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Summer of the Stage Collapse

The stage collapsing in Indiana killed several people. The stage collapsing in Indiana killed several people.

Why are concert stages dropping like flies in heat in 2011?

I know all too well how quickly the situation can change at an outdoor concert event. Back in my salad days serving as the Music Editor of my college paper, I wrangled my way into the photo pit of a Lollapalooza show in Milan, Michigan. Headlined by Alice in Chains and Primus, it was a glorious summer day – for the most part.

That afternoon as Dinosaur Jr. wailed away on the main stage, a picture-perfect summer day turned ominous in what felt like an instant. A strong, chilly wind blew in from behind the stage as the blue skies suddenly turned pitch-black. Those of us in the photo pit exchanged nervous glances, but no one made any moves to get away from the stage.

I was taking pictures of Dinosaur Jr. frontman Jay Mascis, his eyes closed in a blistering solo when there was a loud snapping sound and softball-sized chunk of metal flew out of nowhere and slammed into the stage only a few feet away from him. Simultaneously, the massive black tarp behind the stage few up like a giant cape into the sky.

what is different about this year that’s so drastically different from summers past when these very same events occurred without incident?

A roadie sprinted across the stage and swept Mascis over his shoulder in one Herculean dash, carrying him off the stage. The music stopped and cries of fear rose up from the crowd as those of us in the pit hustled towards the exit and ran like hell away from the stage.

A voice came over the PA warned everyone to take cover (of which there was little, being on a speedway in the middle of Michigan), and that, weather allowing, the show would continue. Less than an hour later, the storm blew over and the show continued without incident, albeit much soggier and with a heightened sense of caution.

It’s a moment I’ve recalled countless times this summer, as no less than four concert stages around the globe have collapsed under suddenly inclement weather: Cheap Trick in Ottowa, Canada, Flaming Lips in Oklahoma, Sugarland in Indiana and most recently at the Pukkelpop festival in Belgium, where five people lost their lives. At press time, a 7th fatality had been attributed to the tragedy in Indiana.

Click to download the PDF of this article.Click to download the PDF of this article.

As someone who loves live music with an affinity for outdoor festivals, these developments are nothing less than terrifying. It’s hard to believe that in 2011, all of the money and insurance that swirls around these massive events can’t guarantee a sturdy stage structure.

It’s especially disconcerting when you think of the precarious rigs that have surely been set up around the world over the past 40 years. In the ‘60s, the big rock concert fear was violence in the crowd, exemplified by the insanity that occurred at the infamous Altamont festival. Moving into the ‘80s, it shifted to stampedes and the devastation that can occur from general admission (aka “festival seating”) crowds rushing the stage. Just such an incident claimed 11 lives in 1979 at a concert by the Who in Cincinnati.

In the 2000s, while event promoters seem to have policed audiences into far more civilized gatherings, it’s more than a little alarming that enough corner-cutting has come (despite stratospheric ticket prices and batteries of various “service charges”) that better structures can’t be routinely built. It would be much easier to stomach such charges if concertgoers knew it was going towards increased safety and security measures.

Granted, weather has played a part in all four of the tragedies this summer. But what is different about this year that’s so drastically different from summers past when these very same events occurred without incident?

There will always be some inherent danger when so many people are gathered in one place (see the media hysteria surrounding the death of a 15-year-old girl at the Electric Daisy Carnival dance music event in L.A. over the summer of 2010). Freak accidents occur everyday, and the odds are multiplied exponentially when there are tens and even hundreds of thousands of people involved.

While there are obviously no hard, fast answers or solutions to this problem, the world is still waiting to hear from the higher-profile event production companies on what they plan to do moving forward. In the meantime, we’ll continue to wait as patiently as possible.

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A news report of the Indiana stage collapse that killed several people
Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 14:54

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