Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Death at the Altamont Festival: December 6, 1969

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To cap off their 1969 tour, The Rolling Stones organized a free rock festival which they would headline. Also appearing were Santana; Jefferson Airplane; the Flying Burrito Brothers; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Roughly 300,000 people attended the concert at the Altamont Speedway in northern California in the San Francisco area. Anticipated by some as a “Woodstock West”, it instead has become symbolic as the end of the 1960s and the peace-oriented hippie era because of the ensuing violence at the event. The festival was filmed for the 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter.

Members of a local Hell’s Angel motorcycle club were tapped, at least according to some, to serve as stage security for $500 worth of beer. The Rolling Stones’ manager Sam Cutler has denied this, saying that the only agreement was that the Hell’s Angels would ensure that no one tampered with the generators. They were not asked to police the event.

Throughout the day, the crowds and the Angels became increasing intoxicated and violent. By the time the Stones took the stage as the final act, there had been numerous fights between the Angels and the crowd. Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin was even knocked unconscious by an Angel during the band’s set and the Stones’ Mick Jagger had punched by a fan within moments of arriving at the site. The Grateful Dead, who had been scheduled to perform, refused to play after hearing about Balin.

With audiences trying to rush the stage, more scuffles broke out. One concert-goer Meredith Hunter, tried getting on stage and was stabbed by Hell’s Angel Alan Passaro who saw Hunter with a gun. Hunter died and Passaro was arrested and tried for murder. It was concluded, thanks to the incident being captured on film, that Passaro had acted in self defense.

footage of Meredith Hunter’s stabbing

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