Kristian Bush’s Daughter Helped Him Find Peace After Indiana State Fair Stage Collapse
Kristian Bush's life was forever changed when, moments before Sugarland were to take the stage at the 2011 Indiana State Fair, the stage collapsed, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others. Months later, Bush and Jennifer Nettles were still grieving the tragedy when Bush's young daughter Camille helped her dad begin the healing process.
Bush received a box of broken pieces of his custom-made mandolins, destroyed in the collapse, in the mail.
"We laid it all on the floor, and I went downstairs to change the laundry," Bush tells Rolling Stone Country. "I came back upstairs, and she had arranged all of the pieces of the mandolins into a big peace sign on the floor of the living room. She was seven years old! I couldn't do anything but just sit there and weep. In the face of a child, she was just, 'It's going to be okay, Dad.'"
Still, the memory of that fateful night remains etched in Bush's mind.
"It was just like any other show," he recalls. "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 okay. Then they walked us out, evacuated us really quickly.
"I saw it when I walked out, what the ending was, but I didn't know what had happened," he adds. "I had to see it on television. I just couldn't believe that's what happened. It's just terrible."
As one would expect, Bush says that the event profoundly changed Sugarland and those around them, both as people and as a band.
"Whatever tragedy does to a family — it pushes them together," he says. "And in a way, 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."
One of the most challenging aspects of the days and weeks following the stage collapse was that Sugarland wanted to reach out to the victims but were advised not to talk to them while the legal proceedings unfolded.
"I wasn't able to contact anyone who got hurt," Bush reveals. "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.
"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," he explains. "And you can't call those people? That was weird."
Bush immediately went home to Georgia following the accident, to be close to his children. It was especially important to him to stay near to them since only three months later, he and his wife of 12 years, Jill, amicably, and quietly, divorced.
"There wasn't a lot of anger involved, so that gave us perspective," he says. "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."
The "Trailer Hitch" singer decided to tell his story so that people would better understand some of the songs on his debut solo project, Southern Gravity.
"I've got to tell you the story so you can understand the record," Bush says. "There was a whole lot of not talking going on, during this part of my life. But there's playing music — that I could do. It felt like I didn't have to be as quiet as I was feeling. I couldn't tell people what I was going through, but I could sing it to them."