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The Who plan a return to Cincinnati for May show at TQL Stadium

The Who
Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry rehearsing in a file photo.

The Who is coming back to Cincinnati in May. A concert previously planned for 2020 is now scheduled for May 15 at TQL Stadium.

This is the first time the band will play here since 11 people died as a concert crowd waited to get into The Who concert on Dec. 3, 1979.

The band will make a donation from the concert to the P.E.M. Memorial. The organization honors friends and classmates who lost their lives in a crushing wave of people outside the concert. It provides college scholarships for students at Finneytown High School.

Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.

The concert was first announced in December 2019.

"What I want to say is that we'll be there," band member Pete Townshend told WCPO-TV. "And having said that, now, we'll just have to come."

John Hutchins expects to be in the crowd for the band's return. He was there in 1979, among the thousands of fans of The Who gathered hours early on a plaza outside Riverfront Coliseum. He was a 17-year-old high school senior skipping school to see one of his favorite bands.

"The reason we got down there so early is because of the festival seating, we know it's first come, first served," Hutchins told WVXU in 2019.

The crowd swelled and pushed, resulting in a crushing wave as only a few doors were opened.

"We held off by, you know, just holding ourselves up against doors, against the bars. We did anything we could do just to just to go ahead and protect ourselves because, you know, our feet were off the ground at points," Hutchins describes.

Eleven people, including three of Hutchins' classmates, died in the ensuing chaos. Within a month, the city outlawed festival seating. But that change wasn't widespread. And concert injuries continued nationwide, with promoters and bands resisting regulation.

Paul Wertheimer was Cincinnati's public information officer at the time. He now runs a crowd control consulting firm. Speaking by Skype in 2019, he told WVXU there's still room for improvement.

"It's still a fight for crowd safety at live entertainment events. And the fight is usually against bands, promoters, venues and others related to the event itself."

The Who band members didn't find out about the deaths until after their concert. They continued their tour, but Pete Townshend says he regrets that decision. He sees this as a way to promote healing.

Hutchins does, too.

"There's just a sense of — such a sense of reconciliation with this thing. And I think when you look at the documentary and you hear Pete talk about it, you can just see that there's a sense of relief for him to actually say those words, that we're going to come back to Cincinnati."

The concert is part of The Who Hits Back! Tour.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.