The Who to return for makeup concert -- 33 years later

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 9:34am

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (CNN) -- The hottest ticket in town these days is for the Who's Quadrophenia and More Tour concert on Tuesday night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

It will be the first time Cathy Hedtler will see them live, and she's anxious. After all, The Who is her favorite band, and she purchased her ticket more than 33 years ago.

"I've waited a long time for this," she told CNN.

Hedtler was 18 in December of 1979 when it was announced that The Who's Quadrophenia Tour would be coming to Rhode Island. The then teenager spent three days scouring ticket outlets and record stores to get her seat.

Stephen Ball will also be at the concert Tuesday night. He's been waiting for this since his freshman year in college, when the self-described "Who fanatic" stood in line overnight outside of the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunkin' Donuts Center) for his two tickets; one for him and one for his date -- his kid sister Louise.

"I wrapped up the night shift at McDonald's and ran across the street to the Civic Center Box Office," he remembered. "I spent all of the money I had -- $25."

The Who show was a big to-do in little Rhode Island; the concert was a sell-out.

But The Who never showed up.

Just weeks before the scheduled Rhode Island show, 11 fans were trampled to death at a Who concert in Cincinnati. It was an incident that forever altered festival style seating at rock concerts. In the aftermath, then-Providence Mayor Vincent '"Buddy" Cianci, who oversaw the Providence Civic Center auditorium, canceled the show.

His decision disappointed and enraged Who fans in Providence.

"I wanted (Mayor Cianci) impeached!" Ball said.

"I cried for days," said Hedtler, who still bristles at the mere mention of the name Buddy Cianci.

But even though Providence was the only show to be canceled after the tragedy, Cianci still stands by his decision.

"Did I take heat? Sure I did," the mayor-turned-talk show host told CNN. "I got plenty of hate mail over it. But do I regret it? Not at all."

In the 33 years since the canceled show, The Who have never played a show in Rhode Island despite numerous overtures made by the arena, according to Dunkin' Donuts Center officials.

They have, however, played more than a dozen times at numerous nearby venues in Massachusetts. But for those thinking that the reason for the decades-long absence from the Ocean State was due to a grudge against the arena or Cianci, think again.

"I think the mayor of Providence made an informed decision at the time," Who guitarist Pete Townshend said in a statement to CNN. "It was based on what he knew."

Left heartbroken and bitter, Cathy Hedtler and Stephen Ball nevertheless always held onto those tickets. Ball, now a retired drill sergeant living in Virginia, kept his pair in a green shoe box that he took with him to the 16 places the Army moved him throughout his career. Cathy, now 51 and an accountant, kept hers in a scrapbook of news clippings about the tragedy in Cincinnati.

When the Dunkin' Donuts Center announced last summer that The Who would finally be coming back, general manager Larry Lepore -- a former Providence cop who was coincidentally assigned to work the '79 show -- decided to right a 33-year-old wrong.

Anyone with a ticket to the '79 show would be admitted.

"I think it's a wonderful gesture," Townshend told CNN.

Turns out, Hedtler and Ball were not alone. Thirty-two tickets from 1979 with face values of $11.50 and $12.50 were exchanged for the $129.50 seats being sold today.

One of those tickets belongs to Stephen Ball's sister, Louise. She was in the 11th-grade at the time of that canceled date with her brother and the Who.

On Tuesday, she turns 50.

Lepore says it would take a catastrophic act of God for the arena to cancel the show this time around, but Stephen Ball and Cathy Hedtler aren't taking any chances.

They're praying that they won't get disappointed again.

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