Revisiting The Who Tragedy Of 1979
On Sunday I wrote about a terrific documentary about The Who airing Saturday, "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who" airing Saturday (commercial free 9-11 p.m., VH1). The full-length feature film is a Magic Bus ride through their greatest hits, with concert footage from the Monterey Pop Festival, Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" tours, and the 2001 Concert for
I noted that a couple of minutes in the second hour were devoted to the 1979 tragedy here, when 11 people were crushed trying to get into a concert at Riverfront Coliseum (now US Bank Arena) on Dec. 3, 1979. The concert was sold as "festival seating," or general admission, with the first people in able to get the best seats down front. Drummer Kenney Jones says in the film: "Still it haunts me to this day…
Anyway, the story prompted this e-mail below from Mark Simpson of
Hi, John: I couldn't help but notice the article in Sunday's paper about The Who documentary. You mentioned in the article about The Who concert in
I would like to clarify the details of what really happen that night as I was the very first person to get through the door that night. I was 16 years old at the time and remember every detail, like it was yesterday, as the chain of events unfolded during that night. The normal procedure was to have all the doors open at least an hour before the show, as they had always done in all previous shows I attended, this night was different and was noticed immediately.
As the night progressed and the crowd got larger on the plaza, which was very dark by the way, the sound check was going on inside. I had gotten there very early, around 6:30-7:00 pm, and was first at the door. No one was even on the plaza at this point, with the building corner to my left and what was iron railings separating each door to my right.
What struck me as a failure by the Coliseum around 8:20 pm, as the crowd had built itself up to over 3,000 people waiting, as it was cold that night, was one security guard/usher came up to the ONE door I was standing at, the other 10 doors continued to my right side.This usher ONLY opened/unlocked the ONE door and walked away. I realized that this was going to create a real problem as the crowd in the back took one or two steps forward, and just like dominos people fell into the one doorway. I was able to get through as others fell behind me,with no way to get up from the surge.
I can only hope that that the truth gets out about what really happen, as several people blamed the crowd, which in no way could even see up front, or blamed The Who for anything, this was totally the fault of the one usher who did NOT unlock the other remaining 10 or so doors, which would have allowed the flow of the crowd to come in, instead of being bottlenecked in between the building, and the metal railing,which also allowed no escape. Those railings, by the way, are no longer there...
I hope somehow this can be passed on to The Who members, so they can know what happened that night and the true breakdown of problems that lead to the tragedy to unfold. The fact that it was general seating had nothing to do with what took place. This was a slow buildup of the crowd over the hours, with poor lighting on the plaza, structural problems with the door entrance (railings separating each door) and staff not opening ALL doors to allow an even flow of crowds into the main plaza entrance, not a rush to the stage. Please pass this eyewitness account from the very first person through the door that night to The Who members so they can understand they were not at fault.
Feel free to post my comments. I will add that due to this event, the coliseum and the city made some changes to keep this from happening again, but this all could have been avoided in the first place if they had just opened all the doors, before the shows start, as they had been doing all along. General seating is really not an issue, so much as doing the obvious.
I feel very lucky to have made it inside the only open door that night, and will never forget the people that lost their lives, all because the rules were not followed, by Coliseum staff and management.
Thanks John and Best Wishes