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Indiana State Fair: First hand account!

by Cheryl Reed, Indianapolis.
When you're in a situation where people die or are hurt and you are not in danger yourself, pretty much anything you have to say is meaningless. But here I am, still reeling from watching that stage rigging collapse at the Sugarland concert. And I can't seem to stop thinking about it.

Going to the show was my birthday splurge. Jeff spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money getting seats that would make it great: not in the Sugar pit because I wanted to wear big-girl-shoes and wouldn't want to stand that long in them; not in chairs on the ground because I'm too short to see over anyone standing in front but not so far away so we couldn't see anything. Being old, short and lazy were good things last night.

We were in Section 5 -- nearly dead center and just 18 rows up. We were actually 17 rows up but another couple was in our seats, so we agreed to take theirs, one row up. Then, the couple next to us at the last minute, found a way to go lower so we actually had four seats on the bleacher with a railing in front of us. Room to kick off my shoes and dance around if I wanted. There was a fence between the grandstand and the track, with the stage beyond that.

We were close enough to see everything but the detail work on Sara Barellis' dress (opening act) but far enough, as it turned out, to be out of danger. We were also out of reach to get through to help after the steel fell.

Jeff noted the lightning off in the western distance before I did. I was hoping the weather predictions were wrong and refused to acknowledge it at first. I love Jennifer Nettle's crazy big voice, and I wanted to witness Jeff coming into the fold. Kristian Bush is an amazing guy and it's always a happy surprise to hear his voice because he's great, too, and I think people sometimes forget that.

The stage was huge. I counted at least six semi-tractor trailers that were parked behind the set up along with buses and other big vehicles. Just the carriers took up huge room. We talked about how elaborate it was and how much work it would be to set it all up.

Anyway, we were waiting, me less patiently than Jeff, for the band to take the stage. Jeff was watching the weather. I was watching the Indiana State Police guys who seemed to be on patrol. I idly wondered if they were looking for some criminal because they seemed on edge and watching for something. But I knew I had no outstanding warrants, was pretty sure Jeff didn't, and I was focused on the band.

There was an announcement that bad weather seemed to be coming and they were hoping the crowds would wait out the rain in buildings nearby should it come down. People all around us in the grandstands were filing out to try to stay dry. No one down on the track seemed to care. I think those of us who stayed were all just hoping so much to hear the band that we ignored our good sense.

The nice man left the stage. The lightning got closer. The sky darkened to a color that was deeper than indigo but not quite purple. There was a slight breeze, which was nice after the heat. And then, all of a sudden, it wasn't.

We watched as what we thought was a wall of rain come whooshing at us. But it was dirt from the track, not rain that was blowing at us with the force of a freight train.

We saw the rigging tilt to the east. I remember grabbing Jeff's shirt and saying, "Jeff, I think that's going to fall. Those people there." And then, as if we were stuck in a silent, slow-motion movie, the rigging creaked and kept tilting until it all crashed onto the ground.

Jeff grabbed me, told me to get my shoes. He dragged me down the bleachers, skipping the walkway 28 seats to our left. It wasn't chaotic as much as shocked in our area. No one shoved or screamed or was crazy. We all made room for those in wheelchairs, and everyone exited in the ways we'd come in. As we came to the stairs down -- away from the track, I looked over for a way to go left and get down to help hold up the rigging as I could see folks on the ground were doing.

But there was no way to get to the track. In my head, I knew we'd be in the way and that a barefoot, short girl wouldn't be much help even if we could have gotten down there. But I wanted to.

Instead, thanks to my taller, stronger, smarter husband, we got out of the way and didn't add to the confusion. As we ran for our car, parked on the infield behind the staging area, the wind kept blowing. I think I have State Fair dirt embedded in my scalp. It was like being in a sandstorm in the Gobi.

We live only a few miles from the fair and I've been in and out of that thing for years. But I don't think I could have gotten us out of there. The phone lines were jammed. The one thought that did get through was that Alison was at the Ogdens and she might see news coverage. We were headed there when Jeff's phone went through.

If Ali has a bad dream, it's usually about Jeff or me dying. She worries about it a lot. We talked with her on the phone, she said she wasn't worried anymore but had wanted to hear our voices. After we talked, she was OK and wanted to keep with her sleepover, so we went home.

It was hard to settle down. Liquor helped a bit. But as the news coverage of the collapse rolled out, our fears were confirmed, and it just got more and more sad.

My heart goes out to the families of those who lost loved ones, and to the Sugarland family, too. I was at the gym this morning, cycling away and listening to the Incredible Machine album. I heard Jennifer Nettles sing, "Stand up, stand up you boys and girls. Stand up and use your voice." and I had to fight back tears. It was so awful.

I just kept pedaling and telling myself "There's no crying at the gym. There's no crying at the gym." But it's so sad. So awful.

Thank you for all the check-in phone calls and posts and texts and tweets. We are so thankful to have been out of the line of danger. But so terribly sad for those who weren't.

Oh. Deep breath. Keep Indianapolis in your hearts, everyone.

Thanks Cheryl Reed for sharing your first hand account of this tragic story!

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