Harrisonburg, VA (October 20, 2020)—A massive explosion rocked a shopping mall in Harrisonburg, VA at about 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 17, destroying a number of businesses in the ensuing fire, including Blue Sprocket Sound recording studio. “The initial explosion did not happen in our studio. Another part of the building blew up and the rest of the structure caught fire,” says owner and chief engineer Chris Jackson.
Local residents reported feeling the shock of the explosion from miles away. One witness told a WTVR-TV reporter, “I saw a big mushroom cloud.” Five people were reported hurt, two seriously.
Michael Parks, Harrisonburg’s communications director, said the mall, which was also home to a vape store, a halal market, a nail salon and barber shop and a musical instrument store, was “a total loss.” A number of nearby businesses, including a Wendy’s, suffered damage from the explosion’s shockwave.
On Monday, Oct.19, the Harrisonburg Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office released a determination that the explosion and fire was the result of a natural gas leak inside the building. The exact origin of the leak and ignition source are still under investigation, according to the statement.
“There’s a lot of emotion around the loss, but at the end of the day I try and remind myself that it was just a building and it was just stuff,” Jackson says. “People still make professional recording equipment and we can move on from this, though it will be a long road.”
Jackson, a Harrisonburg native, opened Blue Sprocket Sound in 2013. He had previously spent some time in Nashville, where a friendship with Dave Piechura of Vintage King Audio led to an introduction to Vance Powell, studio manager and chief engineer at Blackbird Studios, who offered Jackson an internship. Jackson started working at Blackbird shortly before the grand opening of Studios C and D and later also worked as a staff technician for Korby Audio Technologies.
In 2018, Jackson returned to his hometown and set up a basement studio with an Amek G2520 mixing console purchased in Nashville, an MCI JH-24 tape machine and Pro Tools. He eventually began to draw up plans for a larger facility, which he constructed in a 4,300-sq.-ft. building at the Park Place Plaza. The two-story building allowed for 18-foot ceilings in the live room, which could accommodate an orchestra, as well as lounge areas, a tech shop and offices.
Having initially moved his basement studio gear into the spacious control room at Blue Sprocket Sound’s new location, Jackson later upgraded to a rare Rupert Neve-designed Amek 9098 desk that was formerly in Studio B at Full Sail in Florida. A portion of the second floor, including Jackson’s mastering room, outfitted with a Mac Pro, Crookwood console and other gear, was saved by firefighters, but was declared unsafe and demolished.
Investigators have been moving debris around in search of the source of the explosion, says Jackson. “They shoved our part of the building out of the way; I’m sure there’s a molten mass in the middle that was a 9098 console.”
In 2018, Jackson opened a vinyl pressing plant, Blue Sprocket Pressing, in a separate building a few hundred yards from the studio. The pressing facility was largely unaffected by the explosion. “There’s a little extra space in the building, so we might try to prop up a little mastering suite and get back to work,” he says.
Members of two local bands have set up an online GoFundMe fundraiser for Blue Sprocket Sound and Hometown Music, the adjacent instrument store, with proceeds to be split equally between the two businesses.