December 3, 1979

The day that changed rock forever.

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Lukas Marlman '21

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ultimateclassicrock.com

Newspaper that was published after the December 3, 1979 tragedy in downtown Cincinnati.

This was the day that the British rock band, The Who performed at Riverfront Coliseum. The Who went on a U.S. tour due to drummer, Keith Moon dying of a drug overdose in 1978, the tour included a five-night stint at Madison Square Garden as well as shows in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Boston. But this U.S. tour is most remembered for what happened at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati Ohio on December 3, 1979.

The Who were formed in 1964 by vocalist Roger Daltrey, guitar player Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle and also drummer Keith Moon. They ended up being known for energized online efficiencies which often featured guitar devastation. According to thewholive.tv, “The Who have offered hundreds of concerts, also have charted 27 Top 40 singles in the United Kingdom as well as the United States, as well as 17 best ten CDs, with 18 Gold, 12 Platinum and 5 Multi-Platinum album awards in the United States alone.” Now lets talk about what happened 40 years ago in downtown Cincinnati.

libapps.libraries.uc.edu
This was the front of the Riverfront Coliseum where a very large crowd gathered to see The Who preform.

The crowd at the Coliseum was sprinting to get as close as possible to the stage, due to the grand tradition of “festival” or unreserved seating. Mostly general-admission tickets were sold, but a supposed 3578 reserved seats in the loges at $11 each were sold and around 14,770 general-admission tickets at $10 each, were sold. Despite the near-freezing temperatures a crowd began forming at a plaza just outside the main gates at around noon, and more than 18,000 people had tickets to the sold-out show.

According to a 1980 report in Rolling Stone, “When The Who began to perform a soundcheck, the crowd grew restless, thinking the performance had begun. But the doors to the coliseum remained closed, creating a painful crush of bodies.” Ray Schuerman, an usher at the main gate, said the trouble appeared to start when someone threw a bottle at the gate and broke the door’s glass. Schuerman also said, “The kids kept breaking the gate more and more. I just couldn’t stop them. They rushed the gate.”

liveforlivemusic.com
Image that was taken outside of the Riverfront Coliseum after the stampede killed 11 people and injured many others.

Two doors were opened to enter into the venue, but it wasn’t enough to accommodate the huge crowd that was already anxious. One survivor from that day said, “There were too many people and just two doors open” he continued, “It was an incredible bottleneck, it was a slow squeeze, not a stampede. I was stuck in it for forty-five minutes. I went down twice and wasn’t sure that I would make it.” As people pushed to get through the doors many people fell to the ground not able to get back up. Eleven people we killed while many others were injured. Victims ranged from the ages of 15 to 27. Bill Curbishley the manager of The Who, was told by fire marshals on scene to cancel the show, but Curbishley said no and explained how it could cause people to riot and lead to more deaths.

When the show ended the band was informed about what occurred outside of the coliseum. They were devastated and left the coliseum quickly, which Townshend: the co-founder and leader of the rock band The Who said he regrets that decision.

thewho.com
This bench was built in memory of the three Finneytown students that passed away at The Who concert on December 3, 1979

However, the British rock band is coming back to perform for Cincinnati on April 23, 2020. The concert will be titled, “The Who: Moving On!”, at the BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University. Some of the band members didn’t want to perform at the coliseum. According to wcpo.com, “a portion of the proceeds from the concert will be donated to The P.E.M. Memorial Scholarship Fund at Finneytown High School. That was created in honor of three Finneytown students – Stephan Preston, Jackie Eckerle and Karen Morrison – who died in the crush of fans on the Riverfront Coliseum plaza.” This is the same scholarship fund that The Who gives to three Finneytown students every year to pursue a career in the arts.

Finally, Pete Townshend said, “Now, we can have a conversation about it when we go back.” Then he said, “That conversation will pick up. We will meet people and we’ll be there. We’ll be there. That’s what’s important. I’m so glad that we’ve got this opportunity to go back.”