When The Who geared up to play a show in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Dec. 3, 1979, they never could have predicted the tragedy that would strike before they took the stage.
Eleven people — ranging in age from 15 to 27 — were trampled to death as Who fans stormed Riverfront Coliseum hoping to get close to the stage.
Most of the 18,348 tickets sold to the highly anticipated event were general admission, meaning seats were first-come, first-serve.
For the band, the deaths were devastating.
“This is something I will surely remember on my death bed,” guitarist Pete Townshend told Cincinnati ABC affiliate station WCPO. “At 74, people are starting to die faster in my life now … I’ve only maybe got 20, 30, 40 people that I remember who’ve passed in my life I really care about, but you know, the 11 of Cincinnati are part of that number.”
To commemorate the anniversary, WCPO sat down with Townshend, lead singer Roger Daltrey, and survivors from the concert, among others, for a documentary entitled, “The Who: The Night That Changed Rock,” which premieres on Tuesday. This marks the first time the band has had an on-camera discussion about what “the Cincinnati tragedy.” According to Daltrey, they didn’t realize what had happened until after they’d performed.
“It was like being just hit with a bat. We come off stage and we had done a wonderful show. It was a great show. One of the best we played on the tour. The crowd were incredible and then we were told what had happened before the show started. And that was like being whacked with a baseball bat around the head,” Daltrey told WCPO. “And I think we did the rest of the tour without talking to hardly anybody, in total silence. Hell, we hardly talked to each other. We didn’t talk on stage. We just played our music.”
Family members of victims were in shock, too. A sister of Jackie Eckerle, the youngest to die in the stampede, called the event a “freak accident,” and admitted that she’s had a tough time wrapping her mind around what happened. Townshend reiterated the sentiment and added that he regrets that the band packed up and left Cincinnati immediately after the show.
“We ran away is what we did. I’m sorry, but that’s what happened. We ran away. You know, we had an excuse, because we had another gig. But I remember when Roger said, ‘This is for the kids of Cincinnati’ and I just think, ‘We’re in the wrong city. We’re in Buffalo,'” he recalled. “I know what he meant, but I just thought it was dumb, you know. We shouldn’t have been performing at all. Not his fault, you know what I mean. I love Roger. That was his response. Mine was probably just to drink another bottle of brandy, so I’m not much better. We should have stayed. We should have stayed.”
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