Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 12:01AM
This open letter is provided by our very own Fletch. I think you will agree that this letter is thought-provoking to say the least.
An Open Letter To Jack Russell
Over the past few years, we have seen many of the greats leave us wanting more. Kevin Dubrow and Jani Lane are just two examples of enormous talents who made early curtain calls and didn't come back for their encore. I don't want this to happen to you, too. I don't know you, nor have I ever met you, but I have seen you and/or Great White in concert many times. The last time I saw a "great" performance from you was in February 2003. I wasn't at the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island, but a couple of nights prior to this tragedy, I saw you perform at The Crocodile Rock in Allentown, PA and you rocked the place! Simply though, that fire at The Station could have easily occurred at the show I attended and I most likely would have perished at that show if the pyrotechnics ignited a fire.
It is kind of ironic that I distinctly remember Great White taking the stage and launching into "Desert Moon," when a few seconds later the pyrotechnics ignited and the sparks of flame were licking the ceiling and the walls of the stage. After the parks went out, I rhetorically commented to a friend, "How safe was that?" But, no fire started and I assumed, probably like most of the other attendees, that the pyrotechnics were safe. We have all gone to fire work displays. We've shot off fireworks in our backyards. We've played with sparklers as kids. We've seen KISS shows and most of all, we've been to many club shows in the 1990's-early 2000's, where it was common for many former arena bands to use pyrotechnics in their stage show. What's the harm? Even I thought, "No harm, no foul."
Great White wasn't the first band to incorporate these props into their stage show, but as an avid concert attendee, I can testify, that I have not seen a band use these devices in a club since. And, if there is anything positive to result from the Station tragedy, it's that an almost nationwide moratorium was declared on pyrotechnic displays in concert halls and clubs.
Just a few months prior to this 2003 show, I saw W.A.S.P. perform. At the end of their set, Blackie Lawless rolls out a metal WASP logo approximately 8 ft. by 5 ft. encased in metal tubing which was filled, presumably, with propane gas. Mr. Lawless emerges to the stage carrying a flaming tiki torch and swipes it down onto the logo thereby causing the logo to erupt in a 10 ft by 7 ft rectangle flame. This prop could have easily engulfed any particular club venue he played during that and other tours. It is interesting that Blackie Lawless is notorious for canceling shows at the last minute and he often cites that the venue isn't capable of handling his stage props. Yet, this is one prop that I have not seen him use inside a club since the Station fire.
I have seen other bands pre-February 2003 shoot pyrotechnics from their overhead light fixtures, light off M80's, use the Gene Simmons fire-breathing gimmick and shoot off a wide variety of other dangerous explosives. But, post February 2003, these gimmicks, from what I've witnessed, are virtually non-existent in clubs. And, Jack, this is a good thing. It was a much needed safety measure which went virtually overlooked for a long time. The Rhode Island Station Nightclub Fire could have been prevented, but it could have easily happened to many of your band contemporaries.
On Friday February 21, 2003, I awoke to the news of this tragedy. Visions of The Station catching on fire and people trapped inside were repeatedly broadcast on most news outlets. I sat there in shock thinking, "That could've easily been me." As I said, I saw your show two nights prior and I was packed in like a sardine near the front of the stage. I know that I wouldn't have been able to make it out if a fire happened then.
What happened next is even more interesting. The local newspaper in Allentown, PA, The Morning Call, decided to run an article about club concert safety and interviewed the owner of The Crocodile Rock. He was specifically asked whether Great White used pyrotechnics when they performed a few nights earlier at his club. Not only did he deny that Great White used pyrotechnics, he flat-out lied about the discussions he had with your management team. He was quoted in the paper as saying something like this, "Great White did not use pyrotechnics in my club. They wanted to use them, but I said no. I knew they were dangerous, so I wouldn't allow Great White to use them." When I read the exact quote, I was dumbfounded. I knew this was completely false. I saw the pyrotechnics go off in the club that night. I was planning on contacting The Morning Call and/or writing a letter to the Editor, but the newspaper had already beaten me to the punch.
On the night of your show, there was a Morning Call entertainment reporter at the show who was planning on writing a concert review for the week-end edition of the newspaper. The reporter had a camera at the show and took pictures throughout your set; which included a picture of you performing with sprays of sparks on each side of the stage. The newspaper then ran the club owner's quote denying the use pyrotechnics next to the picture of you on stage using them.
This attempt at a cover up did not go over well with City Hall and the Allentown Fire Department. Immediate inspections were ordered for The Crocodile Rock club and many safety improvements were ordered and subsequently implemented. One much needed improvement was the installation of push-bar emergency exits along the wall on the south side of the stage. These exits were not there pre-February 2003. The club now has more security, more regulations, more lighting and it bans the use of pyrotechnics. Sure, we might pay a higher price in ticket sales or for drinks, but in the scheme of things, it is a very small price to pay. Moreover, many other clubs across the land took similar action and many bands decided themselves to forgo their pyrotechnic displays in small clubs.
So, Jack, if I can give you any hope, if I can provide you with any solace, if I can report to you any good that I personally noticed, which resulted from the Station Fire, it's that many people stood up and took notice at how tragic these shows could end. And therefore, quick and decisive steps were implemented to help ensure the safety of bands, employees and the fans. Nowadays, each time I enter The Crocodile Rock Cafe, I look at those emergency exit doors and I think back to the time I saw you perform there in 2003. Each time, I have to walk through the stanchions to get onto the floor in front of the stage and security stops me because I am holding a glass bottle or because the floor is too crowded, I think back to 2003. Each time that an employee announces where the exits are and other safety precautions prior to a show starting, I think back to 2003. Each time, Blackie Lawless cancels a gig and blames it on the venue not being able to accommodate his stage props, I know it doesn't include his flaming logo. But also, unfortunately, every time that I have seen you perform post 2003, I see you shouldering much grief and guilt. This is simply one outsider's perspective.
Again, I don't know you and I don't claim to know everything that is going on in your life or in your mind. But, I do know the devastation of The Station Nightclub tragedy and I was able to witness, firsthand, the safety parameters that were put in place in order to help prevent something like this from happening again.
So, If I may, I would like to offer you some advice from a simple fan to a rock icon, "Stop beating yourself up, Jack, because no one else is."