Kristian Bush on Joyous New LP Born of Tragedy: It’s ‘Sunshine Into a Cave’
What do you remember about the night of August 13th, 2011?
It was just like any other show. We had a meet-and-greet, we said a prayer and they put us on a hold for a minute. And then, from where I was, everything exploded. Everything above us crashed, so the roof shook and the door exploded. I thought maybe a bomb had gone off. I was scared. We were grabbing onto each other, just making sure people we knew were OK. Then they walked us out, evacuated us really quickly.
How soon was it before you knew the breadth of what happened?
I saw it when I walked out, what the ending was, but I didn’t know what had happened. I had to see it on television. I just couldn’t believe that’s what happened. It’s just terrible.
Everyone immediately started playing the blame game. In your opinion, was this human error or the wrath of Mother Nature?
That’s not my place to say; it was just confusing. When something like that happens, everyone wants there to be a reason. What happened didn’t make sense, how people were talking about it didn’t make sense, how much you couldn’t talk about it didn’t make sense. It felt very legal really quickly. We were famous for a terrible thing, and we couldn’t talk about it.
What exactly were you not allowed to talk about?
Pretty much everything. I wasn’t able to contact anyone who got hurt. There was nobody to call, nobody to talk to. Legally, no one knew what to do. They said, “Look, you’ve got to be quiet.” So that’s what I did. This literally might be the first time I’ve talked to a person I’m not related to about it.
How badly did you want to reach out to the families of the seven people killed?
Oh, my God. [Sighs] Those are fans. Not only fans, they were out in front! We had gone to great lengths to create [a space for] fans who are the best fans to be in the front. It was supposed to be everything you want from your favorite band, and it was. And you can’t call those people? That was weird.
The media covered this tragedy pretty much every day for weeks. Where did you watch the news reports, and did you do so with a support system?
I didn’t watch or read much about it, but I did take a lot of time with my kids. I remember taking out Tucker’s Legos and trying to explain it to him. His friends at school were going to say something to him, and I wanted him to understand what happened.
That was the first place I went was home. I wanted them to know I was all right. I’m not necessarily in a vocation where I’m at risk; it’s not like I’m a police officer. I’m a musician, so when I leave home, my family expects me to come back.
What did this tragedy do to the dynamics within your band and crew?
Whatever tragedy does to a family — it pushes them together. And in a ways, it took a snapshot in time. Everybody remembers it, though we all remember it differently. I’d lay down for any of them, and they would do the same.
The first thing we did was get information from the Pearl Jam folks. They reached out really quickly. [Nine fans were killed in the mosh pits at a 2000 Pearl Jam show in Denmark.] They said, “Look, you need to get a grief counselor out on the road as fast as possible.” And Gail [Gellman, Sugarland’s manager] found one and brought them out the next week. So we watched everybody deal with it, and no one was the same after that.
Less than three months after the tragedy, your divorce was finalized. But even today, more than three years later, if you do an Internet search for “Kristian Bush divorce,” practically nothing pops up. How did you keep it out of the press?
There wasn’t a lot of anger involved, so that gave us perspective. One of the things we decided to do was protect the kids and doing that meant asking the court to seal it. They did, and I’m forever grateful — to both Jill, for a good divorce, and to the court for being a partner in that. But at the end of the day, the only judgment was not how Jill or I felt about it, but how the kids felt. You do things for your kids you won’t do for yourself.
I think most people will hold onto relationships that aren’t working well and won’t try to change — just survive them. My parents stayed together until I was out of college and then they were like, “Hey, we’re getting a divorce.” I didn’t have any frame of reference, so I had to just make it up. It’s a very sad thing to do, to divorce. When I say a “good divorce,” I mean one done with respect. It’s a terrible, sad place. And even when you think you’ve got a handle, the moment that the court says you’re done, then it gets real. And then again, the silence of it kept it personal. But it also keeps you very alone.
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