Nobody died, gear is replaceable, now let’s move on and learn from it.

As I’m sure you might have heard in the news already, the main stage at Ottawa Bluesfest came down during a sudden burst of wind. I was at Bluesfest four days ago, and Billy Talent were headlining that stage while we were there. I spent a bit of time on the wing of the stage watching the show.

Billy Talent play on the MBNA stage at Ottawa Bluesfest on July 14, 2011. Note in the upper left side of this photo you can see a guy-wire which appears to run from the downstage mast to the upstage mast.

There’s a few things that really did scare me about the structure collapsing. The first obviously is the safety of the artists and crew who were working this stage. Some friends of mine just barely got off the deck before it came down and took shelter under a 53′ trailer as things blew by.

One thing that someone who has never been on a show like this would not consider is the crew underneath the stage. Often on large festivals crew guys will bring hammocks and hang them up underneath the deck to have somewhere to go when they don’t have to work. It’s a great way to catch up on sleep since they days can be really long. I took a photo of some of the hammocks since I thought it was pretty cool to see – there were a lot of them, and I was planning on throwing the photos up here to talk about how mundane festivals can be and how the crew has to find ways of making it through the days.

Hammocks below the mbna stage.

After seeing this stage fall, it might make some crew guys think twice about having the hammocks below the stage, and it may even make large festival organizers think twice about allowing them down there in the first place. I know this may be a pipe dream, but perhaps organizers will start providing crew guys some trailers with bunks in them.

I certainly hope that the festival doesn’t take too much of a hit from all this. Bluesfest is, and always has been in my experience, a very well run festival that doesn’t cut any corners. The fact is, all of these stages are rented and it is the staging company’s responsibility to ensure that their structure is safe. They should be able to withstand bursts of weather, and has systems in place for detecting weather. If the weather picks up, they should be able to remove the walls from the stage to allow the weather to blow through, rather than have the walls act like a sail and pull the stage over as it did yesterday.

By no means am I an expert on these stages, but there are some things I always look at when I’m on these types of stages, because it fascinates me. Here are a few things I always look at:

Is the stage made of aluminum or steel?
How many upright supports does the stage have?
Are there any guy-wires for the stage, either going to concrete blocks or to opposite corners of the same stage to add stability?
How wide is the stage from the two on-stage uprights?
In the event of high winds can the scrims be removed/untethered? If so, how?
How does rigging from the stage affect its capability to withstand wind?

We should also look at the history of stage failures, and isolate the types of stage that have fallen. I’m not sure if there is a pattern here, but we should look at things like Bluesfest, The Big Valley Jambouree, Grand Rire Comedy Festival, and any others and try and figure it out.

Others should also note that the Stageline Sam 555 which was parked adjacent to this stage didn’t go anywhere.

Also, for those wondering, the PA system that was hanging on this stage was a Meyer Milo rig. It’s a beautiful PA system, and it’s a shame it wasn’t something else that took the fall.

One response to “Nobody died, gear is replaceable, now let’s move on and learn from it.

  1. Pingback: Cheap Trick cancel gig in Vancouver·

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