SHELBY The contemporary Christian music concert Bobby McLamb had booked at the Cleveland County fairgrounds was still a few hours off when he suddenly heard cellphones beeping storm alerts.
Until that moment, around 3:45 p.m. Aug. 10, there had been no rain and the sky showed patches of blue.
But the wind picked up with a fury, and as McLamb looked around the fairgrounds in Shelby, he saw portable toilets and chairs tumbling like toys.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God,’ ” said McLamb, president of Raleigh-based Artists & Attractions. “I wondered what in the world was going on.”
What happened next was something he’d never seen in 25 years in the entertainment management business: The roof over the temporary outdoor concert stage collapsed.
The stage had already been cleared, and there were no injuries.
But it had been a near miss, and when word got out, criticism popped up on the Internet.
Some blamed L&N Productions Inc. of Hickory for shoddy construction of the stage. Others accused concert officials of not monitoring weather conditions.
McLamb has heard the rumors, but discounts negative comments from “people who look at online pictures and were not there at the fairgrounds when this happened.”
He stands by L&N, a firm he’s used at shows for more than 20 years and plans to keep using.
“They’re very professional,” McLamb said.
Problems with temporary concert stages have made headlines in recent years.
On Aug. 13, 2011, a temporary stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, killing seven people and injuring nearly 60 others.
Two investigative reports found the stage rigging that collapsed in high winds didn’t meet industry safety standards and that fair officials lacked a fully developed emergency plan, the Associated Press reported.
Five days after the Indiana incident, two people were killed and 40 injured after a stage collapsed during a Belgian music festival.
Alan Smith, owner of Paragon Productions, a Rock Hill-based sound and lighting equipment firm, thinks event organizers should be aware that the industry providing temporary stages is largely unregulated.
Instead of checking to see if small companies have liability insurance and follow industry standards, some organizers “are driven by the money thing,” he said.
Bo Howard, business agent of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 322 in Charlotte, thinks there needs to be more regulation in the industry and “more safety protocols.”
When accidents happen “it gives everybody a bad name,” he said.
The event in Shelby was part of the American Legion World Series concert series and featured three Christian rock bands, including the headliner, the top-selling national group MercyMe.
Eddie Holbrook, co-chair of the local American Legion World Series executive committee and a Cleveland County commissioner, said L&N Productions had worked last year’s Montgomery Gentry concert at the American Legion World series.
“They’ve been very satisfactory,” he said. “We’ve had no problem.”
Holbrook said performers and stage managers expressed no reservations about the stage.
Also, he said the weather had been a concern. Holbrook said officials had been tracking storms on weather radar.
A line of storms in the area of Greenville, S.C., appeared to be edging north of Shelby, he said.
When a severe weather alert for Cleveland County flashed on the radar, Holbrook said, “we immediately started getting people off stage.” The surrounding area with electrical equipment was also evacuated, he said.
The National Weather service had no reports of damaging wind gusts – 50 mph or stronger – in Cleveland County on Aug 10. But an automated weather station on the north side of Shelby measured a wind gust of about 35 mph between 3 and 4 p.m.
At the fairground, which is on the east side of Shelby, a “quick burst of vicious wind” got under the stage roof and “disassembled it,” Holbrook said.
Law enforcement and emergency personnel were already at the fairground. But thankfully, nobody got hurt, Holbrook said.
Looking back, “I don’t know of anything we would have done differently,” he said.
James Little, owner and president of L&N Productions, Inc., said the company has been in business more than 25 years, carries liability insurance and has done events all over the U.S. Local code officials aren’t required to inspect temporary stages, Little said, but some, like Hickory, do inspect the structures.
Wherever L&N sets up a stage “we adhere to building codes,” Little said. “Ultimately, people can be hurt, and you have to be cautious in what you do.”
In Shelby, Little said the fire marshal inspected the stage, which met industry standards and had been assembled by L&N employees and 30 members of the Oak Grove Volunteer Fire Department.
The stage’s roof was held up by 12 18-foot-tall Genie Super Towers, not four as stated by some on the Internet, Little said. The towers were secured by straps tied to 4-foot metal stakes driven into the ground.
Wind bent the stakes, but didn’t pull them out of the ground, and all the straps held, he said.
According to Little, the roof shifted 10 feet and lodged against a lighting pole, about 5 feet above the stage. No musical instruments or electrical equipment were damaged, and 10 light bulbs out of 108 were broken, Little said. Although he doesn’t have a total damage estimate, he said six of the towers, valued at $3,000 each, are out of commission.
A spokesperson for the Genie lift company said the super towers aren’t designed to support structures like roofs.
But Little said what was used at the fairground wasn’t a load-bearing roof, but a stage cover, and that the towers weren’t supporting the entire rig. He said the Genies supported canvas and lights individually and that the practice was common in the industry. Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.
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