Infamous The Who 1979 Rock Concert Remembers Tragedy

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This day in 1979: At The Who’s now infamous Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati concert, 11 people were killed as Who fans rushed the stage.

The Who concert disaster took place at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio on 3 December 1979, as part of the band’s U.S. tour, the first in three years and their first performance in Cincinnati since 1975. That performance was marred by tragedy when 11 fans (Peter Bowes, 18; Teva Ladd, 27; David Heck, 19; Connie Burns, 18; James Warmoth, 21; Bryan Wagner, 17; Karen Morrison, 15; Jacqueline Eckerle, 15; Walter Adams, Jr., 22; Stephan Preston, 19; Phillip Snyder, 20) were killed by compressive asphyxia and several dozen others injured in the rush for seating at the opening of a sold-out concert.

Attending the performance were a total of 18,348 ticketed fans (3,578 reserved seats, 14,770 general admission seats). The concert was using “festival seating” (also known as “general admission seating”), where the best seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Due to the festival seating, many fans arrived early.

As they waited outside in bitter cold conditions, the crowd heard the band performing a late sound check and thought that the concert was beginning, and a rush into the still-closed doors began. Some at the front of the crowd were trampled as those pushing from behind were unaware that the doors were still closed. Only a few doors were in operation that night, and there are reports that management did not open more doors due to union restrictions and the concern of people sneaking past the ticket turnstiles.

The band members would later find out about the incident after their performance ended. Soon after the tragedy, the victims’ families sued the band, promoter, and the city until the lawsuit was settled. As a result, that festival seating was banned in Cincinnati for 25 years, with minor exceptions.

This incident was the subject of a book and of a second season episode of WKRP in Cincinnati called “In Concert.”

Hear some of WEBN’s comprehensive coverage of the event in 1979

The Who are an English rock band formed in 1964 by Roger Daltrey (lead vocals, guitarharmonica), Pete Townshend (vocals, guitar, keyboards), John Entwistle (vocals, bass) and Keith Moon (drums, vocals). They became known for energetic live performances which often included instrument destruction. The Who have sold about 100 million records, and have charted 27 top forty singles in the United Kingdom and United States, as well as 17 top ten albums, with 18 Gold, 12 Platinum and 5 Multi-Platinum album awards in the United States alone.

The Who rose to fame in the UK with a series of top ten hit singles, boosted in part by pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline, beginning in January 1965 with “I Can’t Explain“. The albums My Generation (1965), A Quick One (1966) and The Who Sell Out (1967) followed, with the first two reaching the UK top five. They first hit the US Top 40 in 1967 with “Happy Jack” and hit the top ten later that year with “I Can See for Miles“. Their fame grew with memorable performances at the Monterey PopWoodstock and Isle of Wight music festivals. The 1969 release of Tommy was the first in a series of top ten albums in the US, followed by Live at Leeds (1970), Who’s Next (1971), Quadrophenia (1973), The Who by Numbers (1975), Who Are You (1978) and The Kids Are Alright (1979).

Moon died at the age of 32 in 1978, after which the band released two studio albums, the UK and US top five Face Dances (1981) and the US top ten It’s Hard (1982), with drummer Kenney Jones, before disbanding in 1983. They re-formed at events such as Live Aid and for reunion tours such as their 25th anniversary tour (1989) and the Quadrophenia tours of 1996 and 1997. In 2000, the three surviving original members discussed recording an album of new material, but their plans were temporarily stalled by Entwistle’s death at the age of 57 in 2002. Townshend and Daltrey continue to perform as The Who and in 2006 they released the studio album Endless Wire, which reached the top ten in the UK and US.

The Who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, their first year of eligibility; the display describes them as “Prime contenders, in the minds of many, for the title of World’s Greatest Rock Band.” TIME magazine wrote in 1979 that “No other group has ever pushed rock so far, or asked so much from it.” Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “Along with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, The Who complete the holy trinity of British rock.” In 2008 surviving members Townshend and Daltrey were honoured at the 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors.