Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Festival seating back for Springsteen concert


First time at downtown arena since 11 deaths at Who concert

By Larry Nager, lnager@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For the first time since 11 concert-goers were killed at Riverfront Coliseum almost 23 years ago, festival seating will return to the arena at Bruce Springsteen's request.

        Cincinnati Police have granted a one-time variance for the Nov. 12 Springsteen concert at the same venue, now called U.S. Bank Arena. Tickets go on sale Saturday.

        The decision overturns a festival-seating ban that has been in effect since three weeks after the Dec. 3, 1979, Who concert, in which fans were crushed in a pre-show melee. Festival seating is considered a factor in the crowd's fatal rush.

        One national safety expert compares the decision to desecrating the World Trade Center site.

        “Would Bruce Springsteen put on a show at Ground Zero in New York?” asked Paul Wertheimer, head of Crowd Management Strategies, a Chicago-based crowd safety consulting firm specializing in concert and festival safety issues. “He wouldn't do it out of respect for the people who died there. So why is he coming to Cincinnati and playing at Ground Zero where 11 young people died and doing a concert in the same climate that killed them?”

        Springsteen spokesperson Marilyn Laverty refused comment on why Mr. Springsteen is requiring festival seating on this tour, the first time he has done so. But according to the Springsteen fan Web site, www.backstreets.com, his longtime manager Jon Landau said all floor tickets on the tour will be general admission/festival seating.

        Festival seating - where chairs are removed from arena floors to increase attendance and, say proponents, create a looser, more festive atmosphere - is making a comeback. More top concert acts are demanding it for their shows.

        “My understanding is that he went and saw U2 and really liked the energy, liked the vibe. It really added more to the show,” said Jim Moehring, U.S. Bank Arena general manager. For Mr. Springsteen, a longtime scalping foe, festival seating will eliminate the front row seats scalpers routinely snatch up and sell at inflated prices.

        “If I can get tickets up close I will,” said Patty Hudepohl, 34, a fan from Edgewood. With acts like the Rolling Stones charging hundreds of dollars for the best seats, Mr. Springsteen's $75 floor tickets are in keeping with his working-man image, she says. “That's what Bruce is all about.”

        U2's tour passed by Cincinnati. The reason, Mr. Moehring said, was the festival-seating ban. The city also said no to festival-seating requests by Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins.

        Those concerts went to nearby cities with festival seating. Mr. Moehring says a general-admission floor is the only way his building can compete.

        “They've all got festival seating - Conseco Fieldhouse (Indianapolis), Schottenstein and Nationwide arenas (Columbus), Nutter Center (Dayton), Rupp Arena (Lexington),” said Mr. Moehring.

        Representatives from Cincinnati police and Nederlander Concerts, which owns U.S. Bank Arena, attended festival-seating concerts in Dayton and Indianapolis by the heavy-metal band Korn.

        Many Tristate concerts have festival seating, including Riverbend's lawn (outside city limits) and Pepsi Jammin' on Main.

        Cincinnati Police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd said police took the audience into account when granting the variance. “They're not a crowd likely to get rowdy and cause trouble. He draws a generally well-behaved type crowd,” he said.

        Marilyn Kirby, owner of Everybody's Records and one of the Tristate's biggest Springsteen fans, has seen the Boss in concert about 75 times. She'll be at the Nov. 12 show, but in a reserved seat. “I do not want tickets on the floor,” said Ms. Kirby, 52, who attended the 1979 Who concert with her 4- and 7-year-old sons (she had reserved seats). “I think it's not a great idea,” she said. “I think it's definitely a safer bet than, like, a Metallica show, but I'm kind of surprised. It's a mellower crowed, yeah, but there are always going to be those crazies.”

        Because arena officials are hoping this is the first of many such events, they say they'll take no chances. Mr. Moehring calls the Springsteen concert a “trial balloon” for bringing back festival seating. “We're going to have every security measure in place,” he said.

        The arena has set a limit of 1,800 for general admission seating on the floor (some venues pack as many as 2,500 in the same space). The entire arena capacity for the concert will be 17,200. In addition, floor ticket holders will be given wristbands and be checked several times, keeping the traffic as controlled as possible.

        “Whether or not they can do this well, it shouldn't be done for safety's sake and because it will set a precedent,” said Mr. Wertheimer, who was chief of staff for the Task Force on Crowd Control and Safety organized after the Who deaths. “People all the time forget the lessons of the past.”

        Related story from Enquirer archives:
        20th anniversary of Who tragedy Dec. 3, 1999



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