Concerns about weather, costs and new regulations on temporary stages sparked by last year’s deadly stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair have prompted organizers to cancel an annual Fourth of July picnic and concert in Bloomington.
The Bloomington Pops Orchestra’s Picnic with the Pops event has run for 14 years and typically draws a few thousand people for music and fireworks. But board members say extreme heat the last two years cut attendance, and rising costs had reduced profits and raised questions about the picnic’s viability even before the state passed new stage regulations this month.
The new rules were adopted after seven people died and 58 were injured when high winds sent stage rigging plunging into a crowd of fans awaiting a concert by country duo Sugarland on Aug. 13. They apply to outdoor stage rigging structures that hold overhead lighting, sound and other equipment.
The rules require larger events with outdoor stages that feature freestanding overhead rigging to have a site plan prepared by an engineer that details the dimensions of those elements, and where audience members will be located.
Smaller fairs and festivals would be exempt from most of the regulations, with the exception of preparing an evacuation plan, if they create a buffer zone keeping people out of an area around their stages that extends 8 feet beyond the height of the rigging to protect fans in case of a collapse.
Pops Vice President Barrie Zimmerman told The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/LX7PhR ) that “we had a safe setup” but said organizers were still concerned that the new stage rules would lead to extra costs for the outdoor event, which already costs about $95,000 to $100,000 to put on each year.
“It was a hard decision, because you look at every possible alternative: how could we scale back, what if we had a smaller orchestra or didn’t get a tent?” Bloomington Pops President Keith Klein said of the decision to cancel the event. He added, however, that such options would have “cut to the heart of what makes the picnic what it is.”
In most years, the concert has drawn close to 3,000 people. Attendance the last two years wilted in oppressive heat, falling to less than 2,000.
Organizers say they still hope to have at least four concerts each year in the future and are considering a series of concerts that could be held in Bloomington and nearby communities.
“We’re trying to tie in with other arts events, and then take the show on the road,” Klein said.
The annual Christmas with The Pops event will be held in downtown Bloomington on Nov. 23 in association with the Canopy of Lights Celebration.