By John Curley
On the evening of December 3rd, Cincinnati TV station aired an hourlong documentary titled The Who: The Night That Changed Rock to mark the 40th anniversary of the December 3, 1979 crowd-crush disaster that left 11 fans dead outside of The Who’s concert at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. The documentary was created and hosted by WCPO anchor Tanya O’Rourke. O’Rourke grew up in Finneytown, the Cincinnati suburb where three of the 11 fans that died also had lived.
For the documentary, O’Rourke secured interviews with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey in addition to The Who’s longtime manager Bill Curbishley. On the night of the Cincinnati concert, Curbishley was informed of the tragedy early on during the concert but opted not to tell the band until they had finished their show.
O’Rourke travelled to Seattle to interview Townshend, Daltrey and Curbishley. Townshend told O’Rourke, “You know, I’m still traumatized by it. It’s a weird thing to have in your autobiography that, you know, 11 kids died at one of your concerts. It’s a strange, disturbing heavy load to carry.”
Daltrey told the anchor, “That dreadful night of the third of December became one of the worst dreams I’ve had in my life.”
Curbishley, who witnessed the deaths of some of the fans on the plaza outside the venue, confided to O’Rourke, “Despite everything, I still feel inadequate. I don’t know about the guys, but for me, I left a little bit of my soul in Cincinnati.”
O’Rourke also interviewed fans that survived the crowd crush, a paramedic that had worked tirelessly to attempt to save lives on the night of the concert tragedy and family members of some of the fans that lost their lives that night. The resulting documentary was both riveting and quite somber.
The tragedy happened when fans that had been waiting outside the venue for hours on a very cold December day in order to get prime spots in front of the stage with their “festival seating” tickets surged forward when they heard music coming from inside the venue. Too few doors had been opened to properly handle the crowd surge, and those at the front were caught in a dangerous crush of fans. Several fans that fell were not able to get up as the crowd surged around and over them. Some of the fans interviewed said that they heard music and believed that the show had started. Curbishley said in the podcast that serves as a companion piece to the documentary that what the fans actually heard was the test screening of the 10-minute preview of Quadrophenia, the feature film that The Who had produced based on their 1973 album of the same name, that had been released several weeks before the Cincinnati concert. The Quadrophenia preview was screened before The Who’s concerts on that tour.
Following the concert tragedy, The Who left Cincinnati and performed the following night in Buffalo, NY. Townshend said in the documentary that he regretted the decision to go forward with the Buffalo show and that the band should’ve have remained in Cincinnati for several days to meet with the families of the dead and fans that had been injured. Curbishley countered that he felt that it was important that the band go ahead with the Buffalo show because he thought that if they scrapped it, they might never go onstage again.
The Who have announced that they will return to the Cincinnati area for the first time since the tragic December 1979 show to perform at the BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY on April 23, 2020. Some of the proceeds from that show will go toward to the PEM Memorial Scholarship Fund at Finneytown High School. The scholarship, which honors Finneytown High graduate Stephan Preston (Class of 1979) and Finneytown High students Jackie Eckerle and Karen Morrison (both from the Class of 1982) that lost their lives on the night of the concert. The scholarship was established in 2010 and is awarded annually to Finneytown High seniors that are pursuing higher education in the arts or music at an accredited university or college. Additional information about the scholarship can be found at http://www.pemmemorial.org/.
A four-part podcast from WCPO that complements The Who: The Night That Changed Rock documentary can be heard at https://www.wcpo.com/news/the-who-the-night-that-changed-rock/listen-to-the-night-that-changed-rock-podcast-edition.
An extended cut version of The Who: The Night That Changed Rock, that includes five additional minutes not seen in the broadcast version, can be seen at "> or below:
The broadcast version of The Who: The Night That Changed Rock can be seen at "> or below:
The Who, who released the studio album Who earlier this month, will return to the United States in 2020 to continue their Moving On! tour. The full tour dates are:
April 21 / Hard Rock Live / Hollywood, FL
April 23 / BB&T Arena Northern Kentucky University / Highland Heights, KY
April 25 / New Orleans Jazz Fest / New Orleans, LA
April 27 / American Airlines Center / Dallas, TX (Rescheduled)
April 30 / Toyota Center / Houston, TX (Rescheduled)
May 2 / Pepsi Center / Denver, CO (Rescheduled)
May 5 / The Colosseum at Caesars Palace / Las Vegas, NV
May 7 / The Colosseum at Caesars Palace / Las Vegas, NV
May 9 / The Colosseum at Caesars Palace / Las Vegas, NV
May 12 / The Colosseum at Caesars Palace / Las Vegas, NV
May 14 / The Colosseum at Caesars Palace / Las Vegas, NV
May 16 / The Colosseum at Caesars Palace / Las Vegas, NV