Pollstar reports that a last second decision by Sugarland’s tour manager, Hellen Rollens, likely saved the lives of Sugarland and their band Saturday night. Taking in the ominous sky over the Indiana State fair, she made the decision to hold everyone backstage moments before they were scheduled to go on. A minute later, a 60 to 70 mph gust of wind collapsed the stage, killing five and injuring dozens more.
As the stage fell, Sugarland and their crew hit the ground and took cover against a wall, thinking the structure was going to collapse on top of them. They eventually reconvened on their tour bus, trying to digest what had just happened.
“There was no running out anywhere,” Sugarland manager Gail Gellman told The Associated Press on Monday. “No one knew what happened. It was just the moment when your eyes get big.”
Several people had deemed it safe to go onstage, according to Gail. Hellen, however, made the ultimate call to stay back, relying on her instincts to make the final decision.
“As a tour manager, it’s super important to understand what the weather conditions are when you play outside,” said Gail, who was in Las Vegas with another client that night. “We’ve always talked about not putting the band on during wind, lightning or heavy rain. Everybody was standing in a prayer circle getting ready to go onstage, and Hellen, as she was walking down the ramp, the stage fell. So her decision to hold them for literally a minute saved every band member and crew’s life.”
The tragedy has affected Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush deeply. Kristian went home to Georgia to spend time with his children. Gail met up with Jennifer on Sunday to see how she was coping.
“There are moments I can see great clarity in her eyes, and there are moments I can see her tears well up so much that I just don’t know what to do,” Gail said. “She’s just processing and wants to encourage people to be together, to support each other.”
Sugarland’s instruments and elaborate set for their Incredible Machine tour were destroyed in the collapse. They canceled their Sunday show at the Iowa State Fair, but are planning to return to the stage in Albuquerque on Thursday. The duo is also planning a memorial service for the victims to take place once families have had time to grieve their lost loved ones.
Sugarland released an emotional letter to their fans, friends and family, reflecting on the tragedy and how they are coping. Read it HERE.