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Ugly scene follows stopped show

Memories of a nasty wind gust that toppled a stage and killed seven people last summer at the Indiana State Fair prompted concert officials to suspend a concert at Coca-Cola Field on Friday night setting off an ugly scene inside the ballpark.

That scene developed after high winds and safety concerns prevented headliner Eric Church from performing at the WYRK Taste of Country concert.

Some fans became angry, smashing and throwing chairs, bottles and cans onto the stage after the announcement was made that Church would not be performing, observers said.

Security officers managed to get most of the fans out of the stadium fairly quickly, those observers added.

"We made every effort to continue the show in a manner that would not compromise the safety of our audience or our performers," said Jeff Silver, general manager of 106.5 WYRK-FM. "However, once it became clear to us that the weather situation had deteriorated to a dangerous point, we moved with all speed to ensure a rapid and orderly evacuation."

WYRK released a more thorough statement about the suspension of the concert at about 11 p.m. Friday.

All evening, concert officials, including the ballpark's staff and the performers' representatives, monitored wind speeds, rainfall and lightning threats. Before Church was to go on stage, officials learned from the National Weather Service about expected wind speeds of 25 mph, with gusts up to 45 to 50 mph.

"Although we were confident in our stage construction, as some of you may be aware, a gust of approximately 60 mph brought down a stage in Indiana last summer," officials stated.

"We twice manually lowered the stage in an effort to stabilize the structure so the show could go on. These actions did not, however, have the desired effect to reduce the risk to the performers or to the audience and, in fact, several key cords supporting the structure began to loosen or snap due to the high winds."

Based on this "significant safety threat," organizers said they moved as quickly as possible to make a decision. Producers, Church's representatives and the ballpark staff jointly made the decision to suspend the show shortly before 11 p.m.

"We wanted to make sure you knew that this decision, although painful, was made with public safety firmly in mind," the statement added.

The radio station also released a statement of apology from Church.

"I'm very bummed the show got canceled tonight," Church stated. "I've learned in doing this, that some things are out of your hands and this is one of those things. I owe the city of Buffalo one, and I intend to make good on that.

"To everyone out there, thanks for coming and standing in the rain and wind, and we intend to bring it when the time comes," he added.

Concertgoers also were advised to hang onto their tickets or receipts.

Several fans complained that Church was scheduled to go on stage at 9:45 p.m., but concertgoers weren't told he wasn't performing until about 11 p.m. Concert headliners, though, often don't appear until long after their performances are scheduled to start.

Many fans who posted comments on the WYRK website said they understood the safety concerns that prevented Church from performing, specifically that the winds and rain could have threatened the stage.

But there were plenty of complaints about the security.

"What I would like to know is who is responsible for security in the 'gold circle seating.' It was out of control," wrote one fan who sat nine rows from the stage. "Everyone pushing, throwing, stacking chairs. People were falling all over the place And absolutely no one was around."

"Security was ridiculous down there!" another woman wrote. "Tons of stacked chairs, people climbing over them and falling on people. I was more disappointed in the security than the fact Eric didn't perform."

Silver, regional vice president of Townsquare Media, said he couldn't comment on the security complaints.

While most of the website comments were negative, others praised the earlier acts and added that they understood the decision not to have Church perform, especially in light of last August's Indiana tragedy.