Anniversary of the Great White Club Fire Tragedy

(Gibson) On this day in 2003, 100 people died after pyrotechnics ignited a club during a gig by Great White in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Great White singer Ty Longley was also killed in the accident. Two brothers who owned the club, along with the former tour manager, were charged with involuntary manslaughter. Foam soundproofing material at the edge of the stage set alight and the blaze spread quickly in the one-story wooden building as fans all tried to escape through the same exit. Great White began a tour in July 2003 to raise money for the survivors and families of victims. Gibson looks back:

It was one of the worst nights on rock and roll history. A reunited '80s rock band, eager to make a mark, played to a room of hundreds of excited rock fans. The gig started like most rock gigs – loud, raw and powerful – but the pyrotechnics that accompanied the show would prove deadly.

Great White had started out in Los Angeles in the early '80s, achieved decent early success and plenty of MTV airplay and scored a successful album, Twice Shy, in 1989. But in the wake of grunge, the '90s were tough on Great White and by 2001, two founding members (Mark Kendall and lead singer Jack Russell) had quit. But life in the solo lane was even tougher and a reunion was set for the early part of 2003.

On February 20, Great White were booked to play The Station nightclub in Rhode Island. The small club was jam-packed when the band took the stage around 11 p.m. that night. As the band launched into their opening song "Desert Moon," the pyrotechnics behind them unexpectedly caught the soundproofing foam on fire. "Wow... that's not good," said Jack Russell. In less than a minute, the whole stage was alight.

Russell later told CNN, "All of sudden, I felt a lot of heat, and I turned around, and I see the foam is on fire… So, I started trying to douse it with a water bottle thinking I'm going to put it out. And the next thing you know, the whole place is in flames. All of the lights went out, no security lights. And I'm trying to get back in to pull people out, and people are grabbing me, and I'm yelling, 'Anybody in there, anybody in there?' And they wouldn't let me get back in. I'm hearing voices, but I couldn't [get] back in because it was so dark."

Brian Butler, TV station WPRI photographer, was there that night, ironically filming a piece on safety in music venues. "It was that fast. As soon as the pyrotechnics stopped, the flame had started on the egg crate backing behind the stage, and it just went up the ceiling," he said. "And people stood and watched it, and some people backed off." more on this story is an official news provider for the
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