Moments before the country-duo Sugarland was to take the stage at the Indiana State Fair Saturday, tour manager Hellen Rollens decided the show wasn’t going on, at least not until the ominous black clouds past over the venue.
In the end, Rollens’ instinctive decision may have saved the lives of the featured act along with others when the stage crumbled into a heap, killing five, just moments later. Among the dozens injured, many are still critical.
As 60-70 mph winds converged on the staging, the towers and staging gave-way without notice, crashing down with a deafening boom. Sugarland and crew, believeing they were about to be caught in the heap of twisted metal, hit the ground and took cover against a wall. “There was no running out anywhere,” Sugarland’s manager, Gail Gellman told The Associated Press on Monday, “No one knew what happened. It was just the moment when your eyes get big.”
Gellman added that some felt it was safe to take the stage, but acting on her intuition, Rollen’s overruled. “As a tour manager, it’s super important to understand what the weather conditions are when you play outside. We’ve always talked about not putting the band on during wind, lightning or heavy rain,” said Gellman, “Everybody was standing in a prayer circle getting ready to go onstage, and Hellen, as she was walking down the ramp, the stage fell. So her decision to hold them for literally a minute saved every band member and crew’s life.”
Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles said in a statement that she watched video of the collapse on the news “in horror” and was “moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones.” She said she was also “moved by the great heroism” of fans who ran toward the stage to help rescue the injured.
According an Associated Press report, Gellman strongly believes it was the weather and not a staging problem that brought down the Indiana State Fair structure. She said it will not dictate how she guides her acts in the future. “I would pose the same question to every band that goes out there, Keith Urban, Kenny (Chesney). We all tour during the summer. We all play outside. We’re all cognizant and very aware of what we hang and what we do,” she said. “We have restrictions and requirements (from each venue), and we stand by every single one of them.”
The report went on to say that Sugarland’s elaborate set for their “Incredible Machine” tour was destroyed in the collapse. They canceled their Sunday show at the Iowa State Fair, but are “hoping and preparing” to perform as scheduled in Albuquerque, N.M., Thursday.