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35 Years Ago: 11 Fans Die at The Who’s Cincinnati Concert

Eleven fans died 35 years ago today during a stampede to the front of Riverfront Coliseum for a Who concert. Eight others were seriously injured in the crush, which happened as the crowd raced in before a December 3, 1979 show.

All of those who perished were between the ages of 15 and 27.

The origin of this disaster could be traced in part to the practice of general-admission seating, as some 7,000 concert-goers rushed to secure first-come, first-served spots at the edge of the stage. As many as 14,770 of these so-called festival-style tickets had been sold for the Cincinnati performance at $10 each, with just over 3,575 reserved seats. There were also too-few doors and too-few ticket takers to handle the sudden influx of fans. Others, including the local WCPO-TV station, quickly cited drug use among the waiting throng, with some overdoses reported.

The concert went on as planned at the urging of new Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell, who feared a riot. Neither Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were told of the horrific events that had unfolded just outside until after their main set was complete, according to Rolling Stone.

The Who was, by all accounts, devastated: “There’s no words to say what I feel,” Daltrey told Cincinnati rock station WEBN. “I’m a parent, as well. I’ve got a boy of 15, and two little girls. All I can say is: I’m sorry for what’s happened.” In a separate ITN news report, Townshend added: “For us, it’s deeply, deeply painful — because we live off these kids. They’re our bread and butter.”

Sadly, a similar situation had already occurred at the same arena, when some 2,000 rushed the doors at a August 3, 1976 concert featuring Elton John. There had also been crowd control-related incidents during previous dates headlined by Yes and Led Zeppelin. A 1976 item from the Cincinnati Enquirer quoted fire captain James Gamm as expressing deep concerns over the practice of festival seating — adding that he feared bodies could “pile up in a major catastrophe.”

First-come, first-served ticket sales would be banned in Cincinnati, even as 33 lawsuits followed. All of them had been settled by July 1984, according to the Enquirer. No criminal charges were ever filed.

Next: Rock's Worst Mishaps and Tragedies

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