Bluesfest Collapse Explained

The recent collapse of the main stage during Cheap Trick’s set at the in Ontario left the band and crew running for their lives and several people with injuries requiring hospitalization.

Photo: AP Photo
Workers install a security fence in front of the Ottawa Bluesfest main stage.

Concertgoers exit the grounds following the collapse of the main stage at Bluesfest. Miraculously, the structure fell backward onto trucks rather than into the crowd of thousands of concertgoers.

The incident has raised questions about the safety of the structure and whether the collapse could have been prevented. According to the president of the company that provided the stage for Bluesfest, tornado-force winds touched down abruptly and left festival organizers with little time to react.

Groupe Berger / Mega-Stage’s Stéphane Berger told Pollstar winds at Bluesfest went from about 28 mph to around 87 mph in two minutes, leaving a technician with insufficient time to take down wind walls on the Mark III staging structure.

“The windscreens were partially released just before the wind came in,” he said.

Mega-Stage’s technical specs for the Mark III note that the structure is designed to withstand windspeeds of up to 50 mph with sidewalls and up to 75 mph with the walls removed.

Environment Canada issued a severe storm warning for Ottawa in the leadup to the collapse, and Bluesfest executive director Mark Monahan said during a press conference that officials had been monitoring the situation throughout the festival.

“When we felt that weather was coming in, we made the call to shut the show down,” he said.

Photo: AP Photo
Police, security and Bluesfest personnel rush onto the wreckage of the main stage at the Ottawa Bluesfest.

Cheap Trick manager Dave Frey has said he feels lucky the band is alive but all the gear was crushed, and noted that he was warned to look out for a storm but it still came as a surprise.

Several people were hospitalized, including Cheap Trick truck driver Sandy Sanderson who reportedly suffered injuries to his femur, abdomen and leg. All have been released.

Monahan and Berger both noted that this stage has been used in previous years of the festival with no incidents and that an engineer checked the stage on site for structural safety.

“Honestly, what we’ve been told, it was a very unusual situation,” Monahan said. “The fact that [the storm] brought that stage down and nothing else came down in the park is just a freak situation.”

This isn’t the first time Mega-Stage has had issues with a stage, however. One of the company’s smaller stages collapsed during a comedy festival in Quebec City in 2009.

Berger said that collapse was linked to defects from a third-party manufacturer, and added that in his 35 years in the business, it was the first time anything like that had happened.

“This was a defective component from a chain manufacturer,” he said. “We got certified chains and the chains broke.”

A provincial workplace safety commission cleared the company of wrongdoing following an investigation into the Quebec incident.

“We hereby can confirm that Groupe Berger has taken all necessary precaution to avoid any undesirable incident and to assure public safety,” the commission wrote. “It is the hoist mechanism itself, despite the fact that is was certified by the manufacturer, that should be blamed for the incident.”

As for the Bluesfest incident, the Ministry of Labor surveyed stage site and a report is forthcoming.

Photo: AP Photo
Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen walks past the main stage at Ottawa Bluesfest after it collapsed.

Berger said his engineers were permitted to begin dismantling the stage and crews have removed what’s left of Cheap Trick’s equipment, wall sound and lighting.

Although some parts of the stage may appear salvageable, Berger added that the entire structure will be recycled.

“It’s our policy – even for small parts – if something has been shocked, we don’t use it anymore. Even if some of the components look good, they will be sent to recycling,” he said.