5 Dead at Pukkelpop: Why Do Concert Stages Keep Collapsing?

Big events, slack regulation may be to blame for a recent wave of horrifying live-music accidents

pukkelpop reuters 615.jpg

Reuters

After six audience members died in a stage collapse in Indiana last week, Belgium's Pukkelpop rock festival brings an awful case of deja vu: A storm knocked down a tent stage, killing five and injuring more than 70 others.

Severe weather was the immediate culprit behind both catastrophes. Earlier this year, close-calls of similar natures took place at a Cheap Trick concert and a Flaming Lips show.

What's going on? Are there more of these disasters than usual? What's causing them? A lengthy Associate Press story, written before the Pukkelpop incident, provides a few theories. According to one professional, accidents like these have just been waiting to happen:

What's changed over time is the size of the events and pressures on promoters.

Academy of Country Music CEO Bob Romeo, who has more than three decades of music promoting experience, remembers when the first stage tops were built simply to provide shade from the sun. Now, as productions expand to include massive video equipment and up to 40,000 pounds of lights, Romeo says he has to balance safety concerns with putting on the best possible show.

"Any promoter you would talk to that's done outdoor shows probably saw the video of what happened in Indianapolis and said, 'That could be me. That could be any of my colleagues.' At one time or another, if you do enough outdoor shows, you are going to face those scenarios," he said.

As record sales have declined, the piece notes, the pressure to create massive concert events that can sell thousands of tickets has risen. "There's an expectation," event safety consultant Jacob Worek, told the AP. "If you're going to spend that money, you're going to be given a bigger show."

Lax regulations may also be to blame:

Safety regulations, experts say, haven't kept up the pace in part because they aren't standard. No single government agency oversees or sets rules for outdoor concerts, leaving a range of guidelines across events.

The Indiana State Fair had a one-page emergency plan with only general bullet points and fair officials aren't sure whether anyone is supposed to inspect stages. No one inspects the stage at the Three Rivers Festival. Chicago, meanwhile, has some of the strictest standards in the country and requires outdoor events - including Lollapalooza and Pitchfork - to pass the city's building codes, have a wind gauge on stage and provide a "high wind action plan" for what organizers will do if gusts go above 30 mph.

Read the full story at Billboard.biz.

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Spencer Kornhaber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers pop culture and music. He was previously an editor at Patch.com and a staff writer at OC Weekly. He has written for Spin, The AV Club, and RollingStone.com.

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