Rock & Roll Tragedy: Why 11 Died at the Who's Cincinnati Concert - Rolling Stone
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Rock & Roll Tragedy: Why 11 Died at the Who’s Cincinnati Concert

“We didn’t call it festival seating,” says a Riverfront Coliseum employee. “We called it animal seating, because when they came in, they came in like a herd of cattle”

Pete Townshend,The Who, guitarPete Townshend,The Who, guitar

Pete Townshend of The Who throws his guitar in the air on stage at Madison Sqaure Garden in New York City in September, 1979.

Michael Putland/Getty

At about 7:15 on the evening of December 3rd, 1979, Larry Magid sat down to dinner with Frank Wood in the luxurious Beehive Club, a private club in the upper reaches of Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. Wood, who is general manager of the city’s premier rock station, WEBN-FM, remarked to Magid, who is head of Electric Factory of Philadelphia (one of the country’s leading rock promoters), that the crowd streaming onto the coliseum floor far below them for that evening’s Electric Factory-promoted Who concert seemed to be quite orderly. A “happy crowd,” he said, not at all like the rabble that had disrupted previous “chain-saw concerts” there, like the Outlaws’ fighting crowd and Led Zeppelin‘s mob. The crowd below them was sprinting to get as close as possible to the stage, in the grand tradition of “festival” or unreserved seating. By agreement of the coliseum management (the coliseum is privately owned), Electric Factory and the Who, mostly general-admission tickets had been sold: supposedly 3578 reserved seats in the loges at eleven dollars each and 14,770 general-admission tickets at ten dollars each.

A few of those thousands of young people – the youngest known was four years old – had blood on their shoes as they ran happily down the concrete steps into the “pit,” the seatless area in front of the stage where the true fanatics stand throughout the show. But no one noticed. Some of the people who paused – dazed – beside the green and white pizza stand just past the nine turnstiles at the main entrance had no shoes on at all, and some had lost other bits of clothing. But other than that, inside the hall, it just seemed to be business as usual: the familiar ragtag rock & roll army staggering into the hall after five or six hours of waiting outside in the cold for the doors to open and keeping warm and happy with herbs and beer and wine and each other.

Magid and Wood continued their leisurely dinner. They still had plenty of time before the Who would come on, which would actually be about twenty minutes after the scheduled starting time of eight p.m., because the band would be preceded by clips from the film Quadrophenia. Cal Levy, who runs Electric Factory’s Cincinnati office, cruised the aisles. Things looked okay to him. He had noticed at about 1:30 that afternoon that a large crowd was congregating around the main entrance – two banks of eight glass doors each, situated in a large “V,” Levy had found coliseum operations director Richard Morgan and asked him to put into effect a special security procedure they sometimes used, which was to station guards at ramp entrances and allow only ticket holders onto the plaza at the main entrance, thus eliminating the gate-crashing element. The coliseum’s entry level – the concourse and plaza – is reachable only by a bridge from adjacent Riverfront Stadium, where most people park, and by ramps from street level. There were no police on the spacious plaza at 1:30. Levy suggested to Morgan that some should be there. Sixteen arrived at three p.m. and by four there were twenty-five. The coliseum hires off-duty police to patrol the outside, and for security within the coliseum employs guards from the Cincinnati Private Police Association.

At about 6:30, lieutenant Dale Menkhaus, who headed the twenty-five-man detail outside, decided that the 8000 or so people who were now packed around the banks of doors were beginning to present a problem. The doors weren’t scheduled to open until seven, but the crowd could hear the Who conducting its sound check and wanted in. It was thirty-six degrees and the wind coming off the Ohio River made it feel much colder. Menkhaus later said he told Levy and Morgan to open some doors; Levy told him the doors couldn’t be opened till the sound check was over. Menkhaus was also told there weren’t enough ticket takers. Morgan, as is the case with all coliseum employees, has no comment.

At seven p.m., the Who left the stage. No one inside the coliseum knew that while they ate dinner and conducted business as usual and waited until the appointed time to admit the “animals,” just outside those front doors the horror had already begun, a horror under a full moon, a horror of chilling magnitude that will probably never be fully explained.

On June 28th, 1976, a young man named Richard Klopp sat down to his typewriter in his apartment on Auburn Avenue in Cincinnati. He was slow to anger but he was angry. That morning he had gone out bright and early to buy tickets to see Neil Young and Stephen Stills at the coliseum. He got to Ticketron an hour ahead of time because he wanted good seats, only to find that tickets were sold out because they had gone on sale three days before the date advertised by Electric Factory. Klopp was already unhappy about the last two Electric Factory shows he’d been to, so he just said, “By God, I’ll send them a concerned citizen letter” – and just to be sure they didn’t just blow him off as some rock druggie, he decided to send carbon copies to the city council, WEBN, Ticketron and to the Cincinnati public-safety director.

He wrote: “The two concerts that I have attended (the Who and Paul McCartney) were both sold out on a ‘festival seating’ or general-admission basis. What this means for the promoter is more money; for the concertgoer . . . this means that he’ll probably have to sit in the aisles or on the floor . . . jeopardizing his safety and the safety of others. If a fire or general panic were to break out, many, many people would be trampled to death . . . Because civil people like to avoid these kinds of conflagrations, many concertgoers make a point of arriving at the coliseum two, three, and even four hours before the doors are ‘scheduled’ to open. At the Paul McCartney concert, for example, I arrived at 5:30, two hours before the doors were to open. After a span of two hours, several thousand people had congregated on the plaza in front of the doors. When they were finally opened (a half-hour late) the mass of people pressed forward, literally crushing those by the doors. . . . This is what happens when tickets are sold on a ‘festival seating’ basis, and it is no festival.”

On the night of December 3rd, 1979, as Richard Klopp was caught up in the horror on the plaza and saw his wife swept away from him in the crush, it didn’t immediately occur to him that what he had forecast was suddenly happening to him. He was just trying to survive. Klopp is six feet two and weighs over 200 pounds, but he went down; the pressure from those behind him toppled him. He was flat on his face on the concrete, and those marching, charging feet were all around him. It was no great comfort that city councilman Jerry Springer had actually replied sympathetically to his letter – no one else did, and Springer never actually was able to get anything done. What Klopp felt, oddly, as he wondered whether he would live or die, was anger at Cincinnati’s establishment, at the forces that made him get a general-admission ticket when he wanted a reserved seat, at whoever it was that wouldn’t open those doors to relieve the crowd pressure. He seldom went to rock concerts anymore, but he had really wanted to see the Who and had gone to Ticketron an hour early. All tickets had been sold by the time he got to the window; he saw scalpers buying a hundred tickets each. Klopp ended up paying sixty dollars for tickets for himself and his wife.

He had gotten to the plaza at 2:40 the afternoon of December 3rd because he wanted to be sure they got good seats; he had brought a book with him to read. That book, Structuralist Poetics by Jonathan Culler, was still in his right hand as he lay on the concrete. Someone, miraculously, helped him to his feet and he was back in the crush, his arms pinned to his sides. At one point he was within five feet of a closed door, but he had no control over his movement. At times his feet were off the ground. Despite the cold, he was drenched in sweat. He couldn’t breathe. He and everyone around him had their heads tilted straight back, their noses up to try to get some air. He noticed that an actual steam, a vapor, was rising off the crowd in the moonlight. He would later be angered to read that it was a “stampede,” because to him it was a concentration of too many people in too small a space with nowhere to go but forward – people in the back were yelling, “One, two, three, push!” but they didn’t know people in the front were falling. There was little noise. Some people tried to calm those who were panicking. Some shouted, “Stay up! Stay up or you’re gone!” Some chanted, “Open the fucking doors!”

The forward crush continued and pressed up against those closed doors; the crush had started around 6:15 and ground on for an hour and a half or so. Klopp noticed that there were actual human waves swaying like palm trees in a hurricane. He saved his life by seeking out the eye of the hurricane, and he was swept out of the crush.

He couldn’t find his wife. He ran to the first policeman he saw and shouted, “What are you doing? People are getting trampled up there.” The policeman looked him over and asked, “What do you do for a living?” Klopp replied, almost in shock, “Working on a Ph.D. in language.” The policeman said, “Well, you just used a dangling participle.” Klopp, caught up in the absurdity, said, “I think I know more about language than you do.” The policeman smiled: “Well, don’t tell me how to do my job, then.” Klopp lost his temper: “People are getting hurt.” The policeman said, “Well, we can’t do anything.” Klopp finally got inside and found his wife.

A few feet away, Mark Helmkamp was pleading with a policeman to do something. He said to the cop, “Here, take my ID and bust me for false information if you don’t believe me.” He said the policeman told him to move along.

A day later, Helmkamp was still furious. “I was greatly disturbed by WCPO-TV’s depiction of us as a drug-crazed mob. There were too many people and just two doors open. It was an incredible bottleneck; it was a slow squeeze, not a stampede. I was stuck in it for forty-five minutes. I went down twice and wasn’t sure that I would make it. I saw guys with blue lips – they couldn’t get oxygen. I saw, I think, four ticket takers after I walked over all the shoes to get in. I couldn’t keep my feet on the ground the whole time. I kept my arms in front of my chest to keep from getting crushed. People were climbing up on other people’s shoulders. Some people went berserk and started swinging their elbows. That was the only blood. There was no group panic. After I saw the dead people, it sunk in. Dead. Just dead. It pissed me off to see Uncle Walter Cronkite blaming us for this.”

The doors were officially opened at 7:05; according to eyewitnesses, four doors out of the sixteen were open, and two of those were closed and blocked at times by guards with billy clubs. From where he was in the crowd, Phil Sheridan saw only one door open. “It looked like they attempted to open more but the crowd was so tightly packed, it was useless. I was maybe fifteen rows of people back, staring at this door, and it hung like about six inches open and they finally sprung it open and that’s all I remember till I got inside. I could see people smashed up against the doors that weren’t open. I had ahold of my girlfriend and my buddy grabbed me by the shoulders and I took him by the hand and we started to make our way through the turnstiles. Well, in that ten or fifteen seconds it took us to get our act together, we were now inside between the doors and the turnstiles and the door was a frenzy and they’re still trying to take tickets! God, it was insane! I was three abreast in this goddamn turnstile, which was only eighteen inches wide! People were getting hurled in and shoved through the turnstiles and the ticket takers were still saying, ‘Hey, where’s your ticket?’ The initial rush came about 6:30 because that’s when people smelled blood, you know, the magic hour, they’re finally gonna open the doors for us. There was continuous pushing till seven and then the doors opened shortly after that. God, this one girl, it must have been twenty minutes before the doors opened and all of a sudden I feel a tug on my arm; it’s this girl, and her head was at my waist and she said, ‘Excuse me, my feet are back there somewhere.’ She was horizontal.

“I went back out to look for my friends; I saw – and this is after the show started, which was about 8:20 – I saw the same scene. It was still crazy. It was crazier between the outside doors and the turnstiles than it was outside, cause by then people were really going for broke. I found my friend Bill and he said he saw people going over the tops of the doors, he saw bodies piled in front of the door, and people were going over them and around them any way they could. At about nine, I saw more waves of people. I looked outside and saw what must have been thousands of dollars’ worth of personal articles strewn everywhere, these terrible piles of shoes, shoes trapped in that chain-link fencing behind the turnstiles. I wonder about the kinds of injuries that weren’t reported.”

The twenty-five-man police force outside finally found the first body at 7:54 p.m. After the ambulances and the fire department and the fire chief and the mayor and the city safety director and the Flying Squad from the Academy of Medicine and additional police and the TV crews and everybody else got there, they finally understood that this was serious. Cincinnati proper put on its serious face. TV crews were asking onlookers if drugs and alcohol hadn’t caused this “stampede.”

Mayor Ken Blackwell – this was his first day on the job – was summoned from his dinner with House Speaker Tip O’Neill and said it looked to him like this awful tragedy had been caused by “festive seating.” It was his decision to continue the concert, lest the many thousands inside riot if the show were stopped.

Promoter Larry Magid said he first learned of the trouble at 8:45 from a coliseum employee and went backstage to tell the Who’s manager, Bill Curbishly, that there were four dead, “two ODs and two crushed.” According to Curbishly, the fire marshall arrived and said he thought there was a mass over-dosage. He wanted to stop the concert; then he learned that the deaths were due to asphyxiation and that people were still being treated on the plaza level.

Curbishly told him it would be senseless to stop the concert, that there could be a riot and people might stampede back across the plaza. The fire marshall said, “I agree with you totally.”

By the time the show was over, Curbishly knew of eleven deaths. He told the Who that something serious had happened and they should hurry their encore. After the brief encore, he took them into the tuning room and told them of the deaths. They were devastated.

“Initially, we felt stunned and empty,” said Roger Daltrey three days after the concert. “We felt we couldn’t go on. But you gotta. There’s no point in stopping.”

Lieutenant Menkhaus said sixteen doors were open and Cal Levy echoed that; Electric Factory attorney Tom Gould said nine to eleven doors were open and Roger Daltrey said three were open. Dozens of eyewitnesses told Rolling Stone that never during the trouble were more than four doors open and that only two were open most of the time. The coliseum management still refuses to say how many tickets were sold, how many guards were on duty, how many ticket takers or ushers there were or anything else. Curbishly said Electric Factory paid $7800 to the coliseum for ushers, ticket takers, interior security, cleanup.

Including emergency exits, there are 106 doors at the coliseum (although John Tafaro, spokesman for the coliseum, would not confirm or deny this number); why at times only two at the main entrance were open will be a point of speculation for some time.

When Riverfront Coliseum first opened on September 9th, 1975, with a concert by the Allman Brothers, an usher on duty named Donald Fox said that the coliseum had too many outside doors and that gates rather than glass doors should be installed at the main entrance on the plaza. His was the first of many warnings that were ignored. Riverfront Coliseum was trouble waiting to happen.

Riverfront Coliseum exists because a man named Brian Heekin wanted a hockey team in Cincinnati and therefore needed an arena. Heekin and his brother, Trey, and their friend William DeWitt Jr., all great sports fans, were the guiding forces behind the coliseum. In the early Seventies, Brian – whose great-grandfather formed the Heekin Can Company, which was the family’s fortune and its entree into Cincinnati’s relatively small business and social elite – had tried to buy the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association and bring them to Cincinnati; he lost out to now-Kenrucky Governor John Y. Brown. But Heekin really wanted and sought a National Hockey Leagueteam. When Cincinnati began talking about a renewal project for the riverfront area, Heekin popped up with the idea of a big indoor sports arena there. He initially wanted the city to build it and lease it to his Cincinnati Hockey Club (later changed to Cincinnati Sports Inc). The city came close to financing and building such an arena. Heekin tried and failed to get local banks to finance an $18-million arena. Heekin was offering the city an NHL team, the ABA Colonels and a World Team Tennis franchise. After it seemed to him that the city was not going to help him, Heekin decided to build his arena in the suburbs. All of a sudden he got what he called “unbelievable” pressure from local businessmen to build at the waterfront. And all of a sudden he began getting local support. The chamber of commerce got behind the idea, the governor offered to help with state revenue bonds, and then, before anyone knew what was happening, the chamber of commerce called a press conference on August 8th, 1973, to announce that a sports arena would be built at the riverfront, that local banks and savings and loan associations would put up $19 million in state industrial revenue bonds, that $4 million would come from Heekin’s Cincinnati Sports Inc., that another $4 million was forthcoming from city, state and federal funds, and that a final $1 million would come from leasing the arena’s posh sky boxes to wealthy patrons. Heekin’s newly formed Cincinnati Coliseum Corporation bought three acres of land next to Riverfront Stadium from the city for $200,000. The McNulty Company of Minneapolis drew up the plans, and the Universal Contracting Corporation of Norwood, Ohio, was contracted to build it. The city ended up using state highway funds and federal funds to build the elaborate sky bridges that connect the coliseum concourse to street level. Thus, all the concrete right outside the coliseum doors is city property. That’s where the eleven died.

Heekin never did get the NHL franchise he said he had, nor did he get a World Team Tennis franchise. The Kentucky Colonels did play a few games there before pulling out. Gradually, as with so many such arenas around the country, rock shows supported the place. Instead of an NHL team, Heekin got the World Hockey Association Stingers, hardly a major draw. When the WHA folded and the Stingers were absorbed into the Central Hockey League, Heekin’s corporation got what was said to be a settlement close to $3-million and the Stingers continued to play in the coliseum, paying rent of $4000 a game. The Stingers played there two nights after the Who and drew 869 paying fans. The University of Cincinnati basketball team still plays games at the coliseum but has reportedly considered pulling out in the past because of heating problems, among other things. At the start of one game between two other teams, the players sat huddled in blankets because the temperature inside was in the forties. After the Who show, the NCAA decided to reject the coliseum’s bid for basketball finals there, although the NCAA claims the decision had nothing to do with the tragedy. Promoters canceled the two remaining rock shows of 1979 after the Who show. Local journalists said the coliseum’s future was not bright. Big events there the past year have been a tractor-pulling contest and a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention.

The coliseum’s first fatality came on October 4th, 1975, when seventeen-year-old Thomas Lambert, pursued by police who said he had cursed them, jumped or fell to his death from the plaza level to the street below.

Security problems have been noticeable at the coliseum. In March 1976, police officer Walter Scott told the Cincinnati Enquirer that there had been many incidents in which coliseum personnel refused to cooperate in emergency situations. He said he was worried that a life-or-death situation might arise. On August 3rd, 1976, when Elton John played the arena, there was big trouble. A crowd of about 2000 rushed the doors. No one was hurt badly, but police and fire officials found numerous fire-code violations, including locked exit doors. An editorial in the Enquirer the next day said that things weren’t right at the coliseum during rock shows, but it concluded: “We’d be surprised, though, if the Elton John fracas is repeated anytime soon.” On August 5th, 1976, fire captain Ed Schneuer told local media that problems were getting worse at the coliseum because of festival seating, and that kids were gathering there earlier and earlier because of it. Fire captain James Gamm said that festival seating was a problem because, in a case of serious trouble inside the coliseum, bodies could “pile up in a major catastrophe.”

City councilman Springer said publicly that festival seating caused a “climate of disorder.” Brian Heekin disagreed, saying that Springer was not qualified to comment on people’s behavior at concerts and that kids liked festival seating. Heekin also said he wouldn’t mind talking with city officials about the problem of people urinating outside the coliseum.

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 nonreaction.

“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.

“All the procedures used Monday night were the procedures that were implemented on all the previous shows where nothing ever went wrong.”

Could he have had the authority to order those front doors opened when it became apparent they should be opened?

“No. Our only responsibility is to get the group onstage, to pay for staffing at the coliseum” (although he said he had no responsibility for the size of the staff). He said Electric Factory had provided “peer security” (i.e., young people who are not in uniform) for the floor-level general-admission area and had arranged to have paramedics and ambulances ready.

Electric Factory’s attorney, Tom Gould, said he thought that everybody concerned had a zone of responsibility and that everybody discharged “what they thought was in the best interest and was the right thing to do.” Levy and Gould both said that maybe no one was at fault; perhaps it was a natural disaster.

Levy was quick to point out that Electric Factory had promoted Cincinnati’s first outdoor rock show, the Eagles, at Riverfront Stadium. “We had 52,000 kids, general admission and the same parries involved in the planning. Dale Menkhaus and I worked extensively on the security. And nothing happened. But what I think we’re faced with here is unusual circumstances that all merged at one rime and in one place. Maybe there were enough doors; were they open early enough? Was there a high level of drugs or intoxication? The music from the inside?”

But, he was reminded, things had gone wrong before. Some earlier shows had been violent.

“I can’t deny that there are problems at shows; it happens everywhere in the country, right? Nobody could predict it, and I don’t feel anybody could have controlled it.”

Soon thereafter came the first of what will undoubtedly be an unending series of lawsuits. Todd Volkman, a person who was allegedly injured, filed a $1.2-million class-action suit (which can be expanded to recover tens of millions) against the promoter, the coliseum and the Who. Not the city of Cincinnati, on whose property he was allegedly injured. A second, filed by Betty Snyder, mother of the late Phillip Snyder, does name the city as one of the defendants. In that $10.25-million suit, the city is accused of negligence in its failure to follow the advice from its own Human Relations Commission to ban festival searing. It also alleges the city police were negligent in failing to enforce drug and liquor laws. (The police reported twenty-eight arrests for drugs and disorderly conduct on the plaza the night of the concert.)

One local lawyer said gleefully that there isn’t enough liability insurance in the world to cover the potential lawsuits that could come out of the Who show. Under Ohio law, parties who feel injured physically or emotionally (a hot line was immediately set up for the emotionally warped) have two years to file suit.

The city of Cincinnati registered immediate civic outrage. No more festival seating, probably, said the city government A task force was set up to find out what was wrong. Frank Wood of WEBN-FM was named to it. He said that he was not sure what the task force could do, all he knew was that he had read in the morning paper that “I’m not allowed to point a finger at anyone, and I think dial’s a shame.” The task force has no subpoena power, and it was widely viewed in Cincinnati as window dressing.

The coroner’s office said the dead apparently died from “suffocation by asphyxiation due to compression” and “suffocation due to accidental mob stampede.” Toxicology tests for drug or alcohol residues in the victims were forthcoming.

An editorial in the Cincinnati Post said the coliseum had been the city’s “citadel of lawlessness.” Mark Helmkamp called home to tell his folks he was okay and he got a pot lecture. The victims were blamed.

Promoters across the country blamed festival seating. Larry Magid said that he felt terrible and that he personally didn’t like festival searing, but that’s what the kids wanted. A kid in Cincinnati printed up a few T-shirts that read I Survived the Who Concert.

Roger Daltrey, weary and shaken, said, “It was really a freak; it’s not a nightly occurrence, you know.”

The mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, canceled the Who show there, saying that after two performances, the Who was averaging 5.5 fatalities per show. Angry kids marched in Cincinnati and in Providence to say that rock & roll should not be automatically blamed. They got little support.


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