Lightning strike at Brandon Town Hall interrupts concert

BRANDON — The Phil Henry Trio was halfway through a concert at the Brandon Town Hall Saturday night when the building was struck by lightning during a severe thunderstorm.
To say it was electrifying would be an understatement.
It was over in a few seconds, but the bolt caused thousands of dollars in damage to the town hall’s stage lighting system.
It was about 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 13. The concert had begun at 7:30 p.m. and town hall volunteers Mei Mei Brown and her husband, Bruce, were in the hall foyer about to step outside the covered front doors for some fresh air. There were 44 people in the audience, and the hall was rather warm that night, with humidity around 75 percent.
“There had been some thunder, and torrential rain,” Mei Mei Brown said. “And then it was just the brightest flash of light I had ever seen. It was flash-BANG.”
The lights went out, the hall’s emergency lights over the exits came on, and power returned after only 10-15 seconds. But the damage was done. The hall’s light mixing board, operated by Will Mathis, was fried, rendering the stage lights inoperable.
And the moment was captured on video. The show was being filmed and audio recorded for the Phil Henry Acoustic Trio’s live album. It is a brief but powerful clip. The camera shooting from behind the band into the audience captures a loud crash. A light high above the balcony lights up, and then pops.
A scream is heard at the same time. It was a startled Mei Mei Brown.
The lights go out, the emergency lights immediately come on. The band stops playing, and Phil Henry just starts laughing.
“When it happened, it was definitely startling,” Henry said via email on Monday. “The sudden crack, flash of white and then a quick blackout of the lights.”
But when the power came back on a few seconds later, some of the stage lights returned and Friends of the Town Hall President Dennis Marden checked to make sure everyone was OK.
Henry said one of his speakers also stopped working, but that wasn’t enough to keep him from playing. After a few minutes, Henry and his band finished the show under the house lights.
“Since it was still storming outside, and pouring, nobody was going anywhere, so what else was there to do but to continue the show?” he said.
The next day, a more thorough assessment revealed that all six of the hall’s dimmer packs for the stage lighting were destroyed. Also, a number of bulbs blew in the stage lights, and at least two outlets along the south side of the building were not working.
And that light over the balcony that lit up and then popped? Brown said no one had ever been able to figure out which fuse it was on.
“That light hasn’t been on in over 20 years, maybe longer,” she said. “And when the lightning struck, the light lit up, the bulb popped out and fell 10-15 feet and didn’t break.”
Marden estimated the damage at about $8,000, not including labor. An inspection of the town hall roof did not reveal any point of impact or damage to the exterior of the building.
The town of Brandon owns the town hall. Brandon Public Works Supervisor Daryl Burlett was in charge this week as Town Manager Dave Atherton is on vacation. Burlett called in electrician Jeff Patch to do an official estimate on the damage and said he would submit an insurance claim as quickly as possible.
“It shouldn’t be bad of a wait,” Burlett said. “As soon as we get a quote, we’ll turn it into the insurance and hopefully we can get them back up and running by the end of the week.”
With nine shows left in the town hall’s season, plus tryouts and rehearsals for the annual Brandon’s Got Talent Show, there is still plenty of activity to illuminate in the coming weeks. But Marden said if they have to, the shows will go on with basic lighting. In the end the shows will go on, just like the Phil Henry Trio concert.
“Nobody got hurt, which is more important than anything,” he said. “Everyone remained calm and stayed until the end. The good news is, we now know our emergency lights work.”
Henry said the band will use as much of the recording as they can.
“Except for a song being interrupted, and much simpler stage lighting setup, we had a great night,” he said. “And what a story to be included in the liner notes!”
As for Mei Mei Brown, she said she has never been a fan of thunderstorms, and this experience did not help.
“It was quite an experience, and I never want to repeat it again,” she said. “A lightning rod might not be a bad idea.”

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