Update: Third serious incident of  North American festival season following Cheap Trick’s near-fatal experience – but stormchaser says they’re predictable

Disaster: The stage collapses | Matt Kryger/Indianapolis Star

Five people died and at least 45 other have been injured after a stage collapsed in high winds during the Indiana State Fair in the USA.

It’s the third serious incident during this year’s festival season in North America, following events in July in which Cheap Trick narrowly escaped death.

On Saturday night 12,000 festivalgoers were waiting for country duo Sugarland to take the stage when evacuation procedures began. A massive gust of wind caused the stage roof to topple towards the crowd.

Some were trapped under the construction and children were among the wounded. Captain Brad Weaver of Indiana State Police says: “I don’t believe anything could have been done to prevent the collapse.”

Today’s State Fair events have been cancelled and the proceedings will recommence tomorrow, starting with a memorial service for those who lost their lives.

Earlier this month a large part of the Flaming Lips’ stage set for their Brady Block Party show in Tulsa was blown over in sudden bad weather.

Dozens were injured at the Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada last month while Cheap Trick performed on the main stage.  Frontman Robin Zander told how he saw a storm rolling in over the crowd – he wound up the track they were playing and herded his band and crew offstage just seconds before the lighting rig came down in a freak gust of wind. The band only survived because their gear truck, parked behind the stage, broke the scaffolding’s fall.

Berger Mega-Stage, who supplied the construction, say they’ve been exonerated in the subsequent safety report. But Cheap Trick have pulled out of a scheduled appearance at Vancouver on September 1 because the stage will be provided by Berger. Two lighting tours belonging to the firm collapsed a fortnight ago in Quebec. They say all safety procedures were adhered to.

But a stormchaser and festival crewman insists it’s easy to predict when such freak weather conditions will strike. John Huntingdon of ControlGeek.net says freely available radar services will display telltale patterns ahead of high-speed wind events.

Huntingdon explains: “At every outdoor show I do, and I’ve done a lot, I monitor the the weather carefully even if just working on the crew.

“Cheap Trick manager Dave Frey said the storm came as a surprise – but none of this should, especially when you can get free weather radar on your phone.

“On the Ottawa radar you clearly see a massive northeast-southwest front coming across the state. It shows gust fronts or outflow boundaries out in front of the storm, which often indicate high winds.

“Anyone with some weather knowledge watching the radar would likely have seen it. When you see something like it you should probably get the band off the stage and hold the show a bit. These things move fast, but they are rarely a surprise.”

Cheap Trick recently called for improved safety measured to be introduced for band, crew and audience at all festivals, saying: “We simply want to know: what are organisers doing to protect the next act and the next audience? Everyone ought to be asking the same question when attending an outside event.”

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