The Rolling Stones’ performance at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, is infamous in rock history, marred by tragedy and chaos. The concert was intended to be a West Coast counterpart to Woodstock, but it ended up being a stark contrast, marked by violence and the tragic death of a concertgoer.
Here are key details and events surrounding The Rolling Stones’ performance at the Altamont Festival:
- Location: The Altamont Speedway is located in Livermore, California. The decision to hold the concert at this venue was made relatively last minute.
- Security Issues: Unlike Woodstock, Altamont did not have adequate security measures in place. The Hells Angels motorcycle gang was hired as security, but this decision proved disastrous.
- Chaos and Violence: Throughout the day, there were escalating tensions between the audience and the Hells Angels. The atmosphere was charged with aggression, exacerbated by drug use and a lack of proper facilities.
- The Rolling Stones’ Set: The Rolling Stones took the stage later in the day. Their set began with the sun setting, and the crowd was already in a state of unrest. During their performance, several violent incidents occurred near the stage.
- Tragic Death: The most tragic incident was the stabbing death of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter during The Rolling Stones’ performance. Hunter had approached the stage with a gun, and a Hells Angels member, acting as security, fatally stabbed him. The incident was captured on film in the documentary “Gimme Shelter.”
- Impact on the Band: The Altamont Festival had a profound impact on The Rolling Stones. It marked the end of the idealized peace-and-love era of the 1960s and highlighted the darker side of the counterculture movement.
- Gimme Shelter Documentary: The events at Altamont were later documented in the film “Gimme Shelter,” directed by Albert and David Maysles. The documentary captures the chaos, violence, and the tragic moment of Meredith Hunter’s death.
- Cultural Significance: Altamont is often seen as the symbolic end of the 1960s counterculture. It showcased the potential dangers of large, poorly planned music festivals and served as a cautionary tale for future events.
The Rolling Stones’ performance at the Altamont Festival is a somber chapter in the history of rock music, illustrating the complexities and challenges of the counterculture movement during that era. The tragedy at Altamont cast a shadow over what was meant to be a celebration of music and peace, leaving a lasting impact on the cultural narrative of the 1960s.