In numerous scenes from Look Mom, I Can Fly, his 2019 Netflix documentary, a young Travis Scott can be seen joyfully moving around Astroworld, the spacious Houston theme park that once housed imagination, frights, thrills, and a sense of coming of age. When the park was shuttered and then turned into a parking lot around 2005, Scott joined many locals in hoping it would come back.
A year ago, his childhood imagination helped spawn the first Astroworld Festival, a giant sprawl of carnival rides, stages, personal roller coasters, and more. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect to hold a festival within city limits; his latest album Astroworld had not only cracked the top of the Billboard 200, but it also cemented him as arguably the most successful Houston rapper, ever.
When walking the festival grounds for year two, the emphasis on upstaging year one was evident. The energy among fans was palpable, particularly as they would storm the gates in attempt to get a premium view of any stage they desired. The opening entrance from a year ago remixed Travis’ Astroworld album cover in favor of skulls and crossbones and distorted graphics built for warnings and fall out shelters. Backstage found enough space to hold a barbershop, a basketball court, and even the eye-popping moment of Marilyn Manson in a gold snakeskin suit sitting next to a slab with its trunk ajar, proudly displaying a neon message for the ages: “This Why Ya Hoe Missin.”
At one point, I overheard someone yell, “Is she in a quinceanera dress?” Sure enough, a young girl, flanked by family members and friends walked around in an idyllic white dress with a crown on her head. If that day is about the Mexican tradition of celebrating your entrance into womanhood, then the girl must have decided that doing it at Astroworld was the perfect moment.
In a nutshell, that’s Houston for you; a melting pot of cultural weirdness that is understood only when you dive deeper into it. Car culture, slang, the bipolar weather, and love of funnel cakes. It’s as Southern as you would think and wholly independent of everywhere else. And at Astroworld, it’s the perfect landing space that can somehow contain Manson’s two-decade stroll through shock and awe hits (“The Dope Show,” “The Beautiful People”) and a surprise Kanye West mini-set built around the unorthodox evangelical “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and the jittery bounce of “Follow God.”
As Astroworld Festival stretched further into the NRG Park grounds, a few things that carried over from last year continued. The long odyssey to grab merch from the three different merch areas, the Screwed Up Records & Tapes pop-up being not only a popular destination but a legit photo stand, and the Houston All-Stars putting on once more for the near three decades of legend that proceeded Astroworld Fest – all this in addition to fast risers such as Megan Thee Stallion, Don Toliver and Maxo Kream throwing in with their own buoyant performances.
Scott himself realized how big the festival had gotten. 350 plus days ago, around 40,000 people swarmed around his stage as he gave fans a glimpse into how wild his upcoming ‘Astroworld Wish You Were Here’ tour would be. Now, there were approximately 50,000 people but, due to a knee injury he suffered earlier in the month, he couldn’t exactly rage out per usual. Instead, he stood on top of a lift for most of his closing set, overlooking the masses as if he were Joe watching over the volcano.
Throughout the day, fans quizzed themselves on who the special guests would be. Would Pharrell pop in, since he could easily do a repeat of his own Something in the Water performance from earlier this year? Would it be Young Thug? Who would Travis bring? The answer belonged to Scott, who kept the Kanye play in his back pocket as an ace in the hole while everyone else thought Drake or even Future would pop up. But the most unlikely guest? Dave Chappelle, who apparently loves Houston so much that beyond a two-week residency, he flew in from Ohio (he says) just to play opening emcee for the “hometown hero.”
Even if a brief power outage on stage had ruined Roddy Ricch’s crowning festival moment to date, Scott wasn’t back in his hometown to let anyone down. Gunna and Thug popped up to deliver the full version of the ballyhooed “Hot” remix live, and in 4K living color Migos helped premiere a brand new song, “We Don’t Give A Fuck.”
What Astroworld Festival means to Scott and the city is a sense of pride, a celebration of all the things that make Houston unique. It’s where Rosalía can make her Houston debut to a large crowd and where DaBaby can continue his MVP like performance streak of 2019 and where the most joyful moment came with Megan Thee Stallion engaging in a game of paper, rock scissors.
Perhaps Manson, the lineup’s most intriguing addition said it best during his set: “I bet you didn’t see this coming did you? That’s because Travis Scott is a genius.”