It had been 100 degrees all day when the Flaming Lips prepared to take the stage Sunday evening at Tulsa's Brady Block Party in their home state. When the sun abruptly gave way to rain torrents, and winds pummeled the stage at 70 to 80 miles per hour, the band and its roadies immediately cut off the electricity. A tarp blew off the top of the stage, and bassist Michael Ivins, like everybody else, began to cover his amplifier. Suddenly, the band's 15-foot video screen toppled over the back of the stage, prompting gasps from the audience and pushing Ivins to leap out of the way to avoid a catastrophic injury. (Watch below.)
"We were all on stage thinking, 'What are we actually going to do, here?' It was just pouring down rain," Ivins told Rolling Stone this morning by phone from Oklahoma City. "Then the screen started moving. There wasn't a lot of space between the screen and an eight-foot drop. I basically had to leap over one of the legs [of the screen] to get out of the way. It was definitely pretty crazy."
Nobody was hurt in the accident, which Ivins and Scott Booker, the band's manager, blamed on unexpected, extreme weather rather than promoter or venue negligence. But it was only the latest in a recent stream of disturbing incidents involving collapsed stages or equipment at outdoor shows. Safety inspectors in Canada filed charges on July 29th against companies who ran 2009's Big Valley Jamboree festival in Alberta, Canada, where 35-year-old Donna Moore was crushed to death and 75 others were injured from falling scaffolding during an intense storm. On July 17th, during Cheap Trick's performance at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada, winds whipped up so quickly that the roof fell on the stage, narrowly missing injuries to members of the band and thousands of people in the crowd.
Afterwards, Cheap Trick blamed the stage's builder, Groupe Berger, and cancelled a subsequent concert in Vancouver that had construction by the same company. (Groupe Berger has blamed the incident on bad weather; the Ontario Ministry of Labor is investigating.) "We simply want to know: what are the companies and organizers doing to protect the next act and the next audience?" Dave Frey, the band's manager, said in a statement. "Every act and every fan ought to be asking the same question when attending an outside musical event."
Other prominent managers, however, insist stages are safe and fans have little to fear at outdoor concerts. "The regulations have become much more difficult. Health and safety have become much more a factor in everybody's budget in the last 10 to 15 years," says Jake Berry, production and technical director for U2's 360 tour. "But some stages can hold up to a freak wind better than others. You can't stop a tsunami in Japan, can you? These are acts of nature."
Ivins, the Flaming Lips' bassist, said the Tulsa video-screen collapse was unpreventable. "It was a freak thing that happened," he said, adding that the Lips are working on repairing the rolling video screen for their next festival gig, in Somerset, Wisconsin, in about two weeks. "Maybe the stage could've been facing a different direction. We could have tied the screen down, but it would probably have taken the whole stage down. We try to take as many precautions as we can, all the time. It's just sometimes there's stuff out of your control. You just never know what's going to happen."