Inside the Great Big Sea tour bus crash

Posted in Music

From the Great Big Sea website a look into the crash that almost cancelled the Vancouver concert (at the every least) by Alan:

"Had a wee incident with the bus." Too understated…

I woke in the bunk about 9 AM and spent my usual 10 minutes trying to convince myself that I could go back to sleep till the moving bus came to it’s final stop of the day, at the gig. By 9:15 I was up and wandered to the front lounge and saw that the entire traveling party except light guy Shawn, was sitting in the front lounge chatting and comparing notes on last evenings show, the hockey scores, the girl with the green top, the odd dude waiting by the bus all day; the usual morning chat on the bus. All hands could lie down no longer and were impatiently watching the kilometers drop on the Vancouver road signs.

I learned that we were only thirty something kilometers from Vancouver and should be able to make the scheduled load in time. All systems go.

I sat on the drivers side couch between Murray and Danny, across from Kris and Steve the audio guy, while Bob went into the washroom and Andy stood at the counter prepping his tea. Robert and Glenn were up front driving and photographing, respectively.

One second all things seemed normal and I was defending team Canada’s goaltending choices, or something, when the whole day took a dark turn.

Robert slammed on the breaks as hard as I’ve ever felt on a tour bus, and immediately swerved to the left. This caused everything that was not nailed down, including the recently boiled kettle to fly forward. The kettle hit Danny in the side of the head, spilling the hot water right next to him. I don’t know how he was not burned. The lurch to the left sent all of us flying to the right, where I almost kneed Kris in the forehead and did spill my coffee on his lap. I heard Bob smash against the walls of the washroom and watched Andy slide across the floor.

Then we started tipping.

It was slow at first, but when she went, she went hard. We were just about stopped and resting safely on the curb when the bus gently leaned to the left. Then a little more. Then the roof lurched down hard and all hands who had just been across from me were now above me and falling fast. Kris sped past my face and landed on me and Murray and braced himself on the glass. Andy crashed into Murray’s legs and held on. Bob went hard against the door of the washroom which was now like an upside-down coffin with the door doing double duty as the floor and the only way out. Steve and Glenn went flying the hardest. The brakes sent Glenn flying to the windshield and the tip sent him and Steve crashing to the drivers side and right on top of Robert who was knocked out, most likely from the impact with the lads.

Shawn the light guy was the only one in the bunks and he was on the driver’s side so he did not get tossed very far. His fright was from all the opposite bunks falling on top of him and potentially trapping him with no visible escape. He, unlike the rest of us, had no clue where we were, what was happening, or how much danger we were or were not in.

We scraped along the ground for a few seconds till the bus finally halted.


The first sound were not screams of ‘get me out of here’ or ‘what the f&*% is happening’ rather they were simultaneous questions of "is everyone OK" and answers of "I’m alright"

We did a general roll call and everyone spoke up and seemed unharmed. Except Robert, who had passed out but quickly came around after a few nudges and a few shouts of his name.

I could not get up. I kept putting my feet on the floor and trying to stand, but could not bring myself perpendicular to the floor. It took a few seconds of disorientation before I realized that the floor was no longer the bottom and was now really a wall. The glass window behind my head which had always been a wall was now the floor. Danny pointed this out to me and I stood up fairly quickly. Weird.

Moments later, a couple of guys who saw the whole thing climbed up to the door, which was now on the ceiling, and asked if everyone was OK. Another moment later, a fireman replaced that guy and came with a ladder to get all hands out.

It was not till we were all gathered on the grassy hill dividing the four lanes that I found out what had just happened. We were traveling up a hill and when the bus came to the crest, there were several lanes of stopped traffic only a few hundred feet ahead. That might have been barely enough space to stop a regular vehicle, but a forty-five foot bus and a sixteen foot trailer loaded with gear had no chance. Robert hit the brakes once and realized he had no chance of stopping before he ran over one or two of the cars in front, killing everyone inside instantly. So, he swerved to the left and hoped to stop the bus on the shoulder to keep everyone safe. He almost did it. Just before we could completely stop, the narrow shoulder gave way and the bus tipped. He was beside himself despite our insistence that he had most likely just saved a bunch of lives; ours included.

Robert went to the hospital for a check up. Glenn had a serious knock on the forehead, but swore he was all right. Steve hurt his thumb in the fall. Bob, Andy, Kris, Danny, Murray and I were all shaky and stiff but otherwise fine. Shawn, the light guy, had come out of the overturned bunk area, which must have been a claustrophobic’s nightmare, like a guy coming from a day at the spa. He looked like perfectly calm and relaxed, as if a song bird had gently stirred him from his rest. "That was quite a ride" he casually mentioned as the ambulance guy checked us out. "Trailer should be OK, let’s hitch it up and get to the gig."

And that was the focus from there on. We all wanted to do the gig. We probably would have gotten away with phoning in sick for the Vancouver show, but all hands insisted the show must go on.

I guess it was partly macho bravado that drove us to tow the trailer to the back of the theatre, set up the gear in record time, and play as hard as we could for three hours. As well, it was probably a grand way to blow of steam and to concentrate on anything other than the fact that we had almost died in a fiery crash, miles away from home. But mostly we did it because it made the horrible events of the morning seem worth the effort. Getting to play concerts, after all, is why we do what we do.

It’s a bit too recent an event to draw any major conclusions from it, but I will say this. The lads on that bus did everything right. I am proud of them and pleased to be one of them. We all showed genuine concern for each-other’s welfare, acted completely responsibly given the circumstances and got the show up and running for all the paying public. The curtain rose at exactly 7:30.

It was quite an impressive feat that they made it to the concert, and performed well and with humour. They had some help from the local Spirit of the West, which was great.

We had a great time at the concert. We laughed and sang and it was all over too quickly. Their newest CD has truly captured me and as they sang Old Brown’s Daughter without mics, a cappella, in a silent concert all… ah, you cannot compare. Nobody else can do that.

Their latest CD: The Hard & The Easy


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