Also on August 5th, Brian Heekin, coliseum operations director Richard Morgan and security director James Madgett were each charged with one count of failure to comply with ten lawful orders of the fire chief regarding building-code violations at the Elton John show. "The city is just trying to cover its tracks," Heekin told the Enquirer. "It's city property outside the doors."
According to the Cincinnati Post, Heekin pleaded no contest to the charge and was fined $100. The charges against Morgan and Madgett were dismissed.
On August 8th, 1976, an unnamed security guard at the coliseum told the Enquirer that festival-seating concerts were always oversold – he thought they were crowding 20,000 into the place.
On August 11th, 1976, an editorial in the Enquirer said, "There is no reason to justify a ticket-selling procedure that encourages early congregation on the . . . plaza. Experience has shown repeatedly that gatherings of this kind are open invitations to trouble. . . . Management would be prudent in installing staggered rails so that ticket lines could more easily be kept orderly."
That same day, city manager William Donaldson organized a task force to draw up a plan for security at rock shows at the coliseum. "We want," said Donaldson, "to make sure their operation never again is an occasion for risk to the citizens of Cincinnati."
Three of the seven members of this Public Safety Study Team were from the coliseum: Heekin, Morgan and Madgett. The other four were from city government.
Their report, issued August 24th, 1976, said in so many words that in the future, everything would be fine and dandy at the coliseum. Section Three of the report, regarding festival seating, said: "The matter of 'Festival Seating' (nonreserved seating) was briefly discussed; however, no recommendation is being made at this time. The team felt that we should first evaluate the results of improved fire safety and security methods before taking a firm position on seating arrangements. It would seem that if Fire Prevention Code requirements and security needs are fully met, that the method of searing may become a secondary concern."
A week earlier, on August 13th, 1976, Mayor Bobbie Sterne asked for a study of seat sales at rock shows and recommended that all seats be reserved.
And before that, on August 6th, 1976, fire chief Bert Lugannani sent a memo to a city council member in which he said there were numerous fire-code violations at the coliseum and that the number of guards and open exits was not sufficient. The chief also addressed himself to the matter of festival seating: "Selling a concert on a general-admission basis (festival seating) allows for sale of a ticket for each fixed seat and each specified standing area (i.e., 15,800 seats; 1800 people permitted on the arena floor). Placement of the stage prohibits viewing the concert from approximately 4000 of the seats sold. Those persons have no recourse other than to congregate in the exit way if they desire to watch the performers. It has been recommended that the concerts be sold on a reserved-seat basis. It was felt by the responsible coliseum officials that this would create an economic hardship." Nothing was done. A second city safety report produced a similar nonreacrion.
"Cincinnati as a city," said one member of the local "rock & roll establishment" who preferred not to be identified, "expects rock fans to be like Reds fans – who are actually worse. It's like you're supposed to be going to church. It was only a year ago that the Bengals allowed banners at the stadium. Maybe this happened because rock fans were regarded as lower than sports fans, who can do anything they want. Maybe this is a city that wants to be cosmopolitan without regarding rock fans as anything but a nuisance. But a nuisance that provided a lot of money. The coliseum was built as a sports arena. But rock & roll kept it afloat." The coliseum refused to comment about this.
There had been so many crisis flags sent up before that were ignored. Fleetwood Mac played the coliseum a month before the Who, and even though seating for the Mac show was completely reserved, there was a bottleneck at the entrance because, according to an eyewitness, not enough doors were open.
The night of the Who concert, business continued as usual until eleven people died. Some blamed the victims for their own deaths, even though it has been proved that some of them – like David Heck, who got out of the crush and went back in to try to help others – died while trying to stop the madness even as police ignored them.
Cincinnati moved quickly to blame "festival seating" for the tragedy, although no one explained why festival seating had been permitted for so long at the coliseum when previous concerts had proved it dangerous. No one explained why even though Ticketron claims ticket sales were limited to eight per person, scalpers were spotted leaving outlets with stacks of rickets. In the week after the concert only city councilman Jerry Springer said there should have been someone at the show with the authority to open the doors when there was obviously a disaster in the offing. No one said who could have had the authority. It had been business as usual for everyone. Dozens of concertgoers told Rolling Stone that they had been treated like so many sheep to be herded through so many doors. The Cincinnati Enquirer's banner headline of December 5th read: All Deny Blame for Tragedy. And that's probably where it will stand. After the show, Pete Townshend said he felt partly responsible because, "It's a rock & roll event that has created this, and we feel deeply a part of rock & roll." Local commentators tried to pitch drugs and alcohol as the reason for the alleged "stampede."
A team of Rolling Stone reporters visited the coliseum and got as many "no comments" as it could use for ten years.
Electric Factory's Cal Levy did agree to talk. Levy, who actually was the show's promoter – Magid had come in just to see the Who – was visibly shaken. He contended he had had no control over the opening of doors or the number of guards.
He paced his attorney's office in the twenty-sixth floor of Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati, stroked his beard, and said, "Hey, I'm no Bill Graham, okay? I just think that when all the facts are known, all the reports are completed, that it will show that there was a combination of things that brought about an uncontrollable situation on that plaza.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus