd. The event went on as scheduled.

Scott addressed the situation on social media saying he was "absolutely devastated by what took place." He continued by saying "Houston PD has my total support as they continue to look into the tragic loss of life. I am committed to working together with the Houston community to heal and support the families in need. Thank you to Houston PD, Fire Department and NRG Park for their immediate response and support." Scott has since agreed to pay for the funeral arrangements for all victims.

Attorneys are suing event organizers Live Nation and others for their role in the deadly festival. It's the second lawsuit of what some say will be many more lawsuits after people were trampled.

Live Nation, which also has offices in Nashville, did not respond to our request for comment. They did post a message on Twitter saying they are "heartbroken for those lost and impacted at Astroworld. We will continue working to provide as much information and assistance as possible to local authorities as they investigate the situation."