Sources: Intense Turnaround Pressure Prompted Radiohead Stage Collapse…

Remember, it almost fell on Thom Yorke’s head. In fact, we’ve heard that the massive lighting overhang at Toronto’s Downsview Park collapsed just moments before soundcheck.  Then again, it did fall on Radiohead’s drum technician, Scott Johnson, killing him.  So what’s the difference?

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In our celebrity-obsessed culture, the difference is actually everything.  Because instead getting shuttled to our collective back pages, a casualty in the order of Yorke would have produced endless national headlines, overhauls in staging practices and regulations, cancelled gigs, hearings, firings, witch hunts, calls for blood.

Sugarland narrowly cheated death in Indiana, and I’ve personally witnessed a sketchy stage collapse in Baltimore during a Wu-Tang Clan concert (everyone was fine).  So maybe it’s only a matter of time, especially as financial and scheduling demands intensify around touring.  “You wouldn’t set up a server overnight for [Digital Music News] then tear it down the next day,” one stage tech unrelated to the Toronto incident told us.  “But that’s sort of what they’re doing now.  It’s set something up in no time, lights, camera, action, encore, then tear it down and do it all over again.”

Which means lots of room for error, little room for testing, and endless opportunity for disaster.  The Ontario Labour Ministry is just starting its investigation into the matter, and details are starting to trickle.  Toronto-based CBC News just reported that more than 10,000 pounds of lighting and speakers were being affixed to the scaffolding that ultimately fell.  And members of the lighting crew apparently expressed concerns about the weight, lack of redundancy, and speed of construction (but ultimately proceeded).  Optex Staging appears to be a main company involved, with Live Nation handling the broader gig.

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There’s almost certainly more ahead.  Actually, the Labour Ministry is currently investigating four different companies, and applying forensics expertise to the ‘crime scene’.  “Because of the lack of redundancy, a very small human error could precipitate a chain reaction,” structural engineer David Bowick told CBC.

“The thing that is unique about this type of facility is the speed that it goes up, and the speed that it comes down.  It may very well be that the pace of the industry is just too fast to allow normal protocols to do their job.”

Schematic shots from NMA News Direct.

5 Responses

    • paul

      Thanks GB.
      Actually, I think it would have been accurate if I had written, “Dixie Chicks cheated death in Texas” a few years back (ha)…

  1. @xyzr_kx

    Potentially obvious to anyone in live music, but hadn’t thought about radiohead stage collapse this way.

  2. @christooma

    Interesting story on truss collapses for anyone who plays on stage.

  3. Chris Daniels

    I teach Concert Promo at The University of Colorado in Denver. It’s not just speed. The men and women who put these stages and production equipment up know this industry well, they are good folks … and they are fast … the problem is design and the amount of weight that is hanging from these stages … in an average 10 truck 8 bus show you can see loads of 40,000 lbs and more per side for just PA and once you add the lighting and video rigs to these stages all the design and weight restrictions can get surpassed – especially if there is not an overall engineer doing all the calculations exactly right for the event or festival. And there in lies the problem. There is no central engineering athority that is watching over the various designs and weight loads that can spot these problems in advance. If you watch the awful Sugarland stage disaster – the wind pulls the ‘stacks’ which in turn take down the whole structure. With Radiohead there’s nothing like the stress of the wind so the flaw is in the design…..Rule number one for all concert presenters is to have their “guests” come in, get a beer, have great sound and lights and leave safe. And that rule is being broken at the ‘set up’ point because stage and load limits being exceeded before the first fan enters the festival. I hope the loss of this one life, will finally prompt the industry to do their engineering homework and police themselves … it’s just got to happen.