Houston’s hometown hero Travis Scott is being introduced onto the stage at the rapper’s very own Astroworld festival by Dave Chappelle, who’s flown out from Ohio for this briefest of engagements. “Travis has conquered the world and brought it home to you, Houston,” the comedian tells the 50,000-strong crowd, many of whom are decked out in official Travis merch they spent hours queuing for earlier in the unusually warm November sunshine. Chappelle’s words serve as a fitting proclamation for Travis’ achievements and, having conquered the globe over the past two years, there’s now a huge party on Astroworld to be had.
Like Chappelle, NME has also flown out to Houston for the second annual Astroworld festival, named after the now-defunct theme park which used to be located across the road from the current festival site at NRG Park. The exhilarating thrills generated by the original Astroworld amusement park have transcended over to this new incarnation. As well as the ferris wheel and the multiple fairground rides and vintage arcades games that Travis and his festival team have laid out, there’s also a set of giant, inflatable mock-ups of the rapper’s head that people take selfies in front of all day, a 35-foot-high pop-up planetarium which blasts out unreleased Travis music, and two live music stages. For a one-day event, it’s a lot to take in: it’s little wonder that all of the tickets for Astroworld 2019 were snapped up before the line-up had even been announced.
Fortunately for fans — or the ‘Ragers’, as Travis so affectionately calls them — their faith in the rapper’s booking prowess has been rewarded. Over on the smaller ‘Thrills’ stage, another proud Houstonian is commanding attention. “I’m at home now,” Megan Thee Stallion declares as the crowd screams back at her in proud appreciation. “Motherfucking Texas in the building!” The rapper is still riding the giddy heights of her break-out year, sparked by the viral success of her hit ‘Hot Girl Summer’. Here at Astroworld people are itching to get closer to their latest hero and, fortunately, Megan obliges. She invites two separate groups of fans (including one very enthusiastic guy in a tie-dye Grateful Dead t-shirt) up to dance, twerk and live out their ‘Hot Girl’ dreams as ‘Big Booty’, her recent collaboration with Gucci Mane (who pulled out of performing at Astroworld at the very last minute), booms out.
Hot-footing it over to the main ‘Chills’ stage, there’s time to see a red jacketed Playboi Carti conducting one of the wildest sets of the day: at one point during ‘wokeuplikethis*’, NME witnesses one Rager successfully landing an audacious leap between the barriers separating general admission from the VIP section. And he get away with it, too; festival security possibly blindsided in awe by his daring feat. It’s hoped that Young Thug’s set shortly afterwards on the ‘Thrills’ stage will bring similar chaos, but the Atlanta rapper — whose trousers are emblazoned with the words “that’s an awful lot of cough syrup”— only turns up halfway through his allotted set time and, as a result, his time on stage barely elapses 20 fairly uneventful minutes. Astroworld shrugs at this minor let-down, though, as Migos more than make up for the disappointment. “You are now watching the greatest group in the world!” Quavo declares from the main stage, and there isn’t a disagreeing harrumph to be heard. The Atlanta trap trio rattle through a strong selection of hits – from ‘Hannah Montana’ to ‘Fight Night’ and the more recent likes of ‘Kelly Price’ and Joe Budden-dissing ‘Ice Tray’ — before, yes, they bring out ‘Bad and Boujee’; the longevity of this crowd favourite in no doubt.
Next up, it’s Astroworld’s most unlikely booking yet — and doesn’t the man himself know it. “I bet you didn’t see this coming, did you?” Marilyn Manson, blue paint smeared across his eyes, deadpans from the stage. “That’s because Travis Scott is a genius.” The Manson sound was never going to appeal to 50,000 Travis Scott fans, and consequently he ends up playing to probably one of the smallest crowds he’s attracted in years. But that doesn’t stop the brilliantly deranged enthusiasm and theatrics from Manson and his sensational three-piece live band. You can’t keep your eyes off the ringmaster at the centre of it all, though: whether he’s throwing $666 dollars bills with his own face printed on up in the air, smoking a blunt in Travis’s honour ahead of ‘The Dope Show’ and screeching his way through his now 24-year-old cover of ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’. Manson later embraces the good people of Astroworld during, rather fittingly, set-closer ‘The Beautiful People’, and there’s just enough time for him to scream in NME’s face before security eventually manage to drag him backstage, smirking as he goes. It’s a sensational set — it’s just a shame more of the Ragers weren’t around to witness it.
Pharrell’s hit-and-miss jukebox of his hits over on the main stage is a bit of a comedown after that kind of live experience, particularly when he closes his set with the very ill-fitting ‘Happy’. There’s then just enough time for Rosalía to stun with her soaring vocal solos and razor-sharp dance routines, prompting howls of delight from the numerous Spanish-speaking attendees who’ve flocked to the Thrills stage to witness the Catalonia artist’s maiden Houston performance.
Over, then, to Travis Scott. Astroworld’s biggest draw is world-renowned for his chaotic live shows, but a knee injury sustained on stage last month has somewhat limited his capabilities to “rage” with everyone else. But the show must go on: a brief on-screen sketch involving two bundling paramedics failing to fix his snapped knee cap leads to Travis then being wheeled out of a graffiti-covered ambulance on to the stage and fixed into a Mad Max-like vehicular version of the kind of apparatus Hannibal Lecter was strapped in to in Silence of The Lambs. Launching into ‘Stargazing’ and ‘Carousel’ from his 2018 ‘Astroworld’ album, Travis quickly breaks free of the elaborate prop — but his injury prevents him from sprinting up and down the catwalk as he’d clearly like to do. Fortunately, there’s a cherry picker at hand (just like the one Kanye West enjoyed at Glastonbury back in 2015) although that does come with occupational hazards: after ‘Way Back’ Travis manages to drop his mic from his elevated position, prompting laughs and a brief delay to the show.
As The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne watches on in delight in front of NME, the likes of ‘Butterfly Effect’ and ‘No Bystanders’ spark pandemonium as far as the eye can see – one Rager to the right of us even scales a tree and manages to stay precariously perched up on a branch for the rest of the set. You can’t take your eyes off Travis, though, as he seems to be looming large wherever. He again ascends the stage with the use of another elevated platform mid-way through the set, rising up from the catwalk to perform the gentler quartet of ‘90210’, SZA‘s ‘Love Galore’, ‘Wake Up’ and the Tame Impala-produced ‘Skeletons’, which Travis sweetly dedicates to his mother before air-drumming along to one of Kevin Parker’s fills.
Travis then brings out Migos, Young Thug and Gunna for a series of fun collaborations — including the premiere of an energetic new track with Migos— before the night’s big guest arrives. Rumours have been swirling around the festival site all day and, finally, it’s confirmed that ‘Christian Genius Billionaire’ – sorry, Kanye West – is indeed here. The crowd goes nuts for the head-bopping ‘Follow God’ from the recently released ‘Jesus Is King’, and no-one seems to mind that Ye is out of time for nearly all of it thanks to problems with his in-ear monitors. A beaming Travis hugs his mentor, and the pair briefly launch into ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ from ‘Graduation’. Kanye cuts the song before it really gets going, though: he’s got a Sunday Service to lead in LA early the next morning, after all.
As Travis expresses his gratitude to the Ragers and the city of Houston, he dedicates a curiously restrained ‘Goosebumps’ to his daughter Stormi before fireworks soar off the very top of the stage as the monstrous ‘Sicko Mode’, sans Drake but equipped with bonus Swae Lee, rings out across Astroworld. It’s a spectacular end to an out of this world festival: better book your flights to Houston for 2020…