The Who Returns to Cincinnati After 40 Years – Invites Families of 1979 Concert Victims

The Who Cincinnati
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The Who Cincinnati
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Photo Credit: Jake Blucker

The Who returned to Cincinnati for the first time in over 40 years. The band honored the victims of a crowd surge event in 1979 that killed 11 people.

“I’ve been trying to think of what to say, what would be cool to say, what would be uncool to say, and really there’s no words that we can say that can mean (as much as) the fact that you guys have come out tonight and supported this event,” Pete Townshend told the crowd on Sunday night.

It’s the first time the band has performed in Cincinnati since a crowd crush event in 1979. An audience of tens of thousands of people gathered outside Riverfront Coliseum in 1979. As rumors spread that The Who would take the stage early, members of the crowd rushed through the only two open doors of the Coliseum. The crowd surge event left dozens injured, and 11 people died due to asphyxiation. The Who were not informed of the deaths until after their performance.

“You probably know what we are not going to be paid for this, so I’m not going to work very hard,” Townshend joked to the audience. “But you paid, and your money is going to great causes, many of which are related to what happened back here in Cincinnati in 1979, which is probably time for us to both remember and try to forget. Anyway, it’s so lovely to be here.”

The Who invited many families of the victims from the 1979 concert to the event at TQL Stadium. Proceeds from the show will go tot he committee to fund 11 college scholarships, one for each of the victims of that concert.

“Like any good love story, it starts with tragedy,” John Hutchins said about the charity initiative. “Really what our mission has been, as we’ve come together, is to not allow tragedy to be the final chapter. You know, go from tragedy into triumph.” The P.E.M. Memorial is an organization started by Finneytown High School alumni John Hutchins and Steve Bentz.

It honors three victims of the concert – Stephan Preston, Jackie Eckerle, and Karen Morrison. Since 2010, the organization has used its scholarship fund to award three scholarships to Finneytown High School seniors pursuing higher education in the arts.

“It’s been a healing process for us as well,” says Mary Anne, a P.E.M. Memorial committee member. “Our hope was that it would be a healing moment for The Who somehow. They greatly support what we do and how we do it,” adds another member of the committee.