Ottawa BluesFest Stage Roof Collapses

You may have seen videos of the Ottawa Bluesfest's large, temporary stage roof collapsing (not the stage itself--it apparently didn't collapse) shortly after the members of Cheap Trick ran from the stage:

Note: ABC took down the original video I embedded and the original shooter has disabled embedding but you can view it here.

The aftermath:

The view from the stage just before the wind hit:

Those look like scud clouds there, which are often associated with a thunderstorm.

Backstage afterwards from Robin Zander of Cheap Trick:

I'm a severe weather geek who works in show business, and there have been so many of these outdoor weather incidents that just about a year ago, I posted a wrap up of all the previous incidents that happened just since I started this blog.  At every outdoor show I do (and I've done a lot), I monitor the the weather carefully even if just working on the crew (when I get some time, I plan to document some of the available weather resources for show people). But you don't need to be a meteorologist to know that if you see something like the radar image below (from Jesse Ferrell's excellent WeatherMatrix Blog on Accuweather, see his writeup here) you should probably get the band off the stage and hold the show a bit:

That's called a bow echo, and is generally an indicator of very high winds.

I'm pretty surprised that this collapse happened in Canada, since they had a tragically fatal incident in 2009 at the Big Valley Jamboree that was very, very similar to this one.  The winds in Alberta in 2009 "rolled in with little warning" according to a report in the CBC writeup, and Cheap Trick's manager Dave Frey told Rolling Stone that this storm "came as a surprise".  Especially on an event of this size, where resources should be available, none of this should come as a surprise, especially when you can get free weather radar on your phone. The CBC has some photos showing what looks like a shelf cloud and also more radar captures showing the approaching bow echo.  These things move fast, but they are rarely a "surprise".  In my summary above, I even link to an event in Kansas where they have meteorologists on site.  We may not need that for every show, but let's be careful out there.

The Ottawa Citizen has some excellent pictures here, and Erich Friend has some more info and opinion on his Theatre Safety blog.

Update

on 2011-07-20 00:58 by controlgeek

sk8rsdad on the ControlBooth forums and another friend on Facebook reports that this was a Mega-Stage III. Their "Basic Setup" shows ratings for:

Wind resistance (steady) 80 km/h or 50 mph

Wind gusts resistance (with wind screens) 120 km/h or 75 mph

According to Jesse Farrell's post (linked above) Winds at the Ottawa airport (a few miles away but well within the range of the bow echo) gusted to 60MPH...

Update

on 2011-07-20 00:55 by controlgeek

There were several other stages on the site that survived, apparently, unscathed.  Lighting and Sound America today has a press release from Stage Line, saying:

Stageline not implicated in stage collapse at Ottawa Bluesfest

Monday July 18th, 2011 - Following the collapse of the main stage on Sunday July 17th at the Ottawa Bluesfest, Stageline and its affiliated company, MSR Mobile Stage Rentals, wishes to specify that the 4 Stageline stages onsite have not undergone any damage and/or breaking in spite of winds blowing up to 56 mph (90 km/h).

The stages were considered to be structurally sound by local authorities and ready to be dismantled. The Stageline Group is not in any way connected to the company that manufactured and installed the collapsed structure.

Today, our thoughts go to the injured and their families, wishing them a speedy recovery. Let us recall that safety is, at Stageline, a priority and that we have always worked with the goal of offering equipment which answers to the highest safety criteria.

Update

on 2011-07-20 11:56 by controlgeek

Interestingly, the Ottawa Citizen reports that this is not the first stage collapse for Groupe Berger, who manufacturers the Mega-Stage: they had another one go down in Quebec City in 2009.  The owner of the company is blaming the collapse on winds higher than the rated capacity.

In addition, this article from CTV says that Environment Canada (the Canadian equivalent of NOAA) issued a severe warning for the site 45 minutes before the storm hit.

Update

on 2011-07-21 20:12 by controlgeek

Pollstar has an update with some interesting information:

Groupe Berger / Mega-Stage’s Stéphane Berger told Pollstar winds at Bluesfest went from about 28 mph to around 87 mph in two minutes, leaving a technician with insufficient time to take down wind walls on the Mark III staging structure.

“The windscreens were partially released just before the wind came in,” he said.

Mega-Stage’s technical specs for the Mark III note that the structure is designed to withstand windspeeds of up to 50 mph with sidewalls and up to 75 mph with the walls removed.

I'm not sure how they got the 87MPH figure, but a friend working on the show said that they did have some sort of recording anemometer on the top of the structure...

Update

on 2011-07-27 03:23 by controlgeek

A new lawsuit from the 2009 Big Valley Jamboree incident:

http://www.pollstar.com/blogs/news/archive/2011/07/26/776034.aspx

Update

on 2011-07-28 17:35 by controlgeek

Cheap Trick issues a followup Press Release (via Jesse Farrell)

Cheap Trick Wants Bands, Crews and Fans Protected

July 28, 2011 at 11:00 am · Filed under News

On July 17, 2011 Cheap Trick and its crew, along with other stage personnel, narrowly averted death when the MNBA Stage roof at the 2011 Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest fell on the stage during their evening performance. Several thousand fans were also lucky to escape basically unharmed.

While honored by the concern and support expressed for their well-being, Cheap Trick is as interested in ensuring that no other band or crew experience the same potentially lethal hazard.

“We simply want to know: what are the companies and organizers doing to protect the next act and the next audience?” says band manager Dave Frey. “Every act and every fan ought to be asking the same question when attending an outside musical event.”

While weather likely contributed to the incident, Cheap Trick notes that the multi-ton stage roof that fell on everyone on the stage must be properly explained, especially when nearby tents and other temporary structures stood untouched. “Was it a design flaw? Was it an implementation mistake? These are important questions that must be answered,” Frey added.

The incident is now under independent and Ontario government investigation. Cheap Trick is actively participating in those efforts and urges all parties involved to do the same.

Cheap Trick plans to continue pressing for a full accounting of what happened and is dedicated to ensuring that proper safety measures are taken at future concerts.

Update

on 2011-08-04 14:48 by controlgeek

"photoatdv" over at the ControlBooth forum found this interesting comment on Montreal's CJAD talk radio show:

MegaStage Survivorposted on 07/19/2011 06:18 PM

If high winds were the only cause they must engineer the hell out of the port-a-potties that were all standing in the park after the storm. And the vendors tents. And the other four stages. And the garbage cans. I am a technician who was helping the one Berger employee cut steel cables used to replace straps that had been cut the night The Black Keys played. Those cut straps allowed the walls to flap freely. After that night Stephan Berger was pissed off at the expense of the straps and, he ordered his guy to use steel so that we COULDN'T cut the walls away so easily. In my opionion if we had gotten the walls off in time the stage would have stayed up. Also, I have read a quote from Stephan Berger saying that we'll never know the true force of the wind. He must have forgotten the weather station on top of the stage that was constantly monitored by his employee. I and many other local technicians have been saying that the Mega Stage is a death trap for years, and another collapse inevitable. I have seen Berger employees literaly grind pieces off the steel braces holding the stage up to get a better fit. The NCC fired them from providing stages for them last year because the stage in Major's Hill Park (that I worked on) was deficient. It is a miracle no one was killed. If the stage had blown forward the death toll wpould have been in the hundreds.

Update

on 2011-08-09 00:40 by controlgeek

Yet another incident involving Groupe Berger.

Update 11/21/2012:

The Ministry of labor issued a report, and I have some commentary here.