Radiohead performed in Toronto Thursday night, for the first time since a fatal stage collapse at Downsview Park in 2012. The incident took the life of 33-year-old drum technician Scott Johnson, and injured multiple others on the crew.
Anticipation for the band’s return to the city has been growing for the six years since the tragedy. Dozens of fans camped out overnight outside the Scotiabank Arena for a chance to get to the front of the stage for the big performance.
“It’s just super important to me,” said fan Gary Winthorpe. “They’re my favourite band so I felt like I had to be here.”
The band is still looking for answers, and accountability.
The subsequent trial was derailed when the presiding judge declared he had lost jurisdiction over the case given his appointment to a higher court. That decision led to a senior justice declaring a mistrial and a new hearing was planned.
Last September, those charges were stayed after a judge ruled the matter took too long to get to trial.
“The court case broke down on a technicality,” Radiohead’s Philip Selway told the BBC. “There were 13 charges dropped against Live Nation, Optex Staging and the engineer, Domenic Cugliar. So with that court case breaking down, there will be no real answers. And without the answers we can’t ensure that an accident like this doesn’t happen again. So yes there’s real frustration.”
Music industry analysts say the incident had lasting impacts on Canada’s music scene.
“We got a lot tougher when it came to the standards of building these temporary stages,” said Alan Cross, host of The Ongoing History of New Music.
“Not only from a regulatory level, but from an industry level, nobody wants to be caught in one of these things, because the lawsuits are terrible and the loss of life is terrible, and the potential to have your business ruined is terrible. No one wants to see this happen.”
Johnson’s father says he expects a coroner’s inquest into the incident to begin early next year.
Ken Johnson said he spoke with Ontario’s chief coroner on Wednesday and was told the tentative window for the inquest has been set for February or March. A representative for the office declined to confirm the timeline.
Starting the proceedings would be a step towards what Johnson hopes will acknowledge the series of events that led to his son’s death, and ensure safety precautions are in place to prevent a similar accident from happening again.
“They can’t bring Scott back – that’s obviously painful,” Johnson said in an interview from Birmingham on Thursday.
“But it needs to be clear. I think people need to see what’s happened.”
In the meantime, fans are looking forward to the music, and thankful that despite everything, Radiohead decided to come back to the city.
“I thought Toronto’s definitely never gonna happen and when they finally announced it I kinda went crazy,” said fan Cody Stein. “It was definitely big news, a lot of excitement and for the past five months for me it’s been every day looking forward to the show.”
The shows both Thursday and Friday are sold out. The last time the band performed in the city was in 2008, at the Molson Amphitheatre.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report