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The Altamont Festival

The Rolling Stones Altamont Festival CD
The Rolling Stones Altamont Festival CD

If the Woodstock Concert in August of 69 was the height of the concert scene, then the Altamont Festival in December of 69 was the bottom.

The Altamont Festival was planned as the final stop of the Rolling Stones Tour of America, although only Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and the Flying Buritto Brothers were advertised. The Stones appearance was supposed to be kept secret to prevent unmanageable crowds. Originally scheduled for Golden Gate Park, they were unable to obtain the necessary permits, and the event was moved to Sears Point Raceway. Then, after a breakdown in contract negotiations and just a day before it’s start, the festival was moved to the Altamont Raceway.

Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter poster with scenes from the Altamont Festival.
Stones Gimme Shelter poster with scenes from the Altamont Festival.

In the meantime, Mick Jagger announced at a press conference that the Rolling Stones would make a surprise appearance. It is speculated that this was done to increase attendance for the filming of a documentary, and it did just that. An estimated 300,000 attended the free concert and a bunch of problems arose. There weren’t enough bathrooms or medical help, the sound system wasn’t sufficient, and the stage wasn’t high enough for security or for anyone to see.

Hell’s Angels Security

On top of all, the Rolling Stones manager had hired the Hell’s Angels for security. The result was predictable, fights broke out right from the start. The Angels became more violent as the day went on, probably because they were consuming as much beer and drugs as the rest of the crowd. One of the Angels motorcycles was knocked over, and they became even more belligerent,

The fighting resulted in Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane being knocked unconscious (reportedly by one of the security guard Angels), and The Grateful Dead refused to play and left the area. This resulted in a span of several hours without entertainment until the Rolling Stones could start, which didn’t make the crowd any friendlier.

As the Stones were playing, a concert goer, Meredith Hunter scuffled with the security Hells Angels and reportedly drew a gun. His death was recorded by several film crews as he was stabbed and kicked to death. One person was arrested but was eventually acquitted when a court ruled that it was in self-defense. The Stones, unaware that Hunter’s beating was fatal, and maybe also in fear of what would happen if they left early, kept on playing. Three others also died at the Altamont concert. Two people were run over in their sleeping bags, and one person drowned.

The Altamont Festival turned out to be one of the most violent times in Rock History, The Grateful Dead went on to write half a dozen songs about it, and several documentaries were released.

-[Jeanne Rose] Altamont was a very very– it was very exciting to go to the beginning of, it was very interesting, it was in– at Altamont, it was cold. [sighs] When we drove there, we had this funny car and people recognized me at the time, which is interesting, and we drove to the top of this hill and to get to the stage, we had to drive down through thousands of people to get to where we were parked.

And people, the motorcycle guys, once they knew who I was they moved the crowd aside. To– and we drove this vehicle down this hill through this entire crowd. I had my hand out the window because it was hot, it was afternoon ish, and [laughs] People would drop drugs into my hand. Well, I was not gonna take strange drugs, you know that’s the rule, don’t do that.

And I’d leave the hand out there and the next person would take that and put something else in there, so it was– that was interesting and the concert started out very well. And we were in a flatbed truck sort of behind the stage so we had a high view of what was going on from sort of a high part behind the stage.

So we saw all of the things that happened and I personally know, I personally feel that there would have been no violence or less violence if the Rolling Stones had started their concert on time. But they, but by the time they decided to you know, walk on the stage, people were crazy. They’d been waiting and waiting.

The Jefferson Airplane had played and there was some sort of violence with them. And– Then another hour, a long time, passed very, very long time before the Rolling Stones came on stage. And by the time they came on stage, people were mad with being high and stupid and crazy and cold and– [coughs] excuse me– and crowded [coughs] and– that was it.

So the concert started out on a really nice high note and ended out– ended on a really low note and that was kind of the end of rock and roll, really. The kind of rock and roll where we had access to the musicians and could talk to them and then they became just too fearful and famous or maybe they weren’t fearful, just too famous.

I don’t know, but to me that was the end of it, the end of- end of 1969.

Source Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8MskEAuvF4