Was Cheap Trick Stage Collapse Preceded By Mishandling of Black Keys Concert?
Was Cheap Trick Stage Collapse Preceded By Mishandling of Black Keys Concert?

The Ontario Ministry of Labor says it is continuing to investigate how the Ottawa Bluesfest stage crumpled during Cheap Trick's July 17 performance.

While the Ministry released the scene on Wednesday July 28, earlier in the week it also issued an order to Ottawa Bluesfest to provide copies of records; an order to the Groupe Berger, which constructed the stage, reminding them that each section of the structure is to be photographed, labeled and laid out for inspection by the Ministry; and an order to ensure that all persons should furnish all means necessary to facilitate entry, inspection, examination, testing, or inquiry by the inspector, according to an e-mail to Billboard from William Lin in media relations at the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

While the company that constructed the stage that crumpled during Cheap Trick's performance Ottawa Bluesfest is on the record as attributing the collapse to sudden high winds, on Thursday (July 27), Cheap Trick issued a statement questioning whether other factors were involved. Cheap Trick management declined to comment beyond the statement.

"While weather likely contributed to the incident," Cheap Trick noted in its statement "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. "

Nine days earlier at the Bluesfest, the Black Keys had been involved in an incident over a flapping wind panel on the stage. According to sources, someone with the Black Keys management was worried about the flapping wind panel, but when the stage staff didn't respond to requests to fix it, he pulled the Black Keys from the stage, forcing the stage technicians to take action before allowing the band to go back on.

Calls to the Black Keys road manager were not returned.

"The windwall on stage left was not released and had tore," says a road crew member for one of the bands that played the Bluesfest and is familiar with the earlier incident involving the Black Keys. "It was blowing in the wind, which was about 60 miles an hour, for over an hour and the stage crew did nothing about it. That probably put a strain on the stage's structure."

An anonymous poster at CJAD radio website who called himself a "Megastage Survivor" and who claimed he was a technician who worked on the stage said the earlier Black Keys incident may have played a role in the subsequent stage collapse a week later. After the Black Keys incident the straps holding the windwalls in place were replaced by a steel cable, which in the sudden wind onslaught during the Cheap Trick performance, couldn't be easily cut in the brief window before the stage crumpled, according to the poster who claimed to be one of the stage hands trying to cut the restraints securing the wind panels.

Another source familiar with the incident says the inability to cut the restraints served as a catalyst for the events that unfolded.

"Windscreens are meant to be taken off," says the road crew member. "When they couldn't release the windscreen, it probably picked the stage up and dropped it and everything came loose, from what I understand from physics and staging."

But Stéphane Berge, VP of operation for Groupe Berger, which owned the stage said the panels were absolutely not secured with steel cables. He said plastic zip ties secured the panel, and the crew had no problem cutting the zips. He said 50% of the windwall was released, but the wind built up too quickly.

"One thing that everyone needs to understand is that the wind went from 45 kilometers an hour to crazy in two minutes, he says. "The wind might have been has high as 142 kilometers an hour. There is a weather station not to far away that clocked the wind at 154 kilometers an hour, which exceeded the capacity of the structure" which is 120 kilomaters an hour.

Berger said the stage structure was properly set up and that the wind was the main factor in the collapse.

"The wind exceeded the capacity of the structure to stay up," he says. "It is the first time we have experienced weather like that on the stage."

If wind was the only factor, an attendee at the event wonders why the other stages at the concert,, the vendor tents and the port-a-potties were all still standing

In response, Berger says that on the site there are trees by the river and one tree was cut in half from the wind but all the other trees are still standing. "Why is only one tree and one stage structure down," he asks? "It wasn't a wide storm, it was narrow and it had a micro-burst. It was really a phenomenon."

Berger added that six engineers from the state and two other engineers reviewed the stage's design and approved the structure. Moreover, he said the same type of stage structure had been used in the past two week for Metallica, Elton Jon and Kiss concerts and is about to be used again for an up and coming Eminem show. The structure has been reviewed for this show by an additional Montreal engineering firm and its has been approved again, he says.

The stage is attached to a trailer truck and weighs about 180,000 pounds. He says the wind not only blew off the roof but it also pushed the base about five feet on the ground, which destabilized the structure and caused the collapse.

In a subsequent phone call to Billboard, Ministry of Labour's Lin declined to comment on whether the investigation was looking into whether the wind panel could have played a role in the stage collapsed, but he promised a thorough investigation of the entire incident.

About 30 seconds before the roof collapsed, when the heavy winds suddenly headed for the stage, Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander saw the storm and shouted into his microphone, warning the audience to run away from the stage. While the audience was responding to his warnings, the stage roof blew up into the air, and when it came down it collapsed the stage walls causing the entire stage to pancake, says one witness.

The band members and others on the stage would have all been crushed if not for two 10-foot generators on either side of the stage, and the Cheap Trick tractor trailer truck parked right behind the stage that stopped the roof from falling all the way to the ground, that source says.

Moreover, the band is also lucky that the company running the sound system decided to power down the generators, in anticipation of the sudden storm, the source says.

A day after the event, Cheap Trick manager Dave Frey said in an e-mail, "All the band's gear was crushed, soaked by rain, the truck was crushed and personal things abandoned in the evacuation."

In the latest statement calling for "a full accounting of what happened", the band said it "is dedicated to ensuring that proper safety measures are taken at future concerts. "

"We simply want to know: what are the companies and organizers doing to protect the next act and the next audience," Frey said in the statement. "Every act and every fan ought to be asking the same question when attending an outside musical event."