Five Years After The Great White Fire: Settlements And Benefit Shows

noah | February 18, 2008 4:45 am

Saturday’s New York Times piece on the survivors of the fire during a Great White show at the Warwick, R.I., club The Station is a worthy–if depressing–read, if only for the way it looks at what happens to victims of a tragedy after the initial burst of charitable donations stops. (Survivors and victims’ families are waiting on a lawsuit against multiple parties–the largest tort in Rhode Island history–to be decided in federal court; Clear Channel, which owned a radio station that promoted the show, settled for $22 million last week, but there are many other defendants, including band members and Anheuser-Busch, who are still part of the case.) Dee Snider has organized a show for survivors featuring country, hard rock, and Christian acts for next Monday, but some victims still feel that they’re being slighted by the public because of the nature of the music on the Station’s bill back in 2003.

Many remain furious that one of the club’s owners was sentenced to community service and the other is expected to leave prison next year.

They also feel forgotten. At first, all kinds of help poured in for the roughly 200 injured survivors and families of 100 others who died in the disaster, one of the worst nightclub fires in the nation’s history. But that help has all but disappeared, even though many of the injured face more surgeries, cannot resume full-time work, and struggle to afford heating oil and other basics.

“People that were making $30,000, $40,000 a year had to take jobs making eight bucks an hour because they are so physically challenged,” said Todd King, a survivor who lives and works in North Carolina now and runs the Station Family Fund, a grass-roots nonprofit group that still raises money for the worst-off victims. “They can barely use their hands, and they’re exhausted all the time because their bodies have been put through war.”…

Many believe the circumstances of their misfortune — that they were blue-collar folks gathered in a scruffy club to hear Great White, a has-been “hair metal” band from the ’80s — also help explain the lack of interest. The fire ignited when the band’s tour manager lit pyrotechnics on a small stage surrounded by highly flammable foam used as soundproofing.

“We were waitresses, house painters, contractors, strippers,” said Victoria Eagan, who escaped the fire with minor injuries but whose two best friends were badly burned. “If it had been people at the opera that night, there would have been a big difference.”

So far, tickets are selling poorly for a concert to benefit the Station Family Fund, planned for Feb. 25 in Providence. Dee Snider, the lead singer for the band Twisted Sister and the concert’s host, said country and Christian rock performers would join metal bands onstage to broaden the cause’s appeal.

Surely I’m not alone in thinking that the Times‘ willingness to put the term “has-been” outside of quotes is further indicative of that prejudice? Maybe it’s just me.

5 Years After a Nightclub Fire, Survivors Struggle to Remake Their Lives [NYT] Rock, country stars join benefit lineup [Providence Journal via Blabbermouth]