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Stage Collapses – A Musician's Perspective

Originally written for Live2Play Magazine Recent stage collapses have consumed most of our head space around here lately—The videos are absolutely soul crushing. Yesterday, Sugarland and Sara Bareillas, the two artists who escaped the tragedy when the stage went down between sets, released official statements of condolence. And new details are continuing to trickle out about the tragedy. As a working musician, you develop deep important relationships with sound and stage crew. They are all part of your family when you work so closely. Which is why it has so deeply affected the music community to witness such tragedy this year with what seems to be a relentless spate of horrid accidents. The question, of course, becomes why? Is it just this year’s weird weather? Bizarre powerful storms that pick up out of nowhere and pound the surrounding area with massive horrifying force. Yes – it seems clear that lately Mother Nature has a message. Far be it from humans to listen. Someone out there is bound to call relentless storms, along with the extinction of fish in the ocean, completely out of our control. More importantly, in the US lately, we seem to suffer from a massive, badly elevated case of the “I Don’t Cares.” Our fixation on money has skewed our perspective to the point that things like safety concerns, regulations, standards, and the ability to ensure that events that are designed to be fun – and yes, also profitable – remain safe for all those involved. The whole thing was brought very close to home for me recently, when one of my best friends here in Vegas, a seasoned IATSE stagehand with 30 years experience relayed his experience on a particular non-union pool event. “The promoters are having us run all the camera line through the pool drains for this event.” he said. “What!?” I just couldn’t believe it. Any nitwit who’s actually had contact with the idea of electricity understands how incredibly dangerous that is for the crew. “Yeah. The crew all said no, but they told us to either do it or be relieved. What’s everyone gonna do? Not pay our mortgage this month?” He continued. “Pray for us tomorrow. Hopefully, no one will get electrocuted.” The jury is still out on all the causes of the Indiana collapse. But we have seen roughly 5 collapses in this year’s summer festival season, and it’s hard to believe that weather alone is at the heart of the problem. In a point in US history where we consistently push the idea that pursuit of the almighty dollar is more important than the details, is it any wonder that we are somehow regressing to the kinds of conditions that endanger crew, performers, and fans? I have been on windy outdoor stages. And played gigs in the rain. I have even been routinely minorly electrocuted by badly grounded mics onstage and stood in a puddle of beer while wired to a 800 watt amp. Thankfully, all of my experiences have been on permanent structures with great responsive crew. Everyone in this business tends to have a natural “the show must go on” attitude to our jobs. We aren’t easily scared. We will sometimes even do totally crazy things in the interest of showmanship. But at real issue here is whether as a country we haven’t completely lost our good sense when on large scale events with lots of people involved, we don’t yield to caution over profit. There are reports now that Indiana has no stage inspection laws. Why not? Can you put an arena show on a temporary stage? Who calls cancellation – the people who profit, or people who can actually determine risk? Are some rigs just too dangerous for outdoor events in the middle of tornado heartland? And if so, why do weather advisories get ignored? Should weather insurance be absolutely mandatory for promoters to guarantee that they make the best choices in the interest of crew and fans? Most importantly, what ever happened to erring on the side of safety or accepting the limitations of physics? And why does it take a rash of tragedies, lost lives, and horrible life-changing injuries to change our minds about it? No fan, crew member, or musician should have to wonder whether going to an outdoor music festival will be their last day alive or walking. And if we are truly there for the music, and not the flashing lights and the oversized video wall, then we should start pushing the idea that bigger isn’t always better. Because we absolutely aren’t in Kansas anymore. Or Kansas was never this windy before. Pick one. Andrea Bensmiller is a bassist, vocalist, teacher, producer, and columnist for Live2Play Network. You can learn more about her at or visit her many blogs here on the site. Originally posted 2011-08-17 19:13:25.


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