Music: The Stampede to Tragedy

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Some first reactions to the tragedy were full of freewheeling instant blame. A Cincinnati editor called the kids in the audience "animals." Other commentators were more thoughtful, including a cousin of one of the Cincinnati victims, Linda Mancusi-Ungaro, 18. She appeared before a public hearing in Boston that was called to determine whether the Who concert scheduled for Dec. 16 should be allowed to take place. Mancusi-Ungaro said that it should, and afterward explained why: "The Cincinnati incident was a loss, but to set a precedent for canceling rock concerts based on that tragedy would be inappropriate. Someone at the hearing asked me why this happened at a Who concert, instead of some other group's. I told them it wasn't the band, or the type of crowd. It was the ticket system."

Fewer than 20% of the Cincinnati tickets were for reserved seats. The rest were for so-called festival seating, a sort of first-come-best-seated system that many of the country's major rock venues have long since given up as unworkable. Says Tony Tavares, director of the New Haven Coliseum where The Who will play this week: "When you sell a general admission ticket, you're challenging your crowd to get to the best seats in the house first. You're creating a system of pandemonium." New York City's Madison Square Garden, which brings its 20,000-capacity crowds in through four separate towers and a series of separate entrances, has never permitted festival seating. The Garden had 200 security people, 100 ushers and 20 supervisors at their Who concerts in September. "I paid $7,800 for security and staffing fees," says Curbishley. "Where was that security Monday night?" Riverfront Coliseum concerts by Elton John in 1976 and Led Zeppelin in 1977 had resulted in serious crowd incidents. Now Curbishley and The Who are talking to other rock groups, lobbying for legislation that will establish some guidelines for large concerts. "But," says Kenny Jones, "do eleven kids have to die before you hire a few extra guards?" Cincinnati will hold public hearings on two new proposed ordinances, one that would give police total authority over crowd control and one that would ban festival seating. Said Mayor J. Kenneth Blackwell: "These are issues which are above debate."

Still being debated, however, was the question of responsibility. Promoter Levy denied that he or his organization had anything to do with determining the number of security officers used inside or outside the coliseum. By week's end, the coliseum management had not broken the official silence it had maintained since Monday night.

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