“That Could Have Been Me”
Article by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D
Last Saturday 16 June 2012, as many AV folks were traveling back from the Infocomm show in Las Vegas to thier respective AV States, tragic news spread through the Touring World. Just hours before Radiohead was scheduled to play Downsview Park in Toronto, their outdoor stage collapsed, killing drum technician Scott Johnson at age 33. Another crew was member hospitalized with a non-life-threatening injury, and two other people were injured and treated at the site. Anyone who has ever been a stage hand or been on an outdoor stage felt their heart skip a beat when they heard the news.
Now this may sound extremely selfish, but my first thought was, “That could have been me”. I used to work on a lot of temporary outdoor stages, though nothing as big a Radiohead. I was the guy who said “Check 1, 2, 2, 1, 2”, mic’ing up five or ten bands for music festivals; wiring double-stacked loudspeakers on double-stacked scaffolding; rolling line array speakers through mud up and pushing them up truck ramps; or using lift gates to hoist racks and chain motors into “Rentskes”. Got my toe stuck in a lift gate once (not my fault, and luckily nothing broken). Another time, I saw a stagehand accidentally tip a small lighting tower off the stage onto my coworkers head. He needed a few staples, but luckily he was okay, and forgiving of the stagehand.
But a toe in a liftgate or a lighting tower to the head is peanuts compared to a stage collapsing. The drum tech, Scott Johnson, died Bro! Maybe while working a job he loved, and maybe he accepted the risk, but let’s be honest, no one expects a stage to collapse, ever. Here is a computer animation video showing how the stage fell. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain why the stage fell, but it still helps you visualize it):
Unlike the Indiana State Fair stage collapse, the weather did not play a factor in the Downsview Park stage tragedy. There was no wind. No, it appears that the Toronto collapse was due to equipment failure, or more likely human error, and they are still trying to figure out who to blame. They got a Structural Engineer to sign off on the design, but that doesn’t mean he is at fault, as many people are involved in the construction of those stages. Engineers and riggers in the concert industry are trained to be perfect, to design stages and rig them with safety factors of five or ten. Meaning they should hold five or ten times the amount they are specified to hold, like bridges. Someone skipped Statics Class and got their math wrong, or missed a crucial step in the rigging process. According to Pollstar, the folks doing the lighting expressed concerns prior to the incident. The tragedy caused great sadness to the band who released this statement. Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, spoke about the incident before covering Radiohead’s Knives Out that same evening in Toronto:
Everyone knows that the touring concert industry has taken a big hit in the recent economy. With the price of oil directly driving up the cost of trucking, and more young people opting to download music for free instead of attending live shows, concert promoters are forced to think creatively, and cut costs wherever they can. But going with the lowest bidder or the cheapest stagehands sometimes results in a dead guy. Please figure out who screwed up this time, and make an example of him or her, so this never happens again.
- Radiohead ‘shattered’ after crew member dies in Toronto stage collapse (news.nationalpost.com)
- Radiohead Stage Collapse Developments (pollstar.com)
- Memorial Honors Victims Of Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse (wdrb.com)
- Indiana State Fair stage collapse caused by improper construction (USATODAY.com)