Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “The show must go on” at some point or another?
It’s one of those old showbiz principles that gets tossed about whenever there’s been a disruption to some fraction of the entertainment industry. The saying actually originated in the 19th century with ringmasters needing to keep circuses rolling whenever an animal got loose or maimed a performer. The thinking was twofold, really. If the show went on, audiences wouldn’t have time to panic nor would they be denied the entertainment they came to experience.
It’s a noble principle, sure, and the belief has come to represent great resilience in times of disorder and uncertainty for the business. The phrase has been getting a lot of work lately with headlines using it to extol the return of live entertainment after Covid upended our lives. We’re still in a pandemic but we’re back outside. People are packing movie theaters again. The lights are back on at theaters and arenas across the country. Music festivals are opening its gates and welcoming tens of thousands of people to stand shoulder to shoulder. The show is going on and I haven’t exactly figured out how I feel about it all.
As someone that covers the music industry for a living, the shuttering of these industries impacted my work and left a ton of friends out of work completely. And it fucking sucked. I could deal with watching movies at home (and, frankly, prefer it), but the inability to go to a concert or to a musical devastated me. Drive-in concerts and livestream shows helped pass the time, but neither gave me the same thrill of a live show and lost their appeal rather quickly. And yet, I’ve found my desire to see my community return to their livelihoods and my own eagerness to experience live shows complicated by my growing anxieties around how we've all been showing up in this pandemic.
For months now, I’d been slowly dipping back into the music scene. First the occasional outdoor show, then arena shows and small club gigs. At every show a nagging thought crosses my mind and I start wondering how many of the strangers I’m passing by or waiting in line near have used a photoshopped Covid test or fake vax card to get in? I hate that my mind goes there, but come on, I’d be kidding myself to think that that’s not been the reality of going to shows in the Covid-era. My worries have never quite softened, really, but I felt safe enough to keep going to shows. And then I felt safe enough to step foot at a music festival, a place where there’d be far more bodies packed into tighter spaces.
Whatever excitement I allowed myself to feel around returning to a music festival evaporated in an instant after Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival left ten dead and hundreds more injured and traumatized, the result of too many people crammed together and collapsing into a sinkhole of fallen bodies as the crowd surged forward. The footage that flooded social was a shocking, stomach churning glimpse of the chaos that swallowed what should have been a day of revelry. People screaming for help, limp bodies being hoisted out of the crowd, festival staff shooing folks away, medical personnel struggling to render aid (or being stalled by fans lost in the trance of raging)—all while Scott’s show continued. The most haunting of the clips all share a common thread: Scott’s fans in a moment of sheer panic as he hovers in the distance above the crowd keeping the show going.
The stunning tragedy of Astroworld hung heavily in the air at Day N Vegas, the three day R&B and hip-hop festival from Coachella promoters Goldenvoice and AEG that had the great misfortune of being a week after Scott’s festival (he was supposed to headline its second night but was replaced by Post Malone) and the first festival that many had gone to since the Before Times.
Things went as I expected they might. At nearly every set I saw artists were being extra mindful of any potential discomfort in the audience—a few acts even stopped their sets to check on the crowd, including SZA and Don Toliver (both of whom played at Astroworld the week prior). There was a noticeably robust presence of medical personnel and security circling the grounds and I’d never seen so much signage with "If You See Something, Say Something” language on it outside of airports.
Astroworld was on everyone's minds. There wasn’t a conversation I had all weekend—be it with strangers or old friends—that didn’t veer into litigating who should be at fault for the loss of life and injuries or speculating how the tragedy will impact festival culture in the long run. We’re a ways away from getting any of those answers but being among tens of thousands of fans a week after the tragedy was a reminder that the show will always go on. And I still don't know how I feel about that.
Cover image via Julien Bajsel / Day N Vegas