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Storm sidelines fair concert

Western Underground moved to free stage

A windy, moisture-laden storm hit the Park County Fairgrounds Friday just as crews were finishing setting up for Charley Jenkins, the country singer slated to open the Western Underground concert at 7:30 p.m.

Workers and volunteers scrambled to protect equipment, struggling against the wind to cover speaker systems with plastic and strapping a tent awning roof over the top of the stage on the grounds in front of the Main Grandstand.

“The security crew and other folks affiliated with the fair hopped right up and did what they could,” said Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz. “Folks in three different areas (of the fairgrounds) were dealing with wind issues.”

Mother Nature showed no mercy. Wind gusts from the northwest as high as 45 mph drove dust across the grounds, followed by sheets of pouring rain.

Though the rain abated somewhat, first to steady rainfall, then gradually changing to a gentle sprinkle, the damage was done. The stage and equipment were covered with water.

Park County Fair Board members gathered at the grandstand as the seated audience waited for news about the delayed concert, Lohrenz said.

“They were assessing the situation from the time the bad weather was coming in,” she said.

Ultimately, neither band was able to perform on the soaked stage, and fair board members decided to refund concert goers’ ticket money. But they also made arrangements for Western Underground to perform on the free stage later that night.

“We wanted to do what we could to get Western Underground at least on a stage to play, and they really wanted to play,” Lohrenz said.

Fair Board President Robby Newkirk said there wasn’t any question about the right thing to do.

“I went down there, and that place was soakin’. If it had been me, there’s no way I would have wanted to plug my equipment in, either,” he said. “It was pretty cut and dried. We couldn’t have the concert, so we decided to refund the money. It wasn’t a tough decision, either. ... I felt it was the right thing to do.”

Newkirk said it wasn’t fair for people to pay for a ticket, then have Western Underground perform on the free stage for anyone to see and hear, regardless of whether they bought tickets.

The Kelly McDonald Band, hired as a free-stage performing group, helped out by providing an unscheduled performance while Western Underground, the band that formerly played for Chris LeDoux, regrouped. Western Underground took over the stage at 10:30 p.m., entertaining the audience there until midnight.

“They were very excited about it; they really wanted to play,” Lohrenz said. “There is a forfeiture clause in the contract; we would have had to pay them anyway.”

Lohrenz said the fair’s contract with Western Underground cost $9,000.

“I think everyone enjoyed the show that was put on,” she said. “People were dancing and enjoying themselves.”

Charley Jenkins got his turn on the free stage in a scheduled performance Saturday night after the demolition derby.

“Folks really enjoyed him,” Lohrenz said. “He was wonderful to work with, too.”

Free-stage performances by all three bands were greeted enthusiastically by their audiences, with several couples dancing country swing in front of the stage each time.

Lohrenz and Newkirk said both concert bands were good to work with and understanding about the circumstances.

“They were a good bunch to work with,” Newkirk said.

Lohrenz said the storm also ripped up the tent at the beer garden south of the grandstand.

“We took the pole out and took down the sides in case the tent did go,” she said.

Other areas affected were the Reptile Gardens tent and some of the tenting at the carnival, but people worked together to handle those problems, she said.

Newkirk recalled a similar storm that struck two years ago, just before the Jo Dee Messina concert. That night, Messina decided to go ahead with the concert, performing “unplugged” inside the grandstand.

Lohrenz said the Messina concert was on a Wednesday; this year, the Fair Board decided to have the concert on Friday to make it easier for people who have to go to work on weekday mornings.

Overall, the annual Park County Fair went well, she said.

“From behind the scenes, we’ve identified some places that were really quite successful, and others that we’re going to go back and try to improve. I’m really looking forward to tackling the fair again next year.”

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