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Dad Daze: After the Travis Scott tragedy, should kids go to concerts?

UPDATED: Mon., Nov. 15, 2021

Editor’s note: A 9-year-old Dallas boy died Sunday after the Astroworld Festival crush, bringing the death toll to 10 for Travis Scott’s concert tragedy.

After the Travis Scott concert tragedy, which claimed nine lives in Houston last week, my son Milo, 16, asked about crowd behavior during shows a generation ago. After experiencing the opener to the Rolling Stones Tattoo You Tour in 1981 at Philadelphia’s massive JFK Stadium as a high school freshman, I indulged in myriad concerts.

I caught a plethora of shows in my youth into early adulthood, so I took a few minutes to process before responding to Milo. After experiencing hundreds of concerts as a fan, music critic and usher/security guard, I’ve never seen anything quite like what’ happened at the Scott show. When I covered a Guns N’ Roses show for Rolling Stone in 2002 that never happened since Axl Rose decided to not show up, I expected a riot, but nothing happened. It was disappointing yet peaceful.

Nine people are dead, including a 14-year-old, and many more are injured, including a 9-year-old in a coma, after a crowd surge at Scott’s performance at his Astroworld Festival. It’s difficult on many levels watching the horrific video, and no one is writing about the COVID-19 possibilities due to the deaths and injuries. Not a single individual in a massive crowd jammed together sported a mask.

But what’s most tragic is this isn’t the first time mindless violence marred a Scott show. When Kyle Green caught a Scott performance at Terminal 5 in Manhattan in 2017, he was pushed from a third-floor balcony. Green suffered a fractured vertebrae, broken left wrist and fractured left ankle and is paralyzed. “They going to catch you, don’t be scared,” Scott said during a video taken by a fan during that event. If that’s not enough, there’s Scott’s “Stargazing,” which features the Houston-based rapper belting out “and it ain’t a mosh pit if it ain’t no injuries / I got ’em stage diving out of the nosebleeds.”

Yes, it’s just a song, but young, impressionable minds are easily influenced by a ridiculous message that doesn’t quite rhyme. A portion of my misspent youth was inside mosh pits during Fishbone shows, which were unpredictable and physical. I was kicked in the head, which might explain some of the Dad Daze content, banged in the ribs and at times knocked down.

However, there was never any malice from a peer in the pit. I remember the first time I hit the floor just a few feet from the stage at a Fishbone show. As I thought, “What am I going to do now?” eight hands picked up my prone body, and I was ambulatory once again. No one was pushing a fan off a third-floor balcony. The only person leaping out the mezzanine was Fishbone’s daring vocalist Angelo Moore. Moore, who is an accomplished singer and musician, performed like he was out of the circus without a net. Moore was so physical that he has had hip and knee replacements at 50.

Moore took the risk as he led his eclectic and incendiary punk-funk band, not fans. Sure, there were was action in the pit, but that was the extent of it. I did witness aggression at shows. I’ll never forget being smashed against the wooden barricade at Black Sabbath since fans pushed forward hoping those in the front would climb over the wall, and they would be closer.

It was less than kind, but what’s happened at Scott’s shows mirrors society. There is considerably less respect for life than there was a generation ago. The numbers don’t lie. Gun violence in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston continue to rise at a startling rate. Every day, there are drive-by shootings, and they often include innocent children in the wrong place at the wrong time. Why wouldn’t that lawless and horrific behavior cross over to concert venues? My son Eddie, 19, saw a Scott show in 2017 in Philadelphia. “I wasn’t on the floor, where it was getting crazy, but I didn’t see anything that was too bad,” Eddie recalled.

However, when my daughter Jillian, 23, caught Kendrick Lamar in 2017 in Philadelphia, the crowd surged. Fortunately, Jillian and her friend were no worse for wear. However, after the show ended, her pal’s wallet was stolen during the concert and most likely during the crowd’s advancement when fans were all over the pair. I had to drive to the venue to pick them up since they had no money to pay for public transit.

This isn’t an indictment on hip-hop. Prior to working a rap show co-headlined by Run-DMC and LL Cool J, which also featured the Beastie Boys in 1986, our security team prepped as if we were going to war, and it was so overblown. It was just another event. The same goes for late ’80s/early ’90s shows I attended catching Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest. There was buzz about how dangerous it could be, and P.E. was forced to cancel some shows due to irrational fear, but it was fine.

When it comes to crowd safety and children, the question is whether to let children go to shows. The answer is yes, but younger kids should be accompanied by parents. It’s great to bond over shows. Jillian and I still talk about how she and I watched Fiona Apple, Brandi Carlile and Lily Allen before she reached 10. Milo and I have seen his favorite band, Car Seat Headrest, six times. Eddie and I have been out for Radiohead, his favorite band, on a number of occasions. “I loved seeing Radiohead when I was 10 with you in Tampa,” Eddie said. “That was when I started to love going to concerts.”

The following year, Eddie saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. “That was his next to last tour,” Eddie said. “I’m so glad I saw him. I’ll never forget how he didn’t say much between songs, but it was all in his songs.” After I was blown away by Van Halen in 1981, I had one thought while leaving the venue, which is that it was time to form a band. Experiencing concerts can change your life for the better, but unfortunately the opposite can happen.

Don’t give up on concerts. It’s best to accompany your kids for safety and the shared experience. The odds are you’ll have a great time, and it’s altruistic to support live music. Just be aware – always know where the exits are, be responsible and enjoy.

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