On Sunday, for the first time since 11 people died in a crowd surge outside the Riverfront Coliseum in 1979, The Who returned to Cincinnati. The legendary rockers not only paid tribute to those 11 fans who had died, but also provided front row seats to their family members.
“I’ve been trying to think of why to say, what would be cool to say, what would be uncool to say, and really there’s no words that we can say that can mean (as much as) the fact that you guys have come out tonight and supported this event,” Pete Townshend said (via the Cincinnati Enquirer). “Thank you so much.”
On December 3rd, 1979, poor communication and even poorer crowd control policies ended in tragedy. As an audience of tens of thousands gathered, venue operators opened just two side doors at the Riverfront Coliseum, even as rumors swirled that The Who would be taking the stage early. Members of the crowd rushed the only open doors, injuring dozens and leaving 11 people to asphyxiate in the crush. Tour organizers pressed for the concert to continue, and The Who were not informed of the deaths until after the show had ended.
On Sunday, Townshend addressed that fateful day with both pathos and humor. “You probably know that we are not going to be paid for this, so I’m not going to work very hard,” he told the audience. “But you paid and your money is going to great causes, many of which are related to what happened back here in Cincinnati in 1979, which is probably time for us to both remember and try to forget. Anyway, it’s so lovely to be here.”
Towards the end of the evening, in the lead-up to “Love, Reign O’er Me,” pianist Loren Gold performed as black and white images of the victims were shown on a projection screen. Then, before The Who returned to the stage, the audience was shown a video from Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
Vedder recalled how Townshend and Roger Daltrey had been there for him after nine Pearl Jam fans died at a concert in 2000. “I was hoping to be (in Cincinnati) tonight,” Vedder said in the video. “We’re all thinking about you. It’s a great thing remembering those young people, who will never be forgotten.”
Family members representing nine of the 11 victims enjoyed a dinner at the venue before taking their front row seats. One other family declined the invitation, and another was unable to attend.
Throughout, The Who were accompanied by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and for concert closer “Baba O’Reilly,” they were joined by 10 students of the local Finneytown High School. “You never get over it,” Daltrey said. “But you gotta live.”
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Ball and Chain
You Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes
The Real Me
Love, Reign O’er Me