It was a tough ticket. All 18,348 of them were gone 90 minutes after they went on sale in late September at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum. The Who had not played the area since 1975. It was an event.
Fans converged from all over. Danny and Connie Burns left their two young children at home, got on a chartered bus in Dayton and headed for the concert.
Though the music was not billed to being until 8 p.m., the crowd started building outside the coliseum around 1 o'clock Monday afternoon. By 3, the police had arrived to keep watch. With so long to wait, the kids tried to keep a party mood going. There was some drinking, some grass.
By early evening there were 8,000 people, most holding general admission tickets, massed in the coliseum plaza near the west gate. By 7, the doors had still not been opened. The crowd, past patience, pressed closer together. Danny and Connie Burns were among them.
Lieut. Dale Menkhaus, detailed to head a squad of 25 Cincinnati police on crowd-control assignment, sensed danger. He went looking for someone to open the doors. He found one of the promoters, Cal Levy, who told him this was not possible. The musicians had not completed their rehearsal inside the hall, and not enough ticket takers had arrived.
The crowd, now clotted tightly together, pressed forward. Around 7:20, someone smashed through a closed glass door and crawled through the shards into the hall. Finally, the doors of the west gate opened. The crowd surged. Danny Burns was carried with them. He could not see his wife.
Lieut. Menkhaus heard that "people were down in the crowd." There was nothing he could do. The mob was still moving and could not be penetrated. When the initial press slackened, the police started to force their way through. They found the first body at 7:45. In all, there were eight injured and eleven deadseven men and four women. Three were high school students, another was a highway worker. One was Connie Burns. According to a coroner's preliminary report, they had died of suffocation.
Inside the coliseum, Cincinnati Fire Marshall Clifford Drury told Who manager Bill Curbishley that the show must go on as scheduled. Drury reasoned that the crowd, which did not know what had happened at the west gate, would not sit still for a cancellation. So The Who played its standard two-hour set, and were then instructed to keep the encore short. When the four came offstage, Curbishley told them the news. Kenny Jones slumped against a wall. John Entwistle tried to light a cigarette, which shredded in his shaking hands. Roger Daltrey began to cry. Pete Townshend went ashen quiet. Daltrey thought the whole tour should be canceled. Then Townshend spoke up. He said, "If we don't play tomorrow, we'll never play again."
The next day in Buffalo, the promoters and hall operators worked with the Who management. There were 237 security men, ushers, ticket takers and general staff working at Memorial Auditorium that night. Roger Daltrey told the sellout crowd, "We lost a lot of family last night. This show's for them." The Who had to work hard to get through it.