Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Who, Riverfront Coliseum 1979

This is hard to write because thinking about it always makes me mad.
Quadrophenia had hit the theaters. the Who had managed to maintain the loyalty of the old rockers and credibility with the new wave punk crowd. This was a really rally good concert.
Festival seating basically meant no seating. It cut costs & let the promoter make a little extra cash. It was ok. People would go to the concert venue early to get through the doors as soon as they opened & get the bestest seat in the house. Of course the bestest seats were already taken by friends of the management, promoters & radio station folks. Invariably, however there was always a crush just before the doors opened. I heard stories of people gliding through doors as they were swept off their feet and carried in by the force of people in front & behind them. This never happened to me because I was too tall at 6'2" but it happened to people as short as 6'.
Anyway, my friends & I went in several cars. Some folks had no tickets. I went with Al in his van with no heat. On the way down we listened to a tape of Who songs. When we parked we did a few shots & listened to The Who's cover of the Rolling Stones, "The Last Time". ooooohh, dramatic foreshadowing...
Police were stationed at the entries to the plaza & checked folks for their tickets. It was cold & windy up on the plaza. Folks were sitting around shivering & doing shots & getting high. We walked around & finally took our place in the line/cluster.
As the sun set, more and more people showed up. People started getting excited & the crowd started to compact near the doors. This is where it got weird. After awhile a real crush was going on. A crush like what one would normally get right before the doors opened - only we were still pretty far off from when the doors were supposed to open. As we looked at the time and thought about the crush getting worse, Al & I bailed. It wasn't easy going the opposite direction of everybody else but we eventually got out of the crush. We walked round a bit and marveled at all the doors available & how only a few were actually used. It was like the architect got it but the people in charge were operating as cheap as possible. Kinda kept with the strategy of not offering chairs.....
The doors opened, we got up towards the back of the cluster of people going in & were immediately met with a ton more people behind us and we found ourselves in another mad crush. People call it a stampede but we were shuffling in little baby steps going very slowly.
Once in the lobby we had to get thru a few turnstile that further bottlenecked the whole operation. Again, I marveled at all the turnstiles & how only a few were open. At one point a cop on the other side of the turnstiles volunteered to open another turnstile & take tickets. The manager type usher dude told him everything was fine and his help was not needed. I saw a kid lying on a table.
There was this short very pregnant girl in front of us. She had made a fake ticket with colored pencils. She asked us if we would hand the ticket taker her ticket with ours so he might not notice her lame-ass forgery. We declined. She handed the guy her ticket at the turnstile. A huge solid block of humanity was bearing down behind us. The usher examined her ticket for a minute and informed her it was not real. He told her to turn around and leave. Al shoved her through the turnstile and told her to run. He tore his ticket in half & shoved a half into the guy's chest. I followed in suit.
We entered the arena & as we headed down to the floor I heard someone say, "Man, there's, like, people dying to get in here, man"
Entering the floor, we encountered a couple guys talking to an usher. One of the guys was blue. They were asking the usher for help. No help was afforded. Al told the guy to take his friend to the bathroom and induce vomiting. Seemed reasonable to me.
The show was great. Apparently the band wasn't notified that 11 people had died trying to get in. I don't recall seeing anything out of the ordinary outside. Al & I got in the van & since our ears were shot we played no music nor listened to the radio. When I got home, there was a LARGE message by the phone saying to call SistahT IMMEDIATELY. The phone rang & scared the shit out of me. SistahT told me what had happened. I remembered the guy lying on the table. I told her the crush getting in had been worse than normal. My parents and sisters told me they were not worried about me. They assumed I had the common sense to recognize and get out of a bad scene. If I had been with someone besides Al, I dunno.
The next day I started hearing the news. On TV they played clips of the concert. Figures people have to die to get some concert footage on the tube.
CityKin has scans of the Fishwrap's coverage, here and here.
I used to feel sorry for the parents of the kids who died that night. I knew they missed their kids. When I got older I realised they were missing much more - the families & grandchildren they might have had.
Why did this happen? The building was designed right. Some motherfucker just wanted to save a little money. I don't know who was responsible, the building manager was busted for stealing water a few years later. typical, cheap, bullshit
People blamed drugs, booze, youth & RocknRoll but the next summer 7 people died trying to see the pope in Brazil.
There's a double disk bootleg of the concert called "Stampede". It is very poor quality. The kids recording it were oblivious to what had happened in the entryway. They talk a lot & get high (that part is kind of funny). They are excited and jiggle the hell out of the tape recorder, though.
The Fishwrap has a bunch of posts here from people remembering the show.


Ronny Salerno said...

Quim, great post. Really enjoyed reading that as well as the other ones posted on the Enquirer website. There's a candlelight vigil at the Bank Arena tonight at 6:30 on the concourse. I may go down to photograph and do a write up about it on QC/D. Mind if I include the image of your ticket? I'll link to your post of course.

Quimbob said...

Go for it. The story of the guy putting on he vigil is really sad.

Ronny Salerno said...

Yeah, it really is. I always knew about this event, but never had any idea it was this tragic until I read the first hand accounts of those who were there, like yours.

I don't know if you'll be down at the vigil, but if you are, introduce yourself.

rhythmrodeo said...

Your memory of the event was dead on. We got there early that day, 3pm...and it was cold. There were even people making fires in oil cans to keep warm. I was right in the middle of it and thought for sure that that was it for me. I remember the heat that that crowd generated...trying to get air since it was so tight. I remember at one point a girl getting on a guy's shoulders. I asked her how I could get out of there and she was crying, "there's no where out." Then there were the swells when you had to pick up your feet or else you'd fall down. People were screaming to get people up when they fell.When I got to the door I was yelling at the guards to open more doors. They immediately started pushing me down and trying to throw me out....but there was a wall of people that they were trying to push me into. I remember getting inside, reconnecting with my friends, exhausted, scared, and angry. I left the concert taking in the air and space of the night, trying quickly to get out of that scene. We drove back to Dayton, and all my college friends were on the porch waiting for us, telling us our families had been calling to see if we were ok. It was then I found out that 11 people had died. It was also then that my faith in large scale, corporate rock and roll began to crumble. After all these years, for some reason, I've been thinking about it more. Wrote a song about it "Cincinnati '79." that is coming out on my next CD. Thanks for the post. I think it is important to keep people informed of the greed of some people, and the extent they may go to make a buck....I know it happens all over the world to much more extremes, but still, we can do better.