Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 1, 2012

High winds moved stage at Second Chance Rocks Concert Friday night

BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — At about 8:15 a.m., Saturday morning, Erik Robinson, executive director of the Second Chance Learning Center was folding chairs and placing them in stacks on the turf of the June O. Shott Field at Mitchell Stadium.

Friday had been a rough night. With record-high temperatures, and an outdoor concert that had been in the works for nearly a year, Robinson appeared to have a lot on his mind as he folded and stacked chairs before more volunteers along with city employees started showing up to help remove the chairs and return the stadium to top shape.

He smiled, laughed at jokes, fielded questions and remained on task. He and his friend, Billy Wagner, have been remaining on task for the past few years by helping high school students to stay in school, and even helping most of them take the next step toward college or job training.

“I know my name was mentioned a lot last night, and not in a good way,” Robinson said as he continued to fold and stack chairs.

“These guys — Billy Wagner and Erik Robinson — saved lives last night,” Kent Martin said at about noon on Saturday, when he and members of the Bluefield High School football team were dismantling the elaborate stage and stowing it in the trailer of a semi-truck. Martin, a 30-year veteran of producing outdoor concerts, said that the stage would have to be unpacked again in Roanoke, Va., and checked for structural integrity.

“The stage moved last night,” Martin, production manager of Roanoke-based SRO Productions said. “When that wind came through, it moved the stage. To tell you how strong the wind was, it moved a Jersey Wall that was beside the stage,” he said pointing to a section of concrete traditionally used to separate lanes on interstate highways. He said each Jersey Wall weighs more than 5,000 pounds.

“It moved that Jersey Wall 7 feet,” he said. “That was a strong wind.”

After learning about the advance of the storm with wind gusts of up to 80 miles-per-hour, the SRO crew started taking steps to secure the stage. Martin said that he cut Lee Brice’s set by 10-15 minutes, and cleared the stage at about 8:30 p.m. With the storm coming, Wagner and Robinson evacuated the stadium.

“It took a lot less time to evacuate than I thought it would,” Robinson said. The concert was canceled shortly after 10 p.m.

Martin said that he has worked all over the United States, and the actions on the part of Wagner and Robinson Friday night impressed him. “They put safety above all else,” Martin said. “All of us in the business are well aware of the tragedy in Indiana and at other concerts venues that ended in tragedy. After the storm moved away, we could have resumed, but I couldn’t guarantee that the structure of the stage had not been compromised. I’ve had long delays before, but never where the wind moved the stage.”

Martin resumed working with the volunteers to store the stage in the trailer. “When you write your article, say something good about Billy and Erik,” he said. “They’re first-class people.”