This Date In Music History: Feb. 20

Great White concert tragedy and Buffy Sainte-Marie's amazing journey

Feb 20, 2012 at 10:25 am
click to enlarge (Photo: Richard Croft)
(Photo: Richard Croft)

On this day in 2003, one of the deadliest concert/nightclub accidents ever occurred in West Warwick, RI, when pyrotechnics at the start of a show by ’80s rockers Great White sparked the flammable ceiling insulation and engulfed The Station club in less than six minutes. One hundred people died that night and more than 200 more were injured. It was one of the deadliest club fires in the U.S., but it increased awareness about concert safety, not unlike the 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati where 11 fans died in the crush to get into the venue.

The Station tragedy is literally used as a worst case scenario example to train firefighters; the intense investigation also led to closer attention to safety procedures and crowd management in emergency situations. There's nothing worth the loss of those 100 Great White fans, but the lessons learned have probably saved many more.

Pyrotechnics are still an old stand-by for many major touring acts at stadiums and coliseums; between fire codes, the insurance companies' interest and now technology, the pyro designers of the big Cincinnati shows by Paul McCartney (at Great American Ballpark) and Guns N Roses (at U.S. Bank Arena) last year proved that fans still love to watch shit blowin' up, as long as no one gets hurt. And those techs know their jobs as well as Paul and Axl know how to play, say, "Live and Let Die," the song during which both artists bring out the big booms. I wonder if they both use the same pyro guy, since the pyro routines are identical?

Click the jump for "Born This Day" featuring video of a 1965 Buffy Sainte-Marie track sampled by Kanye West in 2004. —-

Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a Feb. 20 birthday include Jazz singer (not Heart guitarist) Nancy Wilson (1937); ape-y frontman for recently reactivated British Pop innovators The Stone Roses, Ian Brown (1963); late Nirvana frontman/songwriter Kurt Cobain (1967); acoustic music progressive from Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, Chris Thile (1981); Pop superstar Rihanna (1988); and singer/songwriter (and so much more) Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941).

A quick skim through just the bullet-point highlights of Sainte-Marie's career becomes an engrossing reading experience with each consecutive plot twist in her inspiring life story. Though her name sounds like one of French crooner Serge Gainsbourg's temptress duet partners, Sainte-Marie was a Cree born in Saskatchewan, Canada, whose high-profile career as a performer and songwriter gave her a platform to draw attention to social and political issues, especially ones concerning her fellow Native Americans.

Sainte-Marie managed to gracefully balance her sometimes controversial yet always unwavering political focus with her emergence as an extremely successful songwriter for others. A presence in the Greenwich Village Folk explosion in the ’60s, Sainte-Marie later dabbled in electronic sounds and was an early proponent of using PCs for music creation (she recorded on Macs before that 1984 commercial). She was also an artist, an actress, a philanthropist and a Sesame Street regular. But Sainte-Marie's biggest success was probably from her songwriting contribution to the song "Up Where We Belong," recorded by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for the An Officer and a Gentleman soundtrack. It earned her an Oscar, winning best song at the Academy Awards in 1982 and gradually becoming a karaoke disaster waiting to happen every night in bars across America.

Sainte-Marie is quite possibly the only artist to have appeared on American Bandstand, The Johnny Cash Show and Soul Train. Another milestone — not many 70-year-olds can brag of recently making their Hip Hop debut. Buffy's tune "Lazarus" was sampled on the Kanye West-produced Cam'Ron (and Jim Jones) track "Dead or Alive." Check the 2004 cut (NSFW language), followed by Sainte-Marie's original.