Nettle’s testimony released during ongoing Indiana State Fair claims

May 2012

Live events industry

Jennifer Nettles, one half of the country music duo Sugarland, has said she was never asked to delay the band’s show at the Indiana State Fair because of an approaching storm. She would have complied if asked, Nettles said, according to testimony given during a taped deposition.

Seven people died and more than 40 were injured last year when a storm caused a stage at the state fair to collapse, shortly before Sugarland was to perform. Metal scaffolding supporting the stage lights fell onto a crowd of fans and workers as a storm swept through the fairgrounds on August 13th, 2011 one of three serous incidents involving inclement weather at outdoor events in North America that year, mirrored by the Pukklepop tragedy in Belgium.

“We’re invited to come into a place and play. It’s not our place,” Nettles said. “I don’t feel it’s my responsibility, or my management’s responsibility, to evacuate the fans in the case of danger. Do I care about their safety? Absolutely”. Nettles also said she did not know whether Sugarland tour manager Helen Rollins prevented a delay or not, and was unaware of conversations that allegedly occurred about a possible postponement.

In the on-going civil litigation brought by the families of those who died and those who  were injured, a separate affidavit from a  the fair’s executive director Cynthia Hoye says she twice sent the show’s promoter to talk to Sugarland in an effort to delay the show but the band said they wanted to go onstage. In another separate document contained in a State report on the incident, Sugarland’s Rollins said no one asked the band to delay its set.

Don Asher from the law firm acting for some of the victims and their families released the clips of Nettles saying “In our opinion the deposition tells a different story than the one being portrayed by Nettles’ attorneys. They (Sugarland) could have delayed the start of the concert or sought to cancel it. They had access to Doppler radar and were aware of the storm approaching. In our opinion they (Sugarland) bear ultimate responsibility.” The firm is also considering releasing video of the deposition of Kristian Bush, the other half of the country music duo.

Sugarland spokesman Allan Mayer responded in a statement saying: “We’re not sure what these lawyers think they’re accomplishing by leaking selectively edited portions of the transcripts, but we don’t think it’s fooling anyone – and it sure isn’t bringing any truth or clarity to last summer’s tragedy; “Their self-serving assertions about what Sugarland knew or could have done are contradicted not only by Kristian and Jennifer’s complete testimony but also by the independent reports of the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the investigators hired by the state,” he said in a statement.

In February, the Indiana Department of Labor announced penalties totalling $80,800 following a worker safety investigation into the collapse. The largest fines — totalling $63,000 were levied on Mid-America Sound Corp., which built the stage structure and leased it to the fair for three safety violations

What may be critical will be the provisions in any contract between the event organisers and the artiste, in either a booking agreement or contained in the artiste’s contract rider which govern health, safety, security, force majeure  and cancellation – previous reports had said that Sugarland retained a right of control and could have cancelled their performance. and previously on Music Law Updates here

The Indiana State fair Commission has published two reports into the incident – one by Thornton Tomasetti Inc. looking at the design, erection and use of the stage structure, and a second report by Witt Associates looking at the emergency management procedures at the event. Both can be downloaded at

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