The Who's Emotional Return to Cincinnati 43 Years After Tragedy | 5/15/22

Article Contributed by Michael Stegner | Published on Tuesday, May 17, 2022

This past weekend’s historic performance by The Who at TQL Stadium in Cincinnati was much more than a typical stop on one of their U.S. tours. Besides being the first concert event to take place at the nearly-brand-new soccer stadium, it marked the band’s first appearance in Cincinnati since the tragic events that happened more than four decades ago, on December 3, 1979. That night, which left eleven concertgoers dead after they were crushed by a stampede of other fans, has left an impression on the band and the city of Cincinnati for years.

Roger Daltrey - Photo by Chris Stegner

The two founding band members, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were joined by Townshend’s brother Simon on backup guitar and vocals, Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) on drums, Loren Gold and Emily Marshall on keyboards, and Jon Button on bass. Accompanying them throughout the performance was a 48 piece orchestra consisting of local Cincinnati musicians.

Pete Townshend - Photo by Chris Stegner

Throughout the concert, the names of “the eleven” rotated across the stadium’s display screens, serving as a constant reminder of the significance of the event that night. Towards the end of the set, an emotional piano medley served as the perfect musical score for the visual tribute to those who had lost their lives more than four decades earlier. Large black and white photos of each of the eleven fans were displayed one by one as pockets of the crowd could be heard honoring and remembering their loved ones. It was a truly beautiful and moving moment, for both the band and the audience, that culminated in a very cathartic version of Love Reign o’er Me.

Pete Townshend's signature "Windmill" move - Photo by Chris Stegner

On top of the special memorial tributes that took place, The Who put on an incredible performance that spanned nearly 2 hours and 15 minutes, complete with plenty of Townsend’s signature windmill moves and Daltrey’s microphone swings.

The setlist was an excellent balance of their classic rock anthems like Pinball Wizard, Who Are You, and You Better Bet among some of The Who’s lesser known songs. Some collections of songs were performed with the backing orchestra while others were just the members of the band.

Roger Daltrey - Photo by Chris Stegner

As they entertained the crowd of thousands with a career’s worth of hits and on-stage banter, we were reminded that even in their old age, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are still the same quick witted, youthful, and clever Englishmen that they've always been.

“You’ve probably heard that we’re not getting paid for this gig,” Townshend said. “So I’m not going to work very hard,” he joked. The Who, in fact, did not get paid for the concert last weekend. Instead, the proceeds were all donated to the P.E.M. Memorial, an organization with direct ties to the city and the band.

Roger Daltrey - Photo by Chris Stegner

The P.E.M. Memorial is an organization that was started in Finneytown, Ohio, a small community outside of Cincinnati that lost 3 high school students at The Who concert in 1979. The foundation provides scholarship opportunities to students in the area who are interested in pursuing the arts. There were even recipients of the scholarship who were on stage with the orchestra during the concert last weekend.

Pete Townshend | The Who

Having established a notable name for themselves in the Cincinnati area, concert attendees could easily spot what seemed like hundreds of people (including drummer Zak Starkey) wearing bright gold P.E.M. Memorial shirts all throughout the stadium.

Zak Starkey - Photo by Chris Stegner

To close out the concert, The Who brought out the Finneytown High School Choir to join them for a powerful rendition of their classic rock anthem Baba O'Riley. It all culminated with an impressive violin solo from Katie Jacoby to end the night. 

Lead Violinist Katie Jacoby - Photo by Chris Stegner

To add an additional layer of excitement to this already special show for the city of Cincinnati, The Who selected a local band from Finneytown to be their opening act.

Roger Daltrey | The Who

“Safe Passage” is made up of musicians who were caught in the crowd surge the last time The Who came to town in 1979. The band members were lucky to have survived, but they lost some close friends that night. To honor their friends and the families and communities that have been affected by the tragedy, Safe Passage has performed during P.E.M. Memorial fundraiser events several times over the years.

Safe Passage - Photo by Chris Stegner

Take a moment to read the names of each of the fans who died in 1979, the oldest of which was only 27, and try to see yourself in each of them. 

    •    Walter Adams, Jr.,  22, Trotwood, OH
    •    Peter Bowes, 18, Wyoming, OH
    •    Connie Sue Burns, 21, Miamisburg, OH
    •    Jacqueline Eckerle, 15, Finneytown, OH
    •    David Heck, 19, Highland Heights, KY
    •    Teva Rae Ladd, 27, Newtown, OH
    •    Karen Morrison, 15, Finneytown, OH
    •    Stephan Preston, 19, Finneytown, OH
    •    Philip Snyder, 20, Franklin, OH
    •    Bryan Wagner, 17, Fort Thomas, KY
    •    James Warmoth, 21, Franklin, OH
The Who | Cincinnati, OH

The Who | Cincinnati, OH - 5/15/22 | Setlist

With Full Orchestra
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Ball and Chain
Join Together

Band Only
The Seeker
You Better Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again

With Full Orchestra
Behind Blue Eyes
The Real Me
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O'Riley

Check out more photos from the show.

Cincinnati, OH