The Who Returns To Cincinnati 40 Years After Concert Tragedy

Dec 4, 2019
Originally published on December 5, 2019 9:48 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Forty years ago today, Cincinnati and much of the country was trying to figure out how a concert by The Who became a tragedy. Eleven people were killed during a crush to get into the arena where the group was performing. The band hasn't played Cincinnati since. That's about to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER TOWNSHEND: So what I want to say is that we'll be there. And having said that, now, we'll just have to come.

CORNISH: That's The Who's Peter Townshend telling WCPO-TV that his band is finally returning to the Cincinnati area. Tana Weingartner of member station WVXU reports on how the city is reacting to the news.

TANA WEINGARTNER, BYLINE: It was December 3, 1979, and thousands of fans of The Who gathered hours early on a plaza outside Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum. John Hutchins was a 17-year-old high school senior skipping school to see one of his favorite bands.

JOHN HUTCHINS: The reason we got down there so early is because of the festival seating, we know it's first come, first served.

WEINGARTNER: The crowd swelled and pushed, resulting in a crushing wave as only a few doors were opened.

HUTCHINS: We held off by, you know, just holding ourselves up against doors, against the bars. We did anything we could do just to just to go ahead and protect ourselves because, you know, our feet were off the ground at points.

WEINGARTNER: Eleven people, including three of Hutchins' classmates, died in the ensuing chaos. Within a month, the city outlawed festival seating. But that change wasn't widespread. And concert injuries continued nationwide, with promoters and bands resisting regulation. Paul Wertheimer was Cincinnati's public information officer at the time. He now runs a crowd control consulting firm. Speaking by Skype, he says there's still room for improvement.

PAUL WERTHEIMER: It's still a fight for crowd safety with - at live entertainment events. And the fight is usually against bands, promoters, venues and others related to the event itself.

WEINGARTNER: The Who band members didn't find out about the deaths until after their concert. They continued their tour, but Pete Townshend says he regrets that decision. He sees this return visit in April as a way to promote healing. John Hutchins already has his ticket.

HUTCHINS: There's just a sense of - such a sense of reconciliation with this thing. And I think when you look at the documentary and you hear Pete talk about it, you can just see that there's a sense of relief for him to actually say those words, that we're going to come back to Cincinnati.

WEINGARTNER: A portion of the proceeds will benefit a scholarship fund started by Hutchins and others in honor of the 1979 victims.

For NPR News, I'm Tana Weingartner in Cincinnati.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WHO SONG, "BABA O'RILEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.