Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Festival seating too risky

        Insults and excuses greeted opponents of festival seating's return to Cincinnati.

        Teri E. Linder sent an e-mail from Kenwood noting she has been called “everything from an old stick-in-the-mud to a party pooper.” She vigorously opposes standing-room-only festival seating spaces on the floor of the U.S. Bank Arena for Bruce Springsteen's Nov. 12 show.

        My Aug. 8 column protested lifting the city's ban on festival seating at the site of the 1979 Who tragedy, where 11 concertgoers lost their lives outside what was then known as Riverfront Coliseum. This prompted dozens of readers to respond with reminders:

        Only 1,800 floor tickets were available.

        Bruce Springsteen only charged a fan-friendly rate of $75 per ticket.

Sad night

        Ben Bowes of San Diego only wishes his brother, Peter, could hear the insults and excuses.

        Unfortunately, Peter can't.

        He's dead.

        Peter Bowes was one of the 11 concertgoers who died outside the Coliseum on the night of Dec. 3, 1979, during a fatal rush for the doors. The stampede was blamed on festival seating, which was banned after the tragedy, only to be lifted 23 years later.

        Ben and Peter planned to enjoy that concert together.

        “We were supposed to meet during the show at one of the portals inside the Coliseum,” Ben told me.

        “Needless to say, he never showed up.”

        Peter Bowes was 18.

        Ben went to the Who concert with friends. Peter had stood in line to get them the tickets.

        Earlier that day, Peter gave Ben a ride to their parents' home in Wyoming. Peter had finished his duties at the hospital where he volunteered, hoping to realize his dream of becoming a psychologist.

        “That's the last time I ever saw him,” Ben said. His voice faltered as he recalled his worst nightmare.

        Ben and his friends left the Who concert early.

        “We were not having a good time,” he said. He remembers leaving the building and “walking by a pile of shoes.”

        He did not know what had happened. No announcement had been made inside.

        Memories of those shoes still haunt me. As an Enquirer pop music critic, I covered the Who concert. Long before the show ended, I learned what happened. And saw its aftermath.

        Near the shoes lost in the stampede, police draped sheets over lifeless bodies. Some wearing sneakers. Some shoeless.

Senseless loss

        Ben has heard the arguments for festival seating. He remains unconvinced.

        He noted similarities between space and crowd sizes of 1979 and 2002. “Crowd estimates were about 3,000 people in a V-shaped space outside the coliseum,” he said. “Now you're looking at about 2,000 in a similar situation.”

        The risks, he feels, are “too great.”

        “I've never gotten over that night. I've never gone to another concert. I don't do well in crowds.”

        He refuses, however, to let sadness be Peter's legacy.

        “He was a great kid,” Ben said. “He was a perfectionist.”

        That reminds Ben of his son, named after his late uncle.

        “My Peter's 11 and going into the sixth grade.”

        He plays guitar, just like the uncle he never knew, and uses his old instrument.

        Ben just had the guitar restored. He brought it home five days before word emerged about festival seating coming back to the arena where his brother died.

        After hearing the news, Ben sat down with Peter's old guitar. He picked out a simple tune.

        Playing “House of the Rising Sun,” he remembered a brother who would have turned 41 this year and should still be around to see the sun rise.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at cradel@enquirer.com; 768-8379; fax 768-8340. Past columns at www.enquirer.com/columns/radel

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

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