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Five Years Later: Looking Back on Sugarland’s Tragic Stage Collapse

On Aug. 13, 2011, the stage collapsed just minutes before Sugarland were set to take the stage at the Indiana State Fair, setting off a chain of events that would change the duo forever.

Seven fans were killed, and nearly 100 more were injured when winds in excess of 60 MPH caused the rigging above the stage to fail, sending lighting, sound equipment and parts of the stage roof into the audience.

Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush were devastated by the tragedy, but they soldiered on with their Incredible Machine Tour, resuming their schedule a week later and honoring the victims with a moment of silence, as the Boot reported. They even wrapped the tour in Indiana that October.

“This Incredible Machine is more than a tour and more than a set,” the duo said at the time. “We have always celebrated music as a Healer. While music cannot change the events and losses at the Indiana State Fair, it can hopefully serve as a ritual and a balm to provide comfort and facilitate healing in this time of great sorrow.”

They toured once more together, in 2012, marking the last activity they have undertaken as a duo. The years since have been fraught with the fallout from the tragedy, as multiple parties filed lawsuits against Sugarland and various others who had a hand in staging the doomed concert.

Investigations concluded that the rigging that failed didn’t meet industry safety standards, and also found that fair officials did not have a fully developed emergency plan. In December of 2014, concert promoter Live Nation and 16 additional defendants agreed to pay out $39 million to settle claims from the tragedy.

Bush finally broke his silence about the disaster in April of 2015, when he was promoting his solo album, Southern Gravity. He revealed that he and Nettles were told not to address the issue while litigation was pending.

“I wasn’t able to contact anyone who got hurt,” he told Rolling Stone Country. “There was nobody to call, nobody to talk to. Legally, no one knew what to do. They said, ‘Look, you’ve got to be quiet.’ So that’s what I did. This literally might be the first time I’ve talked to a person I’m not related to about it.”

He admitted the imposed silence was very difficult.

“Those are fans,” he said. “Not only fans, they were out in front! We had gone to great lengths to create [a space for] fans who are the best fans to be in the front. It was supposed to be everything you want from your favorite band, and it was. And you can’t call those people? That was weird.”

Nettles also released a solo album, That Girl, in 2014, and though it didn’t match the numbers of a Sugarland project, she followed up with another solo effort, Playing With Fire, in May of 2016. Bush signed with BBR Music Group in February of 2016 for his own sophomore effort, which is currently in the works, and though both members of Sugarland have denied repeatedly that the band has broken up, there has been no indication that any Sugarland activity might be on the immediate horizon.

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