I went to Bluesfest last night to take in the final day with my family – my dad, my wife, my sister and her boyfriend Abdullah. This was my dad’s first huge concert event, outdoors at Lebreton Flats, even though he has been a resident of Ottawa for thirty plus years. Abdullah, who is Omani and lives in Kuwait, has been in Ottawa nine days. This was his third trip to Bluesfest. Dad needs to catch up!
My sister wanted to see Lupe Fiasco, a rapper who was playing the Claridge stage at 6:00. He was pretty good, engaged with the crowd and even though I’m not a fan of his music I found him very entertaining. He played around (as Peter Frampton did) with the popcorn-on-a-stick, and kept wondering why no one ever told him Ottawa was the Hottest Place On Earth. Yesterday afternoon, it was.
With the heat so intense, it was no wonder that Lupe Fiasco had to stop his show a couple of times to direct paramedics toward women who had passed out in the crowd. That, of course, was nothing compared to what was about to happen.
We moved over to watch Cheap Trick, and were going to stay at the MBNA stage for about half an hour before moving to the National Bank stage to catch Chali 2na (formerly of Jurassic 5), the guy I most wanted to see. From there, we would take in some of Galactic and some John Butler Trio and maybe catch a bit of Satriani on the way home. At least, that was the plan. My sister took this photo of me, my wife and my dad at about 7:20.
The sky seems…threatening, no? Seconds after this picture was taken, my wife suggested we get the hell out of there, fast. I scowled and said a little rain never hurt anyone, and it’s an outdoor concert, and stop being a sissy. Even my dad and sister were not worried at all about getting wet. I’m not sure about Abdullah. But then, he doesn’t speak English much and couldn’t complain anyway.
We started to make our way over to the National Bank stage, away from the MBNA stage, to catch the beginning of Chali 2na. As we got to the corner, the wind hit. Sand was blowing in our eyes and the rain was obviously coming hard and fast. Normally you can look across the river and see trees and buildings on the other side. Now, you couldn’t even see the river.
We turned away from the stages and ran toward the bus stop. People along the route were already hiding under the trailers that lined the road. Before we could get to the street though, Bluesfest volunteers were blocking our path and directing us down into the parking garage of the War Museum which had been opened to accomodate people. As we ducked inside, we heard the last few notes of Cheap Trick, then a crazy BOOM. I thought it was some strange-sounding thunder.
We made our way through the parking garage, up to the main lobby of the museum. People were milling about, and no one seemed to know what was going on – there were occasional announcements asking people to move away from the windows and move to the parking garages, but it was almost impossible to get through the crowd.
I saw a guy moving through the crowd from a distance – he was easy to spot, as he was a good head taller than everyone else. He had an entourage around him, and people were snapping pics as he moved through. It was Chali 2na, whose show (along with everyone elses’) had just been canceled. He waved off his security detail, and shook hands and posed for pictures with everyone who crowded around. That was pretty cool.
After a while, the sun seemed to be back out, the rain had slowed to a trickle, and we were able to leave and make our way to the bus stop with everyone else who was being evacuated from the festival. Only then did we notice that the MBNA stage was – gone! It had been blown over backward onto the trucks parked behind it. Thankfully, it hit the top of those trucks and so did not trap anyone underneath.
Early reports are that three people were taken away in ambulances, and one is seriously injured. Cheap Trick are fine (they got off the stage EIGHT seconds before it collapsed), but their bus driver suffered a broken leg. Having seen the wreckage of the stage, and every paramedic and fire truck in the city flying in, it’s miraculous that injuries were not more widespread and that no one was trapped under the stage.
We made our way to the bus stop, wet but safe – now we’re checking the news all morning, hoping everyone is OK.