The Who Found ‘Calmness’ After Return to Cincinnati
Longtime Who manager Bill Curbishley said he decided not to share his memories of the 1979 crowd surge tragedy in Cincinnati when the band returned to pay tribute last weekend.
The charity concert commemorated 11 young fans who’d lost their lives when ticketholders outside the Riverfront Coliseum thought the show had already begun and tried to hurry into the venue 43 years earlier. Curbishley saw the horrifying results firsthand but decided it would be safer if the show continued. He told the Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey something was wrong when he advised them to play a short encore, but didn’t tell them what had happened until the show was over.
“Firstly, the general feeling was one of emotion because of the many, many years gone by since then, so for all of us it was the closing of a circle in quite a few different ways,” he told Billboard of the recent concert at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium. “When I think about it – which I’ve been doing constantly for the last few days – so many people played a part in what happened and it was a very, very emotional night for us.”
Curbishley noted that "afterwards there was a pervading feeling of job well done and a sense of calmness that we didn’t really talk about. Funnily enough, I was going to send Pete a note … to tell him, 'It’s the last time I’ll talk to you or Roger about Cincinnati' and tell him a couple things. As they were walking to the stage he said, ‘Bill, I know how many difficult decisions you had to make that day,’ and I thought, ‘You don’t know how many!' [Townshend] never realized the scale of it because he never saw it. So the last words on this is that we memorialized it, had a musical service as such. And now it’s done.”
In a separate Rolling Stone interview, the manager recalled what he’d seen while the band remained backstage in 1979. “There were so many people there unconscious, and on the floor, and injured. I knew straight away that there’d be people dead. It was almost like a bomb had exploded. ... First thing I saw was this medic pumping this young girl, trying to get her back to consciousness, and I thought, ‘Fuck, what has happened here?' … To see these young people and the desperation that was running through the whole place, it was a bad sight. It’s a thing that will always be with me.”
While Townshend and Daltrey spent time with the victim’s families during the day of the memorial show, Curbishley – who accepted a proclamation from the city’s mayor – found time to catch up with Dale Menkhaus, the cop who shared responsibility for finding the safest way of managing the incident. “I realized that talking to me was a cathartic exercise for him,” the manager told Billboard. “It was therapeutic in the sense that he was talking to someone who was there and also that he’d been struggling for years with what happened that night. He’d suffered as well.”