The morning of December 4, 1979 was cold in Cincinnati. My dad had the thermostat rigged to lower the temperature at night to save energy. Some mornings I would sit over by the register to enjoy the blast of heat as the furnace brought the temperature back to normal. That was one of those mornings. I was in the sixth grade.
The night before, the local news had broken in with an announcement that some people had been killed at a Who concert downtown at Riverfront Coliseum. The news seemed bad to me, but I think I believed it wasn’t that unusual. I had an image in my mind of rock concerts as abjectly chaotic events where all kinds of horrible violent things happened on a regular basis.
For some reason my mother was concerned about a young man from our school named Peter Bowes. She just thought it seemed like the kind of thing he might attend.
I remember seeing Peter Bowes exactly once, when he went with us on a trip to Cowan Lake. He was a few years older than my older brother. His father was one of my dad’s work colleagues and part of my dad’s daily ride pool.
So, that following morning, while I warmed up by the heat register, my mom came into my room. She was crying. She said Peter Bowes had been killed at the concert.
I don’t think I knew what to say. “Oh, really?” were the words that came out–not in an apathetic sense, but in a “Holy shit” sense.
In all, eleven people had been killed, crushed as the crowd pushed toward the doors trying to get the best seats.
I remember when my mom went to visit the family. I think she brought some food.
“Festival seating” was justifiably excoriated in Cincinnati after that, and probably in much of the event business. Cincinnati banned it.
A few years later when The Who became a favorite of mine and my brother’s, there was a tension in that enjoyment, a somber undertone of what had happened when a crowd of people were too eager to hear it.
A few years later I attended my first rock show: we saw Yes at that same venue. It bore little resemblance to the mob scene I half-expected–in part because my impression was so distorted, in part because the band was rather less testosterone-fueled, and in part, probably, because the memory of what had happened at that place was relatively fresh.
More time has passed than I like to acknowledge. I’m older than the guys in The Who were then. Ned Criddle, one of the older kids who accompanied us to see Yes, has since passed away, and so has my brother (neither loss having anything to do with any concert). Riverfront Coliseum is now the U.S. Bank Arena.
I’ve never forgotten the date.