Ottawa Bluesfest's Mark Monahan on Cheap Trick Stage Collapse: 'We Want to Know What Happened'
Ottawa Bluesfest's Mark Monahan on Cheap Trick Stage Collapse: 'We Want to Know What Happened'

There are still many unanswered questions surrounding the dramatic stage collapse during the Ottawa Bluefest on July 17 while the band Cheap Trick was on stage. The Ontario Ministry of Labour is currently conducting an investigation, but it will be many months before it is determined if it was mother nature, engineering and/or human error that precipitated the stage's crumbling.

Cheap Trick and their management, meanwhile, are demanding answers and just pulled out of a show in Vancouver because the stage for that show is being supplied by Groupe Berger, the same company responsible for the Ottawa Bluesfest stage.

Billboard.Biz caught up Mark Monahan, Ottawa Bluesfest founder and executive director, who answered pointed questions about the Ontario Ministry of Labour's investigation, possible human error, weather conditions and the importance of finding out exactly what happened for the sake of the outdoor events industry. What investigation has been done into the stage collapse?

Mark Monahan: The [Ontario] Ministry of Labour is investigating the whole incident, trying to determine, ultimately, what the cause was. That investigation could be - I'm assuming - several months away from arriving at any conclusions.

What are your thoughts about the public statements Cheap Trick is making questioning whether there were other factors involved beside the sudden change in weather?
We are just as concerned about the ultimate conclusion as anyone. My only comment is of course we want to know what happened, whether it was caused by the structure or whether it was caused by the weather. It's very important to find out, ultimately, what caused the collapse.

Cheap Trick just released a new statement that it's pulling out a scheduled show at Vancouver's Pacific National Exhibition on Sept. 1 because it discovered the stage is being set up by Groupe Berger, the same company that did Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest. Do you think that's justified or going too far?
I wasn't aware of that. The fact is there are hundreds of outdoor events that take place in North America every year. Many events use outdoor staging. Obviously what happened is a very rare occurrence. So it's important to find out what happened, but I wouldn't go jumping to any conclusions until the investigation is complete.

We've all seen the footage of this looming dark cloud, sudden high wind and ultimate collapse of the stage. What did you see happen?
Actually, the day was beautiful and everything started to cloud over maybe a half hour before the whole incident. I was backstage and, basically, it was just a change, very quickly, in the air and the wind. This thing just came in very very quickly.

Can you explain why there were tents and other temporary structures still standing. Did the storm really just hit in one spot?
Again, that's really hard for me to conclude. All I can say is that the stage was the highest structure on the field, by far. But I'm a layman looking at this and certainly not an engineer. That's really for engineers to determine.

Is there any correlation to the flapping wind panel that prompted The Black Keys to delay the start of its set the previous week on that stage?
Not really. That night, the weather came in more gradually. Again, it was like a windstorm, but it wasn't suddenly in five minutes it went from zero to 90 kilometres an hour. Obviously, what happened there is we held the show until we felt the weather had died down enough to put it on.

What is your knowledge of the rumor that steel cables were used to hold those windfalls in place versus plastic ties, so they couldn't be cut, as some are claiming? Groupe Berger's VP of operation St├ęphane Berge told Billboard.Biz the panels were absolutely not secured by steel cables.
Again, I can't really comment on that. That's why they're having the investigation.

Presumably, as part of the investigation, all the stage components and materials, including either steel cables or plastic ties, were turned over to the Ministry of Labor?
What I can say is that the week following this incident, the Ministry of Labour had a very intensive look, with engineers, with photographs taken, in terms of what they're looking at. So it's going to be tough for them to overlook something.

So you welcome this investigation and are confident it was the crazy weather?

We're in the business of staging major outdoor events. Of course we want to know what happened. It's something that is really important for the industry too.

What is the status of the people that were injured?
There were no serious injuries. There was one person taken to hospital and released, I believe, by 6 a.m. the next morning. No one was admitted to hospital.

Anything else you would like to add in relation to reports or comments you have read or heard?

There's not much I can say. We're here, cooperating with the investigation. Obviously, it wasn't a stage that we owned; we rented it. We're trying to find out exactly what happened.