In the Shadows of Dorothy . . .

Lisa LaRue's story of the Yes show tent-collapse - July, 2010

Growing up in Topeka, Kansas, I was very well acquainted with unusual storms and tornadoes.  I was a very young toddler living in Topeka during the F5 June 8 1966 Topeka tornado, the worst tornado in US history in it's time............

Since then, I've always been very alarmed at storms, as you can imagine.  And now living in Oklahoma, still in the midst of tornado alley, I've always got my ears and eyes open.

I had been looking forward to going to the Yes/Peter Frampton show in Concho, OK (near Oklahoma City) at Lucky Star Casino.  Not only was it going to be a great show, but I would get a chance to see some familiar faces.  I had been invited as a guest of Mike Clarke, Oliver Wakeman's keyboard tech, whom I had met through David Mark Pearce, Oliver's guitarist.  Dave appears on my album, World Class.  Funny enough, Oliver's previous tech was Will Alexander, who had produced my very first album, Beloved Tribal Women back in 1995.  I was also going to get a chance to see Oliver, and some other folks like Richard, Chris Squire's tech.  It was going to be a good time.

The day was July 6, 2010.  It had been a little stormy as I headed toward OKC in my black Mustang, feeling good about life, had my black leather boots on, new jeans .... it was gonna be a blast!  But the sky was looking weirder and weirder the closer to Concho I got.  After I parked my car and got out, stretched abit, I looked at the huge tent which was the 'venue' and saw the sides flapping about and my eyes moved up to take a closer look at the sky now that they didn't have to be focused on the road.

"Uh oh, this doesn't look good," were my first thoughts.  I've been through almost every summer of my life watching the skies and waiting to hear tornado sirens.  I could feel it in the air, I could smell it. 

I called Mike Clarke on his cell phone, and we found a place to meet up, and after the normal greetings, we immediately started talking about the weather.  Mike asked me, since I was a local, what I thought.    "Uh, well, I'm not sure about a tornado, but this doesn't look good at all!"  After walking around, we found our way into the tent.  It was sort of a 'permanent' tent in that it had huge support pole embedded into the asphalt parking lot, or should I say the tarmac of the car park.  :-)  There were boards with tremendously huge bolts holding the tent support-ties all around it.  It even had readl glass french doors as entry ways into the tent.  But it didn't quite look so permanent with the sides flapping out like they were, and the sandbags that the local crew was starting to pile around the sides of the tent to keep rain water from rolling inside.

As we went inside and headed for the backstage area, we kept looking up at the scaffolding and light structures, and above it the holes in the tent where you could see the the grey sky.  Mike gave me a qick tour to see how things had changed since the last Yes show I had been at about 4 or 5 months earlier.  He took me up to Oliver's keyboard riser to show me one of the keyboards he had just worked so hard on, getting it back in working order.  We kept looking up at the tent roof hoping that rain wouldn't find it's way into the holes and onto the keys - or Oliver, OR the 240 V of power that surrounded the place. 

The wind was picking up, and Mike needed to do some 'real' work, so I patted one of Oliver's keyboards and said, "Well, if I'm gonna go, this would be the right place.  hahahaha"  Mike chuckled, but nervously.  I retreated to the side of the stage, next to Oliver's keys and between some of Frampton's racks and the big speaker stack at the front of the stage.  I seemed to be in the way as they worked hard, so I decided to get off the stage and down by Oliver's mixing board where I wouldn't be in the way of the Frampton crew who was getting ready to move Peter's equipment forward in preparation of the show.

As I stood down there, I noticed a barage of water was rolling in through the sides of the tent.  I headed for a trunk that was being used as a temporary step so I'd be out of the water.  I yelled, "Mike!" and pointed down.  Quickly, he and some other crew members bravely started picking up massive snakes and other cables loaded with killer power.  I then retreated to Oliver's keyboard riser, where I figured I'd be out of everyone's way.  But one of Frampton's techs asked me to get off for a few minutes while they moved it back, and moved the Frampton drum riser and other things forward.  So I retreated to my trusty spot between the large speaker stacks and the Frampton racks.

I could feel the air changing.  Even through my thick denim jeans, I could feel a rush of cool air on the lower parts of my legs, and I heard a slight tinkling noise........ my mind went immediately to the movie "Twister" where the wind chimes in the lady's yard starting slowly chiming as the tornado got closer.........  Just then I heard one of the crew members yell very loudly, "Go, Go, GO, GOOOOOO!!!!!"  Recalling my early school training in tornado alley, I immediately hit the floor with my eyes squeezed shut, and crossed my arms over my head."  It suddenly seemed silly, like what good are your arms over your head going to do when there is a mega-huge speaker stack right next to you?  Without even thinking the words themselves, I just KNEW I was about to die in seconds as that stack fell on top of me.  The only thing that went through my head was "I hope this doesn't hurt............"

In a flash, I felt wind, but nothing else.  Not even any noise, as the wind was drowning everything else out.  I opened my eyes and looked up ....... and I saw SKY.

I thought surely, I MUST have blacked out, because nothing like that could have happened quite THAT fast.  I heard incredibly loud buzzing, and a loud siren like noise which I immediately thought to be a tornado siren.  I started running......... my iPhone, as always, still in my hand.  I got about halfway between  where the tent had been and the casino, and I though OMG, where's Mike?  Is he OK?  I actually ran BACK screaming, "Mike! Mike!"  I saw him towards the back of the stage and he was waving his arms to me, either letting me know that he was ok, or to run like hell.  Knowing he was ok, I opted for running like hell.  The sidewalk and entry to the casino was full of people who had left their slot machines still full of credits to come running outside to see what had happened.  About 20 people, whom I don't to this day know who they were or what they looked like, asked "Are you OK???"  I kept running until I got inside, where a female security guard grabbed me and took me to a safe room and helped me get into some dry clothes, courtesy Lucky Star Casino.  I've still got that t-shirt in my closet.  The best concert shirt I own :-)

Later I saw surveilance video of it actually happening, and it DID happen that fast.  It was incredible.  And the buzzing?  It was electrical through the PA, and somebody shouted "LIVE WIRES!!!!"

Uh oh.  I realized I didn't have my purse, my car keys, nothing.  How would I get home?  How would I get in my house?  All these crazy things were going through my head, so like a dummy, I ran BACK out to the stage area and looked all over.  I found my purse about 15 feet from where it had been, on one of Oliver's trunks.  All of the contents wee scattered.  Uh oh again.  NO KEYS.  Of all things, I had for some reason taken my office key home, which I NEVER do, and it had a lime green key fob which I had attached to my regular key ring.  About an hour later, one of the crew members pointed it out and asked if that was what i was looking for........... the green fob was to be seen sticking out from under a trunk BEHIND the stage  Still not sure how that happened.

We couldn't get into the bus immediately, as the entire tent had been moved from it's previous location to cover all of the buses, vehicles and everything to the north of the stage.  The tent had to be cut so we could get to the bus, which was a relief to everyone.  I then sat in the bus where we all told stories over and over of where each one of us respectively had been when it happened, and told our personal interpretations.  We used every towel we could find and were ALL soaked to the bone and freezing.  Mike was on the phone with Oliver trying to explain to him what had happened.  I was using my iPhone to email the photos to Oliver while Mike was talking to him.  Somebody realized that one of the big poles that had been embedded into the asphalt had catapulted through the air and come through the bus roof, and if a particular crew member had been in his bunk, he would have been impaled.

My Mustang, oddly enough, had been unscated - or so I thought - even though it was very close.  it kind of reminded me of the famous Topeka tornado photo (above) with the Mustang.  Later, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of continuing rain, I had a blowout and spent 2 hours waiting for a tow truck, and ended up driving another two hours at 45 mph on a donut spare tire.  I just wanted to get HOME and in my BED.  When I took it to a tire shop, the guy said he had never seen a blowout like that.  He figured some debris had flown and hit the side of my tire, weakening it.

After we all went out an inspected the site, it was apparent that the very spot I was at when it happened had MIRACULOUSLY not collapsed, and what was holding everything that was left UP!  If it had collapsed, it not only would have probably killed me, but probably several other people on the stage.  It's hard for me to look today at that photo and even fathom why the heck it was ME that was spared, why it was ME that was in the very spot.  But I thank my ancestors, my angels, my saints, the Creator, and everyone who held that stack up and kept the impact from crushing the Frampton rack but instead, holding the rigging up enough to save some of us.  Later, after the sun came out that day and Peter Frampton and Alan White showed up, they were both in awe over that one particular corner.  You and me both, brothers!!!!

Later, they had to bring in a crane and a large forklift to safely remove that corner so it wouldn't go ahead and collapse when trying to move it.

Those of us there that day are bonded in a weird way.  Fortunately, the audience was not yet in the house.  It was just approximately 15 crew members and me.  There were several injuries, one pretty serious.  A special shout out to Tiffany Cameron, although hit by a pole, shunned the pain and helped another injured crew member.  She's special.  Not thinking of herself.

Mike told me later, remembering how I had patted that keyboard and said that flippant comment, "Lisa, don't EVER say anything like that AGAIN!!!!!"

They announced later, it wasn't a tornado, it was a downdraft.  And why it chose that particular spot, beats me.  I'll NEVER forget that day........ and the drive home........and falling into my bed, quickly drifting to sleep thinking, 'did that REALLY HAPPEN??"  Thanks to two people who helped me over the phone through it all and through the drive home ......... David Mark Pearce and Amy Simmons.

The very first album I bought in my life, which influenced my music tremendously and forever was, believe it or not, YES - CLOSE TO THE EDGE.