The Who concert disaster
The incident that killed 11 concertgoers in Cincinnati took place at the Riverfront Coliseum, which is today known as U.S. Bank Arena.
|Date||3 December 1979|
|Location||Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.|
On 3 December 1979, British rock band The Who performed a concert that was marred by a disastrous turn of events that resulted in the deaths of eleven people. This particular concert was held at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the United States. The Who was in the midst of the United States portion of its first world tour since Keith Moon died and the band had already played Passaic, New York City, Detroit, and Pittsburgh before arriving in Cincinnati for their first show there since December 8, 1975.
The concert was a sellout, with 18,348 tickets sold. The majority of these, 14,770, were for unassigned general admission tickets that included an arrangement for festival seating (first-come, first-served). Under this type of arrangement, concertgoers who want to be as close to the stage as possible have two options. One is to arrive at the venue early and stand in line outside the doors for an extended period, in spite of weather conditions that might not be optimal (in this case, the Cincinnati night was bitterly cold). The other is to forcibly push one's way to the front of the line, which could potentially result in a dangerous situation.
The arena management limited the access to the venue from the outside as well, with some entries remaining locked to prevent fans from sneaking in (although union restrictions were also said to have played a part).
Before the show, as a sizeable crowd began to gather at one of the entryways, The Who decided to perform a late sound check. Some members of the crowd heard this and mistakenly believed that the concert was starting. In the confusion some people in the back of the crowd began pushing toward the front, resulting in a mass rush toward the entrance. This caused many people to get trampled while some suffered more serious injuries. Eleven concertgoers were unable to escape the throng of people pushing toward them and were killed by asphyxiation. There were a total of twenty-six other injuries.
Those killed were Teva Ladd, age 27; Walter Adams, Jr., 22; James Warmoth, 21; Phillip Snyder, 20; David Heck, 19; Stephen Preston, 19; Peter Bowes, 18; Connie Burns, 18; Bryan Wagner, 17; Karen Morrison, 15; and Jacqueline Eckerle, 15. Twenty-three other fans were injured in the rush for seating at the opening of the sold-out concert. The concert went on as planned, with the bandmembers not told of the tragedy until after their performance.
The families of the victims sued the band, concert promoter Electric Factory Concerts, and the city of Cincinnati. The suits were settled in 1983, awarding each of the families of the deceased approximately $150,000, and approximately $750,000 to be divided among the 23 injured. The city of Cincinnati also imposed a ban on festival seating, with minor exceptions, for the next 25 years.
The incident was the subject of a book, Are The Kids All Right? The Rock Generation And Its Hidden Death Wish, as well as a second-season episode of WKRP in Cincinnati called "In Concert". It also inspired scenes in the film Pink Floyd—The Wall, whose 1982 premiere was attended by The Who's Pete Townshend.
In 2004, the city of Cincinnati permanently repealed its long-standing ban on festival seating, a move which has been criticized by some. The goal of lifting the ban was to attract more big-name acts. However, the city now mandates there must be nine square feet per person at a venue, and the number of tickets sold for each event is adjusted accordingly.
No memorial was ever erected at the stadium for the victims of one of the then-deadliest concert disasters in American history.
Paul Wertheimer, the city's first Public Information Officer at the time of the tragedy, went on to serve on a task force on crowd control, and later founded Crowd Management Strategies in 1992, a consulting firm based in Los Angeles.
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