Postcards From Page Side: Timber!

The second example took place at the Pukkelpop Festival in Hasselt, Belgium. As this Spinner article says, Chicago rockers the Smith Westerns had just finished their first song when things went terribly wrong and their stage manager screamed for them to get off the stage.

Singer Cullen Omori said, “We had just finished the first song of our set at Pukkelpop when the stage/tent started shaking and simply thought it was a storm passing through. I made a comment about Cheap Trick and we were about to play the next one when our tour manager yelled at me to run off the stage. Right then the tress collapsed one foot in front of Max. At this point we thought only the stage broke, not the tent…Amid the chaos it was hard to tell exactly what had happened, but after the rescue teams started coming in it became clear that there were severe injuries and we are now being told there are reports of multiple deaths. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones in today’s tragedy.”

Another question that pops to mind is: were any corners cut in putting the stages up properly and securely? I mean, the economy is hurting and affecting everyone, including concert promoters and the industry as a whole. Would they dare skimp on hiring the proper people to do the most important of assembly roles? I am in no way saying that they are or did in any of these cases, but it makes you think, doesn’t it? Or, were there any other preventative measures that could have been taken, especially in light of other recent collapses?

As Production Manager at Irving Plaza, Jordan Marion told me, “”I think it’s tragic to see three large scale stage collapses within such a short period this summer. It’s clear that all three incidents were weather-related but I think more could’ve  been done to prevent injury. In the case of the Indiana State Fair collapse, a spot light operator was in the truss when the stage collapsed and lost his life.  The call to bring them down and close the stage should have been made sooner in those conditions.” That is a honest assessment, from an industry member, of at least one instance where something could have been done.

The third example occurred at The Ottawa Bluesfest on July 17th and involved the band Cheap Trick. This is the one example that may be looked upon as making the best out of a potentially awful situation, and I feel the authorities acted in the most proper of manners in the short amount of time when another storm rolled in.

The fact that there were no deaths due to this instance thanks to some quick thinking and acting, and let’s face it: a little bit of luck, as the stage blew backwards and toppled onto the trailers, instead of forward onto the crowd. However, while this may be the example from this summer that gets overlooked, I still feel some steps could have been taken sooner.

Overall, listen: I get that some freak storms roll in, wind-whipping and rain and thunder and lightning clambering away with unprecedented speed and power. I know some situations are completely unavoidable. Yet I feel some of these instances may have been avoidable with some additional preparation to the stages themselves. Are there new reinforcements available? I don’t know, but I would suggest all venues and promoters look into it. Also, would it be the absolute end of the world if the show was delayed or in a worst case, cancelled? I’m not saying to hit the panic button and evacuate every crowd for every passing storm, but with the equipment and knowledge we have in today’s day and age it boggles my mind that venues, promoters and management wouldn’t at least err of the side of caution. Evacuate the crowd. The show can always go on later or another profit is always waiting around the corner. Another chance at life isn’t.

To add some positive news to this story – and hopefully to further my point – a Black Eyed Peas concert in New York at the Central Park Summerstage saw the potential same situation. However, the people in charge were proactive and decided to cancel the event all together BEFORE anything may have happened. Fans were pissed, but it was a very wise decision, especially because it went against the industry’s norm. I get that the almighty buck rules all, but this was a true bright spot in an overall scarred–or dare I say, collapsing–summer concert season.

In terms of what we, the fans can and should do, my advice is simple: Be safe out there, folks! And remember, you don’t need to wait for announcement to see potential danger is near…so, take action yourself and head for cover! You can always catch another show!

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2 thoughts on “Postcards From Page Side: Timber!

  1. Kip Conner Reply

    I’m a production manager and sound engineer for various touring acts and I am the one that gets to “make the call”. I represent the artist and no matter what the promoter says- my act doesn’t take the stage under these circumstances. It makes me the bad guy, but the safety my artists, the stage crew and the audience comes first. Always.

    Now, I love Phish. I have been listening to them play since 1992 and although I took some time off from them to per sue my own career in concert production, I’m glad that when 3.0 rolled out I had the financial flexibility to catch more shows. I often worry about tragedy amongst the phish community, not because Phish’s production staff won’t make the right call- it’s that the phans won’t or can’t listen.

    Going to a show means the wrong thing to too many people. People are getting blitzed out of their minds and no longer hold the mental capacity to make quick rational decisions. When the storm hit Alpharetta on night two this summer the entire staff (production and venue)made some difficult decisions to stop the show and evacuate the lawn. The made the decision before the show to open the gates to everyone to seek shelter. If you didn’t have a ticket and were near the gates, it was your lucky day. They put the safety of individuals OVER the financials. It would be easy to argue that since it was sold out that they made all their money, but they still would have had to deal with being over capacity.

    At some point we have to maintain our composure and be somewhat responsible for our selves out there. We can’t leave it up to the band/venue production staff to be solely responsible for us. We live in a time where 50% of us have a smart phone with a free weather app, but of course this does you no good if you are too much in a haze to interpret the data. We have to teach basic decision making skills again, but it seems that we as a society have forgotten.

  2. Kevin in Albany Reply

    great article- i’ve got moe.down coming up next week, and all this is certainly going to be on my mind when i hit gelston. it seems to me that one of the common factors in these tragedies is the practice of surrounding outdoor/festival stages with scrims (the right word?) which, in ideal conditions, help frame the performance space, but when the weather turns dodgy effectively become sails. you fill a sail with a 60 mph gust and it’s going to move whatever it’s attached to. this is not a new phenomenon- in the woodstock movie when the rain moves in, the stage crews frantically cut that stuff away because the winds were so strong- so it’s hard for me to understand how there isn’t some sort of method for quickly taking the “sails” down. as far as the weather itself, you guys are right on- yes summer storms can be unpredictable, but with all the instant weather technology available, there’s no reason for the people running the events not to have known the weather could possibly turn bad, and at some point someone should’ve made a delay/cancel decision, which may have saved lives. and same goes for all our smartphone carrying brethren. Kip is also right in saying that festivals often attract folks as much/more interested in the party as they are the music and if the time comes to get out of harms way, they may not have the ability to react quickly. these events, so close to each other in time, should be a wake up call for concert producers and attendees that we all gotta stay frosty and for the former, that fan/band safety must come before the cash register.

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