The Who Returns To Cincinnati For The First Time Since 1979 Concert Tragedy

The Who returned to Cincinnati for the first time since the band’s December 3rd, 1979 concert tragedy. On that day — at the city’s Riverfront Coliseum — 11 fans died and another 23 concert-goers were injured during a stampede while entering the band’s concert.

The tragedy — which all but eradicated festival concert seating for nearly two decades — happened when thousands of fans who were lined up outside the venue to make a mad dash for the stage upon the arena opening, rushing through only a few doors opened by the venue, flooding the lobby area, leaving nearly a dozen fans dead in their wake. During the concert’s penultimate number last night, a video montage featuring photos of the 11 victims played under “Love Reign O’er Me.”

The Who chose local band Safe Passage to serve as their openers last night. Both drummer Mike Smikin and frontman Walt Medlock were in the crowd during the 1979 Riverfront Coliseum melee and attended nearby Finneytown High School, where three of the 11 victims had attended.

Ahead of the concert, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey tweeted a message to fans, which read: “May we ask you to pause for a moment today and give some thought for the following young people who lost their lives in Cincinnati on December 3, 1979.”

All proceeds from last night’s Cincinnati show went to The P.E.M. Memorial Scholarship Fund For Finneytown High School Seniors. The fund is named in honor of three Finneytown students who died at the concert — Steve Preston who had graduated in June 1979 along with Jackie Eckerle and Karen Morrison — who both would’ve graduated in 1982.

Pete Townshend spoke frankly about the Cincinnati tragedy in his new two-hour Audible Original mini-biography, titled Somebody Saved Me. He felt the Who should’ve put their tour on hold and stayed in the city out of respect for the dead: “What we have to remember is that at Cincinnati, nobody died inside the venue — they died trying to get in during a soundcheck. Y’know, this was not our fault but we were made to feel like it was. And it was just devastating. The very next day, we had a gig in Buffalo and we got on the plane and we went to Buffalo. And, when we get to Buffalo, Roger runs out onto the stage and he says, ‘Let’s do a great rock n’ roll gig for the kids that died at Cincinnati!’ And I just remember thinking, ‘I know what you mean, Rog, and I know where your heart is — but this is just a crock of beep. Y’know, we should be in Cincinnati.'”

In 2015, a tribute to the victims was finally unveiled at Riverfront Coliseum — now renamed U.S. Bank Arena — and housed on the plaza level between the arena and the Great American Ball Park.

In the summer of 2018, Roger Daltrey visited Finneytown High School to pay tribute to the students of the school that were killed at Riverfront Coliseum: “I don’t know whether any of you understand, but the policemen and fire (units) wanted to get the crowd out. They wanted to us not to play. And it was our manager, who said, ‘If you do that, there will be a problem.’ He really has never been thanked for what he did that night, ’cause he had huge rounds with him, which would’ve made their rescue job so much harder.”

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