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Founder's Note: R.I. Tragedy-As the Smoke Begins To Clear

By Rob Jones, Founder
Sunday, February 23, 2003 @ 3:20 PM


Why things shouldn't be "Taken

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With a heavy heart is this written. With clarity this is written. I have seen the court of public opinion, in their emotional state, look for answers as to WHY? How did this happen? Who did it? Who’s at fault?

Let me qualify this editorial as best I can. I spent 4 years tour managing, primarily on the club circuit. I have been to almost every rock club in the country, I have seen how it works, I have seen how the club owners/promoters conduct themselves and it’s there where I will start.

In the club business, it’s two tier, ticket sales, and bar business. It is, without question, the bars objective to put as many people in their facility as humanly possible. Most every time, without regard for the safety of the patron. We ALL have been to a club that is SO packed, you cannot move. Now that we remember, imagine if a fire started akin to the Rhode Island fire. You know the rest, we saw it unfold on television.

Who's responsible? In a “taken for granted situation”, there are a few parties. The club owner for his negligence in compromising the safety of his patrons in his quest to turn big bar business and a profit on a show, and also, it’s us. We make a choice. We can leave, or we can stay. I personally have left shows because it’s just too packed. Then again, I’m not big on crowds and the inability to have my comfort zone. Most die hard fans, will weather that storm to see their favorite band, or just in the name of a “great night out” without even an afterthought of “What if?”.

Having seen the “state” of many of these venues I can tell you, many of them are “accidents waiting to happen”. Bad/Exposed electrical wiring, improper care and disregard for equipment, old outdated equipment, wall covering and soundproofing adhered to walls (right next to hot lights and live wires of course) that is so old and dried out, it’s nothing more than a matchstick waiting to be ignited and lots more. Why? Club owners simply don’t want to spend the money. Especially if no one forces them to. Fire Marshal enforcement can only do so much and often times, advance inspection notice is given, and things are “changed” to accommodate a ‘passing grade’, and changed back after inspection. Budget cuts in Government, lack of manpower and shifty club owners = disaster, plain and simple. It’s just a matter of time, and unfortunately, time has caught up.

Looking at this situation in particular, and seeing all the blame being cast on the band members, there is a lot of “ready, fire, aim” going on in where the finger is pointed. In doing some diligence here on this situation, it is now becoming very clear if the representations of other bands and employees of the club are proven true, pyro in this club has occurred in the past, with merely club owner permission. While this certainly does NOT excuse a particular band or management from learning the “rules and laws” governing the use of such devices, it does lend itself to a significant amount of hypocrisy here. Video is now emerging of pyrotechnic use at this club, Kiss Tribute bands concert reviews cite the use of them, and I’m sure, more will come forward in the coming days.

Having been out there, I can tell you first hand, the club owners constantly push the boundaries, exceeding capacities, allowing the use of pyro, failing to maintain a safe environment ALL the time. Essentially, “taken for granted” is a commonplace in this world. It won’t happen to me. Right. Excusing the language, Domenic Santana, owner of The Stone Pony, is an asshole. Plain and simple. This human scum grandstanding in front of the media in some twisted allegiance to club owners in what is essentially tantamount to an attempt to avoid an increase in operating costs (insurance goes up, new building codes are introduced, policing of clubs become a much more attentive matter resulting in adherance to fire and capacity codes, all mean “cost me more money, but make less”). We can bet big money flat out, had this tragedy NOT occurred, Domenic Santana never would have said a WORD about the use of pyro in his club. If so, why didn't he say something the following morning? Why didn't he call the next clubs on the route? What did HE do to PREVENT this tragedy? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL. Now, he dons a Superman cape as a world savior and is filing a lawsuit against Great White for "jeopardizing his patrons". Again, excuse the language, but go fuck yourself Mr. Santana. I wonder if he can look me in the eye and tell me he's never exceeded capacity in that club, breaking the law and putting patrons in jeopardy.

Matter of fact, any club owner that steps up backing Domenic Santana, or citing they were equally infringed, fits squarely in this category. Not ONE of them did ANYTHING. Proof? If they had, Domenic Santana would have no claim (however ludicrous) against Great White as he would have been forewarned and would have taken the necessary steps to INSURE THE SAFETY OF HIS PATRONS, as he claims is SO valuable and a priority to him. Why isn't he suing the clubs before him, who claim to have pyro used by the band without permission, for not warning him in advance thus making them being responsible for "jeopardizing his patrons". Because lawsuits mean insurance hikes. He'd be in essence suing himself and raising his own costs. Instead, he chooses to pass the buck to the band after a tragedy occurs, capitalizing on the media coverage. Not rocket science people. I’m sorry, but Domenic Santana and the others stepping up are the epitome and a prime example of the club owner world. Take that for what it’s worth, and I truly hope this cess pool of a man get his just deserve for using this tragedy for his own personal gain. It’s times like these where one hopes Karma truly exists. Yes there are some good ones out there, but generally, you’ll find it’s the Domenic’s of the world that rule the roost.

While the The Station co-owner Jeff Derderian displays the pain I’m sure they truly feel, my sympathy for them is truly limited. As the days unfold and we learn more, we will be able to ascertain through fact exactly how much merit these folks deserve. One is a local public figure and trust me when I tell you, spin doctoring is in full swing here folks. It is my belief that pyro was discussed, and pyro was allowed, as it had been in the past. The evidence is JUST too compelling. Matter of fact, if you watch NBC news, you will see videos of a Kiss Tribute band and another band, Lovin Kry, using Pyro in the club. The Kiss tribute pyro as recent as August 2002, placing that under the Derderian's watch, with a member stating the band received "an invitation back to play", no comments from anyone on the pyro, and no permit issued prior. Cry me a river Mr. Derderian, but hypocrisy abound.

Now to the band’s responsibility. Normally, in my experience, the use of pyro is disclosed in the contract issued for the show. The buyer has the option to strike that from the contract, and if accepted, the contract will often state that the costs of the Fire Marshal and associated costs are that of the promoter as part of the show costs, just like loaders, catering and other items. This situation can vary depending, it is also sometimes absorbed by the band as a touring cost. While none of this appears to have been the case here, regardless, Rhode Island is a NO FIREWORK state. It is illegal to possess, use, or even transport fireworks within the state lines. In larger tours, a pyrotechical company is normally hired and secures the necessary permits. In smaller tours, or one off club dates, it is often disregarded. It’s just impractical. What is normally required is the submission of many of the specifications weeks in advance, in every city and state you go. Any qualified tour manager would KNOW this. Most often, the fire marshal will come out, you must demonstrate for him what you are going to do, and based on his assessment, the permit will be issued or denied. In some state, the person actually pushing the button, (the tour manager in this case), is ALSO required to meet a certification level and have a permit to even push the button to the pyro he is asking for a permit to use. Hence, most club tours just don’t use it. It’s costly for insurance, it’s costly from city to city, and it’s more of a pain in the ass then it is worth.

What Great White was using were called Gerbs. A very common “Class C” or now referred to as a “1.4G” consumer firework that, as most have seen in the video, emits a shower of sparks. We see them at almost every major rock show, we don’t see them at too many small ones. In watching the video, and looking at the low ceiling, it’s time for the “taken for granted”, “won’t happen to me” scenario to kick in here. Regardless of club permission, one has to question a Tour Manager’s judgement in using them at all. Just because someone says you can, does NOT always mean you should. While the videos of other bands using pyro in this club emerge, making for a stronger "permission" argument in this instance, unless they had the proper permits and precautions they too are equally as guilty of the "taken for granted" "it wont happen to me" mentality. The lack of judgement here could have just as easily created the same result at their show, they should just consider themselves lucky.

A series of bad judgement calls, “taken for granted”, and inattention caught up to everyone here. From the club owners to the Tour manager, this truly could have, and should have been avoided. The loss of life is tragic, it was without fail, an accident, but an accident that with a little care and precaution, could have turned out much differently. Unfortunately, it’s an accident waiting to happen again at clubs all over the country. I hope this is a wake up call to all, pay attention god dammit, it CAN happen to you.

My sincere condolences to the victims and loss their family suffers, the loss the rock and roll community suffers and the the loss we all feel. We are all touched by this in our own way, and I truly pray that something, ANYTHING good comes from this. If just one more life is saved, then at least we can all know this was not for nothing.

UPDATE 2/24/03:

CNN has just reported on their broadcast that the Derderian's are NOT cooperating in this investigation. This behavior is just flat out offensive. It is their TOTAL responsibility to provide uninhibited, unincumbered, and complete and total cooperation without delay. Truly disgusting and a slap in the face to those who suffer from this loss.

From CNN:

"Band members have been cooperative and responsive to questions posed of them," Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch said Monday. "And I anticipate them being just that way as we proceed in that investigation and again ultimately in a court if necessary.

"The club owners -- that's Mr. Michael Derderian and Mr. Jeffrey Derderian -- however, have not as of yet been as responsive," Lynch said.

Lynch said Jeffrey Derderian answered law enforcement questions at the scene as the building was burning. His brother, Michael Derderian, was out of town.

When he returned, neither brother would respond to questions, although they have talked to the media, represented by Jeffrey, Lynch said. Jeffrey Derderian is a local television reporter.

"I am hopeful that the Derderians are as cooperative with law enforcement officials as they have been with the press," Lynch added.

STORY LINKS:

Example of Gerbs

Rhode Island Fireworks Laws

National Fire Protection Association Standards on Firework Use Before a proximate Audience (Taken in as law in some states)

Articles on other Pyro Use at “The Station”:

Lovin’ Kry

Hotter Than Hell – Kiss Tribute


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