Symphony canceled show before severe weather hit

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INDIANAPOLIS - Saturday's deadly accident at the Sugarland concert has prompted Eyewitness News to look at how other music venues decide when the weather becomes potentially too dangerous, and when and how they make a decision to cancel a show.

It can be a tough call, and like the weather, it's not an exact science.

But on the same night of the state fair concert disaster, The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra had been monitoring the incoming weather during a show at Conner Prairie that is part of its Symphony on the Prairie series.

"Obviously, there were people that lost their lives at the State Fair, so I'm glad they took the precautions they did and got everybody out safely and no one was hurt," said Andy Helmer, who was at the symphony concert Saturday night.

In addition to using information from the National Weather Service, the ISO also uses a private weather service. The policy is that there must be a ten-mile lightning-free radius. The approaching weather looked severe enough that the decision was made to cancel the show at 8:19 pm, 30 minutes before the stage collapsed at the State Fair.

"We were not expecting the storm to get there until perhaps 9:00 pm, so we were allowing a good 40 minutes or more because it takes that long," said Tom Ramsey, ISO general manager.

Beyond the State Fair tragedy, there are plenty of examples of when severe weather has endangered audiences at outdoor concert venues. A Phish Show at Verizon Wireless Music Center was postponed when lightning threatened thousands of people.

"Right now, there's a lot of lightning and it's not safe out there. So if you're on the lawn, you guys have to leave and we'll start back up at 11 p.m.," a band member told the crowd at that show.

Crowds also had to run for cover after a concert downtown during Final Four weekend in 2006 after a tornado warning was issued. The storm brought lightning and damaging winds.

Deciding when to cancel a show is a lot like the weather - it's not an exact science.

"At some point you have to make a decision and you don't want that decision point to be too late," Ramsey said.

LiveNation, which operates Verizon Wireless Music Center and the Lawn at White River State Park, wouldn't comment on this story, but told Meteorologist Chris Wright last year that it can take an hour to evacuate the Noblesville amphitheater.

"No matter what kind of weather, we're keeping an eye on it hours and days in advance," said Andrew Newport with LiveNation.

While the investigation into the tragedy at the state fair continues, it shows how vital monitoring the weather can be during outdoor concerts.

See the state's Severe Weather Policy here and here. It says nothing about evacuating large crowds from the grandstand area.