WASHINGTON, D.C.— The sky was falling on Cheap Trick when the band was playing the Ottawa Bluesfest in mid-July.
Most of the band scattered to the back of the stage to escape when a storm blew through the festival and brought the 50-ton roof crashing down on the temporary stage. Guitarist Rick Nielsen bolted to the front of the buckling stage. “I felt like I was in a Buster Keaton movie where the building falls down on him,” Nielson said Monday in an unexpectedly dramatic Future of Music Summit panel with the band’s manager, Dave Frey. “I ran forward looking for the equivalent of daylight” as the blackness descended.
Fortunately, the collapsing rig’s fall was broken by the band’s equipment truck, parked directly in back of the stage, leaving about a six-foot gap between the roof and the stage. “It fell 70 feet in a quarter-second,” Frey said. Two crew members and several other people were injured, the band’s equipment was destroyed, but no one died.
“I’m happy to be here,” Nielsen said with a smile.
Nielsen’s next stop Monday with Frey was to be Capitol Hill, where the two intended to urge congressmen to regulate temporary stages to prevent such an incident from happening again. Besides their own near-miss, they’ll have plenty to talk about with legislators.
Cheap Trick’s near-fatal incident was one of four last summer in which temporary stages were blown down amid foul weather during or just before musical performances, some with tragic consequences. In the following weeks, stages collapsed in Tulsa, destroying $800,000 worth of gear owned by the Flaming Lips but causing no injures; the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, resulting in seven deaths and dozens of injuries; and the Pukkelpop Music Festival in Belgium, where five people were killed and 140 injured.
“We want to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Frey said. He and Nielsen hope that Congress will consider a “standard certification process as you would have with elevators or a ferris wheel at a carnival.”
“For whatever reason this never got done” in Ottawa, Frey said, and “that everyone got off that stage is unbelievable.”