Survivors and those still traumatized by the deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair hoped for some musical healing Friday as country band Sugarland returned to the state for a benefit concert more than 10 weeks after a tragic night that continues to conjure up painful memories.
The Grammy-winning duo was giving the free concert at Conseco Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis, justa few miles from the fairground venue where high winds ahead of an approaching storm toppled scaffolding and stage rigging onto the crowd. Seven people were killed and dozens more were injured in the Aug. 13 collapse, just minutes before Sugarland was to perform.
Indianapolis resident Sue Humphrey, whose 17-year-old son Brad was partially paralyzed when rigging crushed his spine and legs, planned to attend Friday night’s concert with relatives despite mixed feelings.
But she said her son, who is now in a wheelchair, wasn’t sure if he’d attend, even though he had eagerly awaited the August show and stood in line for six hours that day to get a stage-side ticket.
Humphrey said her son is apprehensive about the memories the show might bring up. And she’s worried it could lead to a repeat of the “meltdowns” she and her only child have experienced since he was injured. If he attends, she said Brad also will be seated in the fieldhouse’s handicapped section — not the coveted “Sugarpit” area feet from the stage where he and other fans were standing at the time of the collapse.
“I can’t tell him this is going to heal him, because it won’t, and I can’t tell him it won’t hurt, because it might,” Humphrey said. “It’s not going to be like the big concert he was looking forward to in August.”
Attendees at the Friday night concert were being asked to donate to a victim relief fund that already has raised nearly $1 million.
Sugarland declined comment through their representatives about Friday’s show, which marks the band’s first return to Indiana since the collapse.
But Indiana-based musician Corey Cox, who along with actress Rita Wilson will perform before Sugarland takes the stage, said the show would be a tribute to the lives of the seven victims and the survivors. He’s expecting an emotional night.
“It’s going to be a celebration but also a night tohold the ones who lost their lives close to our hearts,” he said. “Everyone’s going to experience the healing power of music because it’s one of the best medicines there is.”
Cox performed a few weeks ago at a benefit concert for a woman from his hometown of Pendleton, Ind. — 30-year-old Andrea Vellinga — who suffered severe head injuries in the stage collapse and still is struggling to recover. Vellinga’s family and friends were expected to be seated in the front row for Friday’s concert.
A psychiatrist who specializes in treating survivors of disasters said attending the concert could help some of the roughly 40 people injured in the stage collapse and relatives of those killed come to terms with the tragedy. But he said there’s a chance it could deal others a setback, dredging up intense and painful memories.
“It’s good that this benefit concert should happen, but it may be too hard for some people to go through it,” said Anthony Ng, interim chief medical officer at The Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Maine. “Obviously everybody’s different and there’s no right way or wrong way to do this.”
Rick Stevens, who served as an Army medic in Vietnam, said he still doesn’t like to discuss what he saw that night as he and other fans rushed into the tangled metal rigging to help people crushed in the collapse.
“It’s going to take some people forever, if ever they get over this,” said Stevens, 57, of Terre Haute. “I don’t know many people, unless you’re in a war, who experience mass death, and the injuries of that caliber and the screaming that was going on.”
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