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Merchants at the Richmond, B.C., Night Market walk past a temporary stage used for performances at the market, July 29, 2011. (RIchard Lam/Globe and Mail/RIchard Lam/Globe and Mail)
Merchants at the Richmond, B.C., Night Market walk past a temporary stage used for performances at the market, July 29, 2011. (RIchard Lam/Globe and Mail/RIchard Lam/Globe and Mail)

Charges laid in fatal Alberta stage collapse Add to ...

Summertime is supposed to be a carefree season of lawn chairs and outdoor entertainment, but recent stage collapses - and now charges in connection with the death of one Alberta concert-goer - has some festival organizers rethinking their shows.

"Certainly, there's a chill among festivals," said Marie Zimmerman, executive director of the Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ont., which wrapped up its 28th installment last weekend.

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On Friday, the Alberta government announced 33 charges against three companies connected to the Big Valley Jamboree near Camrose, Alta., where a stage collapsed two years ago during a violent storm, killing one spectator and injuring dozens more. The charges, under Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act, were announced just as thousands of music fans gathered for the 19th Jamboree this weekend.

Donna Moore, 35, was crushed by a falling speaker when a powerful wind ripped through the fairgrounds, toppling the stage just as Kevin Costner and his country band, Modern West, were about to perform on Aug. 1, 2009.

Just this month, the Ottawa Bluesfest's main stage collapsed when winds exceeding 90 kilometres an hour suddenly tore through the venue, sending several people to hospital.

"It just reminds me how lucky we are that we've not faced something like that," said Joyce Seamone, organizer of the Fox Mountain Country Music Festival, which is poised to mount its eight annual production in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley next weekend.

Ms. Seamone said organizers can't always predict what might happen, especially when it comes to Mother Nature. And Ms. Zimmerman pointed out that peak festival season happens to coincide with peak storm season. She witnessed that first-hand in 2009 when a thunderstorm descended on Hillside.

Nobody was hurt, but the event was so frightening - and soon followed by the Jamboree death - that Hillside organizers hired an engineer to audit the festival and created a new emergency preparedness plan. Changes were made, including new guy wires, lightning rods and propane storage.

"When people ask me, 'How was Hillside?' I say, 'Well, no one died, so it was fantastic,' " Ms. Zimmerman said.

Jamboree organizers said they "didn't make a lot of changes" after the 2009 stage collapse, but Larry Werner, spokesman for the event's promoter, Panhandle Productions, has noted a few changes such as back braces on the stage and extra ballast.

Panhandle and Premier Global Production Company, which supplied the stage, have each been charged with 12 worker-safety infractions. Panhandle is also charged with failing to follow workplace safety rules, while Premier Global faces two counts of failing to make sure equipment and rigging were safe.

A numbered company, 1073732 Alberta Ltd., which directed the activities of Premier Global, faces six charges of failing to ensure that the employer complied with the safety rules.

The maximum penalty is $500,000 and/or six months in jail for each charge. A court date is set for Sept. 28.

Ms. Moore's family filed a $5.3-million lawsuit this month against a number of concert promoters and suppliers. Another lawsuit has been filed against the same defendants by two women who said they were injured in the stage collapse.

None of the allegations have been proved in court.

Provincial inspectors found no problems with the venue before this year's event, nor last year's. But inspectors never checked out the venue prior to the deadly 2009 concert.

Barrie Harrison, a spokesman with Alberta Employment and Immigration, said it would be "hypothetical" to say whether an inspection could have made the incident preventable.

Concert-goer Travis Bergen, who was at the Jamboree when the stage collapsed and is taking in the show again this year, wondered why provincial inspectors weren't onsite before such a huge event in 2009. Still, he added, the storm came so fast, there was nothing anybody could have done.

"One freak storm won't make me worried about my safety there," he said, "What happened was a tragedy and I feel for that woman's family, but I don't think it should make people shy away from what is an amazing event yearly."

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