In this week’s Postcards From Page Side, Featured Columnist Brian Bavosa looks at the recent tragedies that seem all too common: stage collapses and the reasons why, and possible steps to prevent this from happening again…
Contrary to what you may be thinking, no, this week’s column is not about Phish’s cover of Timber (Jerry), commonly referred to as Timber Ho! Instead, it will focus on what has become a an all-too familiar–and tragic–headline as of late, where we have seen a number of stage collapses at recent festivals and concerts around the world. My immediate reaction is how? Why now? What were the causes? And, it led me to think about what could have been done–if anything–to prevent these terrible, and deadly, events. Let us take a look at three recent disasters, all that have occurred within the last month or so.
The first tragedy we will look at occurred at the Indiana State Fair. Due to inclement weather, and a heavy storm that rolled through the area (the seemingly common X-factor in all of the collapses), the stage completely buckled and collapsed. Seven people were KILLED. Yes, dead. Unreal. Concerts are supposed to be fun, not deadly!
Now, my first reaction (and seems to be with each example we will look at) is: what the hell are those people still doing there by the time the storm rolled in?!?! In this day and age with the most advanced weather instruments, radar and equipment, how can we not tell a potential dangerous storm or situation is headed our way? Is it really worth making a dollar versus potentially causing a delay or possible cancellation, which sure, would cause headaches for the staff, promoters, venues and others, but is that really worse than the DEATH of concertgoers on your conscience? I guess this issue really gets my blood boiling because I understand that while being acts of nature in most or all of the cases, I still feel more can be done in prevention and preparation.
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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!