A little bit about my Whostory…

I was 17 when I went to the infamous Who concert that killed 11 people at the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I was a senior at Lakota High School and  I remember being super excited that day, not only because I had been anticipating and trading Who lyrics for months with my friend Danny Holt, in a worn down, scuffed up, mini spiral notebook, but because we were going to go down early to get a chance at the best seats possible.  Me, yes me! I could be standing right in front of Roger Daltry! 

Festival Seating demanded early arrival, and running as fast as you
could once you got inside to get a spot on the floor as close to the band as possible. I went with my boyfriend at the time, although I knew tons of my friends from school were going, and I knew I’d see them once I was down there.

Weirdly, in a way you can only appreciate afterwards, that day before I left for the concert, while I was dressing, I made a decision that I think helped save my life. It was cold that day and I was sporting “cords”, a puffy down vest and a pair of topsiders, but made the fashion choice to go with my Frye boots instead. In the end a very important fashion choice indeed…

When we got down to the stadium it was de rigueur to hang out with your friends, get stoned or throw back some beers, while hanging out in the plaza in front of the “coliseum”, because I had a headache that day I wasn’t imbibing, which probably helped save me too…
I remember it being cold and chilly, sitting on the cement and waiting for a long time for the doors to open.

Around 7:15 that evening people started to line up in front of the main doors, it wasn’t too bad at first because with all the people around it was a little bit warmer than standing in the chilly breeze.  Around 10 minutes later it started to get uncomfortable, with a lot of getting smooshed into the person next to you, within another few minutes it started to get ridiculous really quickly…and for 11 of the kids…deadly.  Although I had no idea at the time. 

You could hear the band (we found out later it was sound check but a lot of folks thought they were missing the show) When you were standing there, there was just people everywhere and you really couldn’t see anything except whatever body part of the person in front or next to you that you were mashed up against.  I remember feeling sorry for a couple of really short girls standing next to me…And then it got really scary…

We were packed so tightly, you lost your ability to move, your feet were totally off the floor sometimes and “crowd sway” started happening, and word was “the doors were open” (at least that’s what was being passed back by word of mouth, but there was no way to see for sure) and people kept trying to move forward when there was just nowhere to go. I even lost track of my boyfriend at some point because of the way I was being moved by the crowd.

More and more people were packing into one little area. I started to panic when I was getting squeezed so tightly it was hard to breathe…at one point I remember actually almost standing on this guy’s knee trying to get air (and goddess bless my fashion choice for that extra two inches of heel…Because I never could have been able to be high enough to get air in flat shoes where I was) at that point I was starting to get panicky and I yelled out off of the top of my head “I’m going to be sick!!” and I’ll never know how, but the crowd instinctively moved back just enough so I could start climbing out to the side, which took me a minute or two, but I did it.

And then the weirdest thing happened, I lurched away from the crowd (also trying to cool off because I was soaking wet and sweating) but looked back to see if I could see my boyfriend or anyone I knew, and I was standing in a completely clear area! Everyone else was packed into one dense moving unit…and I was standing, off to the side completely by myself.  Then luckily I saw my boyfriend had made it out(I don’t remember how he was able to do it) and we walked about 50 feet down and walked RIGHT IN the next set of doors…and there was NOT ONE person in line there. NOT ONE.

We made it in and down to the floor and the concert was amazingly great…I still had no idea that outside on the cement were 11 dead people.

I remember running into Danny Holt and Randy Cheek and sadly seeing Randy’s face and glasses all smashed and if I remember correctly somebody had lost a shoe… I systematically (although I can’t remember if it was before, during or after the music was playing) ran into all of my friends that I knew were there. We traded some “Man that was some kind of crazy!!” stories but still no word of anybody dying…

It wasn’t til after I was out in the car and turned on the radio that I had heard what actually happened.  And it was beyond chilling… In a nano-second I realized how dangerous and deadly it was standing in front of those doors.  At the time I was being squished in the crowd I had NO IDEA that I was a mere 2 inches…one pair of Frye boots…One spur of the moment ” I’m going to be sick” away from actually not living the rest of my life….

On the way home, (in that long ago “time before cell phones”) I stopped at a phone booth and called my Mom and Dad to let them know I was alive…

I remember crying on the way home in the car, and wondering if anyone of the people killed was someone I knew.  But ironically I also remember being slightly pissed that the decision was made after the event that they were getting rid of festival seating for good.

I believe it was not the band’s fault and remember feeling very sorry for them at the time.  But I believe the coliseum’s decision not to open the doors earlier, not to realize the severity of the situation and not take quick action by redirecting people to the other doors…was the true reason for those kid’s deaths.

Were further lives  saved by that decision?  I don’t think there’s a way to ever know for sure.

But what I do know is this; I am glad to be here today to tell the story, even though it’s a terrible story to have to relive.   I still get nervous in crowds and have claustrophobia issues and I always know where the exits are whenever I am in a crowded place.

AND I still love the Who just as much as I did then.
I really wish I still had the notebook that Danny and I used to trade back and forth….

About Elle Crash

At one point it was New York, L.A., Tokyo, Istanbul, Venice, Curacao, Now it's here in Cincinnati... I make rock, food, marketing, magic and cats purr... If you'd like a copy of my cookbook "Rock and Rolls" contact me.
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12 Responses to A little bit about my Whostory…

  1. David says:

    Wow Beth, your story sounds a lot like mine….getting lifted off your feet etc. I’ll always remember how I started to get sick too and since my arms were pinned to my side some guy behind me managed to grab my head from behind and point my face down so I didn’t puke all over whomever was in front of me. Normally you’d be pretty mad at someone for grabbing your head but I think I was grateful.
    Then suddenly a large portion of the crowd around me fell over and I was able to dash out. I don’t THINK I stepped on anybody in the process. Then I too eerily found myself just feet away with other concert goers casually standing around. I even tried to direct people to back away from the edge of the crowd that led up to the kill zone but everyone just looked at me like I was a crazy stoner.
    I think the real problem was that those fucking doors opened OUT towards the crowd and when you’ve already got people smushed up against them there’s no hope at that point.
    Thanks for your recollections even though they are painful ones.
    Love,
    Davey

    • Elle Crash says:

      Since I had a headache I hadn’t actually taken anything so I didn’t have to puke, but saying I was going to just popped out of my mouth. Thankfully… You know the very worst part was seeing Danny and Randy. Oh and claustrophobia? Didn’t actually think I had it til I got an MRI this year. Holy jesusfuck they could not get me out of that thing fast enough…I FLIPPED!! Yay for alprazolam.

    • Caiya says:

      It’s good to see seomone thinking it through.

  2. What an incredible story. I still find it so weird that the people running the venue made the decision to go ahead with the show, without informing the band or the crowd that 11 people had just died right outside the doors.

  3. Dad says:

    Hi Beth,

    I remember it well. Scary even for those at home. Enjoyed all your readings and
    receipes. Would love to read Emma’s story! Hope the Dr. can give you something
    to make you feel better. Love Dad

    • Elle Crash says:

      Hey Dad! There’s been a lot of folks posting their recollections form the night that the Who tragedy happened…but all from folks who went…what do you rememeber about it being on the other end? Had you all heard about it before i called you?

  4. Dad says:

    Hi Beth,

    We definetely knew you were going to the concert, you were excited and talked
    about it for days. I know we got a news report on TV but can’ remember now
    the chronological order of the reports vs. your phone call. No matter which it
    was sad and scary.

    Thanks for calling today, Mom and I enjoyed talking to you. Love Dad

  5. Gary Shell says:

    I too was saved by a fashion decision that night. I had just returned from a trip to San Francisco where I had purchased the coolest vintage fringe leather vest. I decided to wear it that night and when I saw the throng of folks waiting to get in, decided I didn’t want a cigarette burn on my new old coat so I hung out on the fringes.

    Latter as I realized what was happening, someone threw open one of the side doors to the stadium. I went inside and along with a couple of other folks started opening every door we passed hoping the crowd would see that and disperse a bit.

    What a sad scary night that was.

    Gary

  6. I went with my friend Mike…he being paraplegic was in a wheel chair and so we were directed to take an elevator from the lower area to the back room hallway and then escorted to the roped off stage side. When the other kids started flooding in, we noticed that many were bent over in pain and or sitting down and rubbing parts of their body with painful looks on their faces. I remember that we thought they had already had too much to drink and then the Who hit the stage. We too were not informed by the security guards at the roped off section, they did tell me that drinks were not being served so I was to stay where I was. We found out over the radio just like the rest of the survivors. I was really troubled and heart broken about the news and it was a long time before I again went to a large concert.

    • Elle Crash says:

      David, thanks for sharing that! It was a long time for me to go to a big concert too…to this day I feel weird if I don’t know where the exits are and crowds still make me nervous.

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