The Who announce first Cincinnati show since deadly 1979 concert stampede

The veteran British rockers say they regret leaving the city after a stampede at their 1979 concert left 11 dead and 23 injured, but will play there for the first time in 2020.

Guitarist Pete Townshend says band 'should have stayed' after tragedy

In this Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019 photo, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend with The Who performs during the Moving On! Tour at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. The co-founders announced their return to Cincinnati on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. (Robb Cohen/Invision/The Associated Press)

Decades after a stampede left 11 people dead and 23 injured at a Who concert in Cincinnati, the veteran British rockers will play in the city for the first time since the accident.

The band, co-founded in 1964 and still led by singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, made the announcement on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy.

"Since going there I've felt a lot better about it, but every time it comes round to December 3rd, it's in my mind," Daltrey told local TV station WPCO in a documentary aired on Tuesday.

The tragedy occurred on Dec. 3, 1979, when crowds waiting to get into the city's 17,000-seat Riverfront Coliseum rushed the gates, thinking the performance had started after hearing the band going through their sound check. 

Townshend said he saw 'maybe 40 bodies' under blankets before they left Cincinnati. (Matt Licari/Invision/The Associated Press)

They went ahead with the concert, unaware of the stampede until afterwards.​​​​​​ In a recent interview, Townshend said he's always regretted not sticking around to deal with the aftermath, as the band left the same day and moved on to Buffalo, New York, the next stop on their tour.

"I'm not forgiving us. We should have stayed," Townshend told The Associated Press during a recent interview where he was promoting his debut novel, The Age of Anxiety.

The band found out about the calamity at the end of the show. Townshend recalls the band's manager, Bill Curbishley, telling him: "I've got something terrible to tell you."

Townshend then described the shock of seeing bodies sprawled on the ground as they left the stadium — "many of whom weren't dead, by the way," he said. "They didn't know who was dead and who was just badly hurt, maybe 40 bodies under blankets."

Townshend remembered the rage he felt toward Curbishley for not telling the band about the stampede before the show, admitting that he "wanted to kill him."

"You could at least give [us] a choice as to whether or not to go on," Townshend said.

"But the choice none of us made, which was equally dim, was that we left the building. You know, we should have stayed."

In this Dec. 3, 1979 file photo, Cincinnati police officers help people crushed during the performance in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Ed Reinke/The Cincinnati Enquirer/The Associated Press)

Curbishley declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press. However, in an interview with WCPO of Cincinnati, he said he fought with emergency officials and insisted the concert go on so there wouldn't be more disruption, and believes it likely saved lives.

"I said, 'If you stop them, you're going to have more problems on the arena floor. You could have more people hurt for sure, and if they came back through this area, the medical teams are never going to be able to cope with what they're doing,"' he told WCPO. "And if keeping my band on stage saves even one life, to me, that's what it's about."'

Band's first return to Cincinnati

Daltrey visited a memorial site at a high school near Cincinnati in 2018, but the entire band has not been back since the accident.

Townshend feels that enough time has passed for meaningful discussion about the Cincinnati tragedy.

"How are we responsible? ... Now, we can have a conversation about it when we go back. That conversation will pick up. We will meet people and we'll be there. We'll be there. That's what's important. I'm so glad that we've got this opportunity to go back," he said.

Daltrey, third from right, with members of the cast during shooting of drama film Quadrophenia (including actor Gary Shail, second left), UK, Oct. 25, 1978. ( John Minihan/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

Last month, the founding stone in London's new Music Walk of Fame was dedicated to the band, best known for their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia and a string of 60s and 70s hits including Pinball Wizard and Won't Get Fooled Again.

The April 23 concert at Cincinnati's Northern Kentucky University's BB&T Arena, 11 kilometres south of the 1979 concert site, is part of the band's Moving On! tour.

A share of proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to a memorial for the victims and a college scholarship in their honour.

With files from Reuters