The Indiana State Fair became a site of unimaginable tragedy, when high winds caused the stage to collapse on Saturday, August 13, moments before Sugarland were to take the stage, causing five fatalities and injuring almost 200 people. On Monday (August 15), those same fairgrounds turned into a place of healing, as hundreds gathered for a memorial service paying tribute to the lives lost.
"There was a hero every ten feet Saturday night," Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels shared during the touching gathering, with crowds exceeding 500 people (quote via Reuters). "We come today with hearts that are broken but also hearts that are filled ... Our first love, our first concern is with our neighbors and our first job is to get back to the business of living."
Sugarland's Kristian Bush says the memory of the fateful night is one that will stay with him for the rest of his life. "Our fans just came to see a show, and it ended in something terrible," he writes on the band's website. "My heart is totally broken for the families and friends of those who lost their lives. It's broken for all the people who got hurt, for the people who were scared. I thank God for every person who lifted a truss, who pushed against that metal to get it off someone; for every person who used a chair as a stretcher. I thank God for every fan and emergency responder, for everyone who ran to the trouble instead of away from it. The courage of those men and women will forever be with me."
The horrific turn of events began after opening act Sara Bareilles performed, when police and fair executives made the call to evacuate, due to strong storms headed their way. But just a minute later, a local radio executive took the stage to announce that the show would indeed go on, warning the 12,000 fans in attendance to be prepared to evacuate mid-concert if the weather should worsen. Just after he left the stage, huge gusts of wind, estimated to be between 60 and 70 mph, knocked the rigging above the stage down, sending all of its massive lighting, sound equipment and one crew member plummeting down.
Fans who escaped uninjured were greatly shaken by the incident. "It was so quick. I had some friends, it was about a group of 15 people, we were standing there," a concertgoer named Ashley recalls to Detroit radio station WYCD 99.5. "A gentleman came out and said, if we need to evacuate, please move slowly to the nearest exit, but they didn't tell us to leave, and then the minute that gentleman walked off the stage, we actually thought there was a tornado, because the sand from the sand pit was flying everywhere. I had a friend say, 'It's coming down.' If she would have literally not turned me around, I wouldn't have made it out. I was less than a foot away from making it out."
Instead of running from the devastation, several members of the crowd, including doctors, nurses and EMTs, rushed to the fallen stage to offer their assistance. "If it wasn't for some of those people, this would have been more than five deaths," Ashley notes.
"I am so moved," says Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles. "Moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured."
The duo canceled their performance that was scheduled for Sunday, August 14 in Des Moines, Iowa, allowing the band and crew to go home and spend time with their families. They are "hoping and preparing" to continue their tour later this week with a show in Albuquerque, N.M. on Thursday, August 18. See Sugarland's Incredible Machine tour schedule here.
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the catastrophe.