WHITE OAK, Ohio — If you're in White Oak in the evenings, listen closely. You might just hear Safe Passage jamming in the basement of Walt Medlock's home.
The band is getting ready for something big — perhaps the biggest gig they never imagined.
"We will be the first band to perform ever at TQL," Medlock said.
"And we happen to be opening for some little band called The Who," his bandmate, Mike Simkin, chimed in.
Medlock, Simkin and the rest of the band — Evan Murray, Jackson Medlock, Joe Russel and Mark Neal — got word recently that The Who chose them to be its opening act when the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers make their historic return to Cincinnati Sunday, May 15. As the band is configured now, it will be Safe Passage's second performance ever.
So you may wonder, why would The Who pick a band out of obscurity for this honor? For that, you need to go back to 1979 — Dec. 3, 1979, to be exact.
That was the night 11 people died trying to get into The Who's concert at what was then called Riverfront Coliseum. Three of the those who died went to Finneytown High School: Stephan Preston, Jackie Eckerle and Karen Morrison. Walt Medlock and Mike Simkin went to Finneytown as well. The three were their friends. In fact, Medlock and Simkin were at The Who concert that night.
"It was surreal," Medlock said. "I guess that's the best word for it."
And every year for the past decade or so, Medlock, Simkin and some other friends perform at an annual fundraiser, the PEM Memorial, on Finneytown's campus to raise money for scholarships in their friends' names. They play The Who's music and other music they knew their late friends loved.
So when The Who planned its return to Cincinnati, it chose Safe Passage. Simkin and Medlock were stunned.
"It was an almost like Godzilla walking down your street something that's so unreal, it's just hard to believe," Simkin said.
He and Medlock admit playing in a stadium in front of thousands is a dream realized.
"This is an amazing chance to live that for 25-30 minutes, I've got to thank The Who management," Medlock said.
"It's amazing that they allowed this to happen," Simkin said. "God bless those guys."
The band plans to play its own music in addition to hits everyone will know. And while they are on stage playing, Medlock and Simkin know they will be thinking of the friends they lost 42 years ago.
"Love has been the engine behind this whole thing," said Simkin.
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