clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Food Vendor Alleges Disorganization and Communication Issues in the Lead-Up to Houston’s Fatal Astroworld Festival

Patsy Vivares of Sticky’s Chicken and other vendors will host a fundraiser for victims of the tragedy this weekend

A woman walks past a memorial to those who died at the Astroworld festival outside of NRG Park on November 09, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
A woman walks past a memorial to those who died at the Astroworld festival outside of NRG Park on November 9, 2021.
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A food vendor who took part in rapper Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival on the weekend of November 5 is speaking out about what she describes as disorganization and chaos in the weeks and days leading up to the event, at which nine people died during a crowd crush, in what is now considered one of the most deadly live music events in U.S. history.

Patsy Vivares, co-owner of Sticky’s Chicken and Trill Burgers, worked previous Astroworld festivals (the event also took place in 2018 and 2019, and was skipped in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic) without issues, but something about the 2021 event felt different, she says: “It just didn’t seem as organized.”

Vivares is one of a handful of Astroworld vendors hosting Bun B Presents: Breaking Bread, a fundraiser for the victims of the event where scores of concertgoers died or were seriously injured. As of Friday, November 12, at least two attendees are still hospitalized in critical condition. The event, which was supposed to take place on Friday, November 5, and Saturday, November 6, was canceled after the Friday evening incidents, which occurred during Scott’s closing set. Almost immediately after the crowd surge halted the festival, local agencies launched investigations into the circumstances that led to the tragedy.

Vivares is the only Astroworld food vendor who responded to Eater’s requests for comment. A veteran vendor at major events, she co-owns Trill Burgers with her brother Benson Vivares, Andy Nguyen, and Houston rapper Bun B. Her experience seems to mirror other alleged problems leading up to and during the festival, which may have contributed to the overall discord during the 2021 event.

Food sales for Astroworld were arranged by Spectrum Concessions, a Spring, Texas-based company that works with several music festivals, including Bonnaroo, Forecastle, and Farm Aid, as well as other large-scale events like the PGA Tour. (Eater reached out to both Spectrum and Live Nation for comment for this story, but did not receive responses at press time.)

Vivares says she’s worked with Spectrum frequently, including at now-defunct Houston music festival Free Press Summer Fest and previous years of the Astroworld Festival. Spectrum essentially works as a contractor for the main festival promoter — in Astroworld’s case, Live Nation. Vivares says Spectrum will compile a list of vendors they have worked with in the past, and then present that list to the concert promoter.

But for Astroworld 2021, Vivares says the promoters seemed to be taking an unusually long time to finalize the list. In the past, Vivares says that Spectrum typically confirmed her vendor slot at least a month in advance. However, this time around, Vivares says she wasn’t notified that Trill Burgers had been selected until about three weeks before the festival. That gave Vivares and her team limited time to prep for the festival. Then, about a week before Astroworld was to begin, Vivares was informed that her setup time had been pushed back from 8 a.m. to 6 a.m. That meant she’d have to stay up all night prepping food for the event.

A t-shirt and balloons are placed at a memorial outside of the canceled Astroworld festival at NRG Park on November 7, 2021 in Houston, Texas.  Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Still, Vivares was looking forward to serving food at a major festival. After COVID-19, she says, her friends in the industry and fellow food truck owners were excited to be together and working events again.

Problems continued on the day of the festival. As load-in began, Vivares says security personnel would not let her employees drive into the festival to unload close to the vending area — eventually, she had to park at a Fiesta Mart grocery store more than a mile away. She also says her employees were hassled by security as they tried to come in and out of the festival gates with supplies, despite wearing vendor IDs.

The festival’s COVID-19 protocols were also in disarray, according to Vivares. Festival organizers charged vendors for, and were supposed to provide, on-site COVID testing for workers. Still, Vivares made sure all her employees were tested ahead of time in order to counter any delays from on-site testing. In the end, she says, no one even came by her booth to perform a health check.

Vendors at the festival paid the organizers between $1,500 and $3,000 for a slot, plus 35 percent of their proceeds, according to Vivares. After news of the tragedy at Astroworld began to spread and the festival was canceled, many of those vendors were left with food they couldn’t sell. Vivares says she purchased 1,500 pounds of beef and was only able to sell about 500 pounds on November 5. She had anticipated better sales for Saturday, though, because more people had the day off to attend the festival, and she wouldn’t have to deal with the delay of setting up, but the tragic events of the first night of concerts placed her and fellow vendors in a difficult spot.

Following the events of that Friday night, on which more than 50,000 people were in attendance, concertgoers, media, and public officials provided accounts of systemic failures even before the festival began that may have contributed to the deadly crowd incidents, including alleged failures of coordination between security and local fire and safety personnel, reports that Houston Police Department Chief Travis Finner met with Scott before the rapper’s closing set to express public safety concerns, and a report from the Houston Chronicle that Astroworld’s 56-page operations plan failed to account for crowd surges and other safety issues. Critics have also pointed to concert promoter Live Nation’s history of safety violations and Scott’s penchant for riling up his fans. Scott faced charges in both 2015 in Chicago and 2017 in Arkansas for reckless conduct after encouraging his fans to bypass security and rush the stage.

On Friday night, after Scott’s set ended, Vivares closed up her food truck and headed to her other restaurant, Sticky’s Chicken, in Sawyer Yards. It was only then, at about 1 a.m., that she heard what had happened at Astroworld. A few hours later, she learned that the festival had been canceled.

Vivares says she doesn’t blame concertgoers or performers who didn’t realize what was happening. According to festival maps, the food trucks were scattered throughout the festival, with some behind the crowds and some between stages, which would have made seeing what was happening near the front of the stage difficult. “Not every single person there realized what was going on,” she says.

She also says she doesn’t blame Spectrum, which so far has not offered a refund to vendors, even though Scott has said he’ll refund ticket holders.

“[Spectrum] was only telling us stuff that they were told,” she says.

Even though she’s had festivals get canceled before, “This one hurts more,” she says. “Because, unlike rainstorms, this didn’t have to happen.”

Bun B Presents: Breaking Bread will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, November 14, at 8th Wonder Brewery, at 2202 Dallas Street. Vendors will include Eatsie Boys, Blk Mkt Birria, Seoulside Wings, OhMyGogi, Happy Endings, and the Waffle Bus, plus Vivares’s restaurants. Proceeds from the event will go to verified GoFundMe accounts for the Astroworld victims.