Nine years ago today (Aug. 13, 2011) was a devastating day for Sugarland, their fans and the country music community: It was on that date that the stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, moments before the duo was scheduled to perform, killing seven people and injuring dozens more.
On the evening of Aug. 13, opening act Sara Bareilles had finished her set, and an impending thunderstorm caused Indiana State Fair officials, Indiana State Police and Sugarland’s management to discuss if the show should be postponed or canceled. After initially making plans to begin Sugarland’s show at 8:50PM — five minutes late — and to stop the set and evacuate the crowd if the weather became severe, officials decided to call the concert off. While they were walking to the stage to announce the cancellation, at 8:46PM, a strong gust of wind caused the rigging above the stage to collapse, and all of the lighting and sound equipment fell onto the concert attendees who were standing closest to the stage.
Four people were killed immediately — including one stagehand and a security guard — and three more died due to their injuries in the days following the accident; many more sustained injuries. Bareilles and Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush – the latter of whom were below the stage in a prayer circle — were unharmed.
“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,” Bush recalls. “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.”
Although the cause of the stage’s collapse was later determined to be due, at least in part, to poor assembly, several lawsuits were filed against Sugarland following the tragedy, since their contract gave them the final say on whether or not to cancel the show. One mass lawsuit filed involved 44 survivors and family members of four of the seven deceased. More than two and a half years after the lawsuit was filed, Sugarland, along with Live Nation and 16 other defendants, settled out of court for $39 million. The State of Indiana paid $11 million to victims as well.
“Our fans just came to see a show, and it ended in something terrible,” Bush wrote on the band’s website after the accident. “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.”
Following the tragedy, Sugarland canceled a concert in Des Moines, Iowa, scheduled for Aug. 14. They next performed on Aug. 18, in Albuquerque, N.M., honoring the victims with a moment of silence. Sugarland returned to Indiana that October, for the final show on their 2011 Incredible Machine Tour.
“This Incredible Machine is more than a tour and more than a set,” Sugarland shared at the time. “We have always celebrated music as a Healer. While music cannot change the events and losses at the Indiana State Fair, it can hopefully serve as a ritual and a balm to provide comfort and facilitate healing in this time of great sorrow.”
Publicly, the duo put on a brave face, but both Nettles and Bush admit that they were permanently changed by the tragedy.
“Whatever tragedy does to a family — it pushes them together,” Bush later told Rolling Stone. “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.”
On Aug. 13, 2012 – the one-year anniversary of the stage collapse – the Indiana State Fair held a moment of silence at 8:46PM.
Sugarland’s embarked on one more tour, 2012’s In Your Hands Tour, before going on hiatus and working on solo projects. In late 2017, having said that Sugarland’s break was not a permanent breakup, the duo announced that they were reuniting; the released their newest album, Bigger, in June of 2018.
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