Every summer music fans across the world flock to outdoor concerts and festivals to enjoy fresh air and good tunes. This summer, however, the fun has been tinged with tragedy due to a number of outdoor stages collapsing from strong winds and severe weather conditions. First, the stage of the Ottawa Bluesfest collapsed while rock band Cheap Trick was performing. Earlier this month, the Flaming Lips’ stage collapsed before they were scheduled to take the stage in Oklahoma. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in either of these accidents.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the two most recent tragedies last week. The stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair right before country group Sugarland were set to take the stage. Six people have been reported dead from the accident. Just days later, the stage at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium collapsed, which resulted in four deaths with seventy-five additional people injured. Indie rockers Smith Westerns were performing on the stage moments before it collapsed, and they offer their perspective on what happened in an interview below.
Investigators are looking into the cause of each of these stage collapses. Obviously severe weather was the main factor, but some people think there might be more to the incidents than just that. Festival season and storm season coincide every year. It’s not like we’ve never seen freak weather in August, but we’ve never seen this many stage accidents in such a short period of time. After Cheap Trick’s stage collapsed in Ottawa, their manager David Frey commented that “perhaps weather wasn’t the sole reason” for the collapse. This statement led many people to question the regulations for outdoor stages, and whether or not they were met.
As it turns out, safety requirements for stages aren’t as strict as one would expect. If the stage is on state property, as it was with the Indiana State Fair accident, the stage doesn’t even have to be inspected first. PLASA, a trade group that represents the lighting and sound industries, has a voluntary set of safety standards for outdoor stages. Notice the key word here: voluntary. These rules are not forced on anyone. Not only that, but standards for wind speed vary by location. This means that a stage in Indiana and a stage in Ottawa don’t need to be able to withstand the same wind speed.
Yvan Miron, founder and president of Stageline, a Canadian company that builds outdoor stages, thinks other stage manufacturers need to step up their game. His stages can withstand wind speeds up to 90 mph, the same standard Canada uses for permanent buildings. He also thinks there should be stricter regulations for stage construction, saying “it’s a bit of the Wild West in a lot of instances, unfortunately, when it comes to stage safety and quality manufacturing.” Frankly, either the government or a third party needs to step in and take control of the situation at this point. We need an organization not invested in the profits of the events to set rules and regulations for stage construction, and to inspect then confirm each stage meets those regulations. Otherwise, corners will continue to be cut and tragedies like the Indiana State Fair and Pukkelpop will continue to occur.