A packed house watched country duo Sugarland deliver an emotionally charged free concert meant to "celebrate" healing, life and music while serving as a tribute to the victims of a deadly stage collapse last August at the Indiana State Fair.
Singer Jennifer Nettles told Friday night's crowd — including some of those injured during the collapse — that the tragedy had changed them all.
Nettles opened 2½-hour show at a packed Conesco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis by telling audience members they were in store for an emotional night that would also be part celebration. She also told fans that Sugarland had visited the fairgrounds, where high winds toppled scaffolding and stage rigging on Aug. 13 into a crowd awaiting a performance by the country duo. Seven people were killed.
"Obviously we are here in October — we were supposed to do this show in August. Obviously, the stage is different, you are different and we are different. We are all changed by what happened then," she said. "But we are going to try to give you the best show that we can and to celebrate healing with you and to celebrate life and music with you here tonight."
Sugarland's free concert came 10 weeks after the stage collapsed as a storm neared the fairgrounds' Grandstand a few miles north of Friday night's venue. Attendees were asked to donate to a victim relief fund that already has raised nearly $1 million.
Indianapolis resident Sue Humphrey, whos5e 17-year-old son, Brad, was left partially paralyzed when he was struck by falling stage rigging that night, attended Friday's concert with her son, who only decided Friday afternoon that he wanted to go.
Humphrey said Brad was unsure if the concert would be too emotional for him, but she said it was herself, and not her son, who got choked up at one point during the show as her mind cast back to August's tragedy.
She said Brad, a high school senior who attended the concert after finishing his first week back at school since he was injured, held up fine. Humphrey and her son, who is now in a wheelchair, sat in the venue's handicapped section.
Humphrey said she was touched when Nettles held up a flag near the end of the concert with the word "Heal" painted on it and then walked through the audience holding it aloft.
"She usually has 'Love' on that flag, but this time she spray-painted 'Heal' on it and I thought that was a very, very good touch to the show," she said.
Rick Stevens, who served as an Army medic in Vietnam, said Sugarland "hit a home run" with Friday's concert by balancing a remembrance of August's stage collapse with several vibrant and powerful renditions of their songs, including "The Incredible Machine," the name of their current album.
"I've seen them play five times and this is their most emotional, most heartfelt concerts I've seen. They just played their hearts out," he said. "It was a slam dunk."
The 57-year-old Terre Haute, Ind., resident was among those who rushed into the tangled metal rigging to help people crushed in August's collapse. He said he saw people at Friday's concert whom he had rescued.
Indiana-based musician Corey Cox and actress Rita Wilson performed before Sugarland took the stage.
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 attended the show.
He dedicated one of his songs, "That'll Take You Back" to his hometown "and every other small town across this country who came together the week after Aug. 13 and prayed and supported" the victims of the collapse.
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."