An entire generation of concert-goers probably have never heard of this event. Forty-one years ago, I was jut 15 years old and starting to go to concerts with my friends when the unthinkable happened. At a show in Cincinnati, on December 3, 1979, eleven people died as they, and thousands of others, pushed to enter Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. News reports spread quickly and protective parents everywhere added ammunition to their argument about silly kids and their rock concerts.
Every concertgoer for decades after that incident knew of that tragic event. But like everything else, memories fade and life continues. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the families of the seven guys and four girls that died that evening.
Like any tragedy, there were a series of events that lead to the disaster:
- The concert was largely a “General Admission” event – as were most other concerts that I recall from those years. This meant, first-come-first-served.
- There was a miscommunication about what time doors would open – a radio report said 3pm, but it was actually scheduled for 7pm.
- By 5pm, there was a huge crowd already waiting to get in and away from the frigid winter weather.
- Music could be heard outside – with fans thinking the concert had started without them.
- Finally, at 7:15pm, on one side of the arena, only one set of doors was opened.
As people pushed to get through, fans were crushed and trampled.
The sea of humanity sent twenty-six people to the hospital in which eleven had died due to asphyxiation.
The concert went on as planned as the band had only heard about it during their break between the normal set and their encore.
Sadly, I can still recall the T-shirts proclaiming, “I Survived The Who Concert”.
I had previously written about how I grew up as a fan of Southern Rock. Sure, I liked pure “rock and roll” – it wasn’t called Classic Rock back then. There were a ton of huge bands like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and others, but I can’t recall ever going to one of their concerts while I was growing up – the one exception being Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985. For me, it was always Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker, The Outlaws and others like Molly Hatchet.
As I got a little older, Eddie Money, Bob Seger and John Mellencamp were my favorites – with classic rock still behind.
I did happen to catch The Who’s Rock Opera Tommy on Broadway in 1993 and I will say, it was one of the best Broadway shows I had ever seen – and remains so to this day. It was nominated for 21 Awards and took home 11, including a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. Rumor has it, this is scheduled to return to Broadway next year.
It wasn’t until a business trip to Chicago in March of 2007 that I finally got talked into going to see The Who on what I thought at the time, might have been one of their last tours (boy, was I wrong). This was their first tour in almost a decade of being away from the grind. My colleague was a big fan of classic rock and convinced me to take the night off and head to Hoffman Estates, on the outskirts of Chicago, for the show.
The set list was somewhat of a “greatest hits” that included “I Can’t Explain”, “Who Are You”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Pinball Wizard”, “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” among others.
We couldn’t believe the energy of front-man Roger Daltrey, who at 63 years old at the time, was all over the stage, his trademarked raspy voice showing its age a bit – while Pete Townshend was complimented on guitar by his younger brother Simon. The show was amazing considering the actual age of Roger and Pete – but when you consider the added years life on the road as a rock and roll star adds, it was incredible. Thanks again to Al for making that memory happen!
I guess we were fortunate as I found out later that the very next week, they had to postpone their show in Tampa when, during their first song, Daltrey walked off the stage claiming he couldn’t go on due to bronchitis. Luckily for the fans, they rescheduled for later that month.
Here’s a link to a show from May 2007.
The Who had never returned to play in Cincinnati after that tragic day. Finally, in December 2019, the band announced a return to the city in a tour ironically called “The Who Movin’ On” with the date set for April 23, 2020. Unfortunately, due to COVID, that date too had to be postponed.
Here’s to ending COVID so Cincinnati can finally get together with The Who to mourn the loss of those who perished 41 years ago. With Daltrey and Townshend both in their mid-70s, time is ticking.
For a more detailed look into what happened that evening, check out the link below.