In August of 1969 Woodstock became one of the most historically successful festivals of all time. It was an event that was full of peace, love, and live music from some of the best musicians in the world. Having not been a part of it and in the process of wrapping up their tour of the US, The Rolling Stones decided to attempt to recreate the successful festival on the west coast. Unlike Woodstock, the Altamont Speedway Concert ended in tragedy, death, and what some say the end of the peace and love movement of the 1960’s.
The Altamont Speedway Concert took place three months after Woodstock in Northern California, 60 miles east of San Francisco. One of the few good decisions, if not the only good decision, made for this festival was the line-up that consisted of Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Grateful Dead, and The Rolling Stones. The Altamont Speedway Concert was held at Altamont Raceway Park and unlike Woodstock, which took place after months of detailed planning, the concert venue was determined and announced four days prior to the event.
It is estimated that 300,000 fans attended the free festival in 1969. It’s also reported that there were nowhere near enough toilets at the location; I’ll let you go ahead and imagine how that ended up. The stage was only slightly raised off the ground without any guard rails, making it easy for fans to approach the musicians. The biggest and most shocking mistake that was made in the planning of this concert was hiring the Hell’s Angels as security.
The Hells Angels were paid $500 worth of beer as compensation for their work. Unlike the relaxed Hell’s Angels that The Rolling Stones claimed to have met in the UK, these men were aggressive, power hungry drunks. The Grateful Dead refused to go on and fled the venue after one of the Hell’s Angels punched the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin, knocking him out cold. Scared of the consequences of them not performing, The Rolling Stones took the stage last.
It was during their song “Under My Thumb” that a Hell’s Angel got into a fight with a fan who was close to the front of the stage. It is said that the Hell’s Angel pulled the fan by his hair and ear, pushing him down and blocking his view of Jagger. The fan shook loose of the Hell’s Angels grasp but was quickly hit in the mouth, sending him backwards into the crowd. It was there that four more Hell’s Angels jumped the fan, kicking and mugging him. The fan managed to get up and start running from the Hell’s Angels when he pulled out a gun, holding it up in the air as a warning to leave him alone. It was then that the fan was stabbed multiple times in the back by the Hell’s Angels and despite other fans attempts to get him to safety, he died within 20 minutes of the incident.
Three more deaths occurred at The Altamont Speedway Concert that day, as well as four live births. The Hell’s Angel that murdered the concert goer was let off because the court determined that what he did was an act of self defense. Though the attempt brought forth by The Rolling Stones to recreate the astonishing success that occurred at Woodstock, The Altamont Speedway Concert has gone down as one of the biggest live music failures in history and exposed the “not so peaceful” aspect that was a part of the 1960’s.
Stone, Rolling. “The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 21 Jan. 1970. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.
Kirkpatrick, Rob. “The Day the Music Died? The Altamont Free Concert, 40 Years Later.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 06 Dec. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.