Cowboy Corner

Cowboy Corner
By Michael W. Stout

A Piece of Sugarland's Hearts Left in Grandstand at Indiana State Fair

Saturday night, August 13 will forever be etched into the minds of Sugarland members Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, their band, their crew and the more than 14,000 fans who witnessed first-hand a horrific tragedy that struck at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. Sugarland was about to take the stage when a storm quickly blew across the fairgrounds and 60-70 mph winds brought the outdoor stage quickly crashing down atop the "Sugarpit" of die-hard fans standing directly in front of the massive stage, as well as the front rows of the seated fans, wounding more than 40 fans and instantly killing four. Twenty-three-year-old Alina Bigjohny of Fort Wayne, 29-year-old Christina Santiago of Chicago; 42-year-old Tammy Vandam of Wanatah, and 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis were crushed to an instant death by the State-Fair provided stage rigging and Sugarland's lighting and speakers, having to be dug out from under the rubble. Fifty-one-year-old Nathan Byrd, an Indianapolis stagehand who was atop the rigging when it fell, passed away later that night. Six days following this nightmare which all musicians fear could happen at anytime, especially involving outdoor concerts, Bigjohny's best friend, 23-year-old Jennifer Haskell, a senior at Ball State University, passed away on the morning of August 19.

Sugarland had been scheduled to already be performing when this tragic storm downed the stage, but Nettles, Bush, the band, and crew were spared by a decision by their road manager, Helen Rollen, who decided to delay the concert a few minutes due to the predicted imminent weather. At the time of the stage scaffolding collapse, the band and crew were under the stage in a customary prayer circle prior to each concert. When the crew heard the pounding of the crashing stage rigging above them, they hit the ground and took cover against a wall, fearing the stage was going to collapse on top of them. Neither Nettles, Bush, nor any of their band and crew were injured, but their stage backdrop and set and their instruments were utterly destroyed. Their performance at the Iowa State Fair the following evening was cancel ed.

As a result of this tragedy, the Indiana State Fair was closed on Sunday, August 14, reopening Monday morning, August 15 with a memorial service for the victims lost that Saturday night. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels offered sympathy to the families of those who perished in this incident and offered prayers and well-wishes for those still battling serious injuries as a result. He went on to applaud the true heroes of the evening, the fans that rushed the stage to try to lift the mangled steel off those trapped below, pulling deceased and wounded fans from the rubble, as well as all who assisted emergency personnel who cared for those injured in a make-shift triage.

Officials continue to investigate to determine exactly what caused this stage collapse and to determine exactly who is at fault. The accident scene was closed for the remainder of the State Fair, forcing Janet Jackson and Lady Antebellum to cancel their upcoming fair performances, which had been scheduled for the same stage later the next week, and forcing Maroon 5 and Train to move their Fair performance off-site to downtown Indy's Conseco Fieldhouse. Maroon 5, Train, Conseco Fieldhouse, and all employees volunteered their time and talents to this concert which was turned into a memorial concert for the victims and their families, raising more than $350,000.

In the days following this nightmare, Jennifer Nettles released the following poignant statement: "I am so moved. 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. There are no words to process a moment of this magnitude and gravity. There are only prayers for peace in the hearts of the bereft, and prayers of thanksgiving for those who were spared or safe. A piece of our heart is left in that grandstand. May God provide peace and healing to the people of Indianapolis. " Kristian Bush went on to say, "Our fans just came to see a show, and it ended in something terrible. 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. "

On August 16, Sugarland posted the following letter on their website:

"Dear Fans, Family and Friends,

We have taken a couple of days to try and even begin to emotionally process the magnitude and gravity of the tragedy in Indiana on Saturday. While the path to healing from this type of trauma and loss is long and winding, we wanted to reach out and update you on where we are and how we are.

We are in the process of planning a private memorial in Indiana, to honor those fans who died. We would first like to hold space so that their families can have time to go through their own services and memorials. Until that time we are holding vigil for them. We join them on their mourning benches. And we stand in the gap asking God to offer them peace and healing. For those suffering from injury we hold you up with prayers for complete healing of your own.

We are also addressing our own specific healing. Our road family experienced its traumas together. While we all scattered to our given families for their comfort, the trauma we experienced together binds us in a unique way that we share only with each other, and those who were there. There is healing in our being together. There is healing in our working together. For this reason we are planning to get back on the road this weekend, beginning with our scheduled show in Albuquerque this Thursday, August 18th. The emotions have us yearning to be close to each other immediately. The logistics have us needing to replace all of our instruments and equipment. (The set is a loss that is insignificant in light of the tragedy.)

This Incredible Machine is more than a tour and more than a set. 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. We hope to see you all soon.

Love,

Sugarland"

When Sugarland resumed their Incredible Machine Tour on Thursday, August 18 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nettles, Bush, their band, and crew walked onto the dark stage and Nettles asked the crowd to stand for a moment of silence in memory of the Indiana tragedy the previous week. After about 10 seconds, Bush began strumming his guitar and the duo performed an abbreviated acoustic version of their "Love," left the stage for a few minutes, and began their concert with a much scaled-back set featuring a simple black curtain, some stage lighting, and smoke. The band was playing all new replacement instruments which had been shipped to New Mexico that very day in time for this return show.

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Sugarland, their band, their crew, their fans, and most importantly to those injured in this accident and the families of those who lost their lives.

Kentucky & U.S. Military Proud of Montgomery Gentry

Kentucky boys Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry, better known as country duo Montgomery Gentry, have always been strong supporters of our U.S. military and they had the opportunity to perform at the very first USO Homefront Concert hosted by the National Guard July 26 at Louisville's own KFC Yum! Center. More than 14,000 military personnel and family members joined MG for a night of celebration with songs like "Something to Be Proud Of" and "My Town." The show was broadcast live on the Pentagon Channel online and more than two million people tuned in to watch the concert. In addition to some good ol' God-fearing, family-loving, American flag-waving country music, concert goers had the opportunity to watch military families reunited via video chats and watched a message of appreciation from First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden to the troops and their families.

Our hats are off to Eddie and Troy and country music fans alike for their support of our military personnel here at home and abroad. And even more importantly, our hats are off to every single member of the U.S. military who has dedicated his or her life to serving our country and fighting for our freedom here in this great country of America, as well as their family members who make daily sacrifices while their loved ones are away serving. May God continue to bless America!

Country Honors

When the 2011 Teen Choice Awards were handed out in Los Angeles last month, Taylor Swift was the top country fan favorite, walking away with five honors. She was named Female Country Artist of the Year, "Mean" was named Country Single of the Year, "Back to December" was named Breakup Song of the Year, she was named overall Female Artist of the Year among all genres of music, and she was labeled the Choice Red Carpet Fashion Icon Female. Keith Urban was named Male Country Artist of the Year and Lady Antebellum was crowned Country Group of the Year.

Farm Aid founder and president, the "Red-Headed Stranger" himself, Willie Nelson, was honored for his dedication to supporting the American family farmers on August 13 when he was inducted into the Agricultural Hall of Fame during a ceremony prior to this year's Farm Aid concert at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Upon receiving the honor, Nelson stated, "I am extremely honored and humbled to join the company of the 38 prominent inductees already in the Agricultural Hall of Fame. I have long said that family farmers are the backbone of our country. I never thought Farm Aid would need to be around as long as it has been, but we know our country needs family farmers, and Farm Aid will be here as long as family farmers need us." Farm Aid has raised more than $39 million since its 1985 inception.

Country Codas

Eighty-three-year-old musician Marshall Grant, who was a bass player and a founding member of Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two Band (which was inducted into Nashville's Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007), died at a Jonesboro, Arkansas hospital on August 7 from complications from an aneurysm. Grant was in Arkansas to participate at the Johnny Cash Music Festival which was raising funds to restore Johnny Cash's boyhood home in Dyess, Arkansas and fell sick after attending rehearsals for the event on August 3. Speaking of Grant's passing, Rosanne Cash, daughter of the late Johnny Cash, told The Tennessean newspaper, "Had Dad not had Marshall, he wouldn't have had the 'Johnny Cash sound,' and he wouldn't have become all that he was, in his fullness. And I wouldn't have become a songwriter or a musician. There's a whole lineage that wouldn't have happened." Grant and lead guitarist Luther Perkins helped develop the "boom chicka boom" style synonymous with Cash's early recordings.

Eighty-five-year-old Grand Ole Opry member Billy Grammer passed away at a Benton, Illinois hospital on August 10 following a lengthy illness. Due to his failing health, Grammer had been unable to perform on the Opry stage for more than two decades, but he was able to celebrate his 50th anniversary as an Opry member onstage in 2009. After serving in the U.S. Army, Grammer moved to Washington, D.C., met a country music disc jockey and concert promoter, and became a guitarist for the likes of Jimmy Dean, Grandpa Jones, and Hawkshaw Hawkins. He went on to become a solo country artist and released hits like "Gotta Travel On," "Jesus Is a Soul Man," and "I Wanna Go Home." In the mid-1960's, Grammer joined a businessman and guitar builder and introduced his famed line of acoustic guitars known as Grammer Guitars. Grammer and his wife Ruth were married for 64 years.

Well, that's it for another month, and another summer. Always remember: "Keep your boots shined up and your hat on straight, 'cause country music is comin' your way."