The Rolling Stones’ Altamont Speedway Free Festival: The final stab on the 1960’s peace and love generation

December 6th, 1969 became one of the darkest days on Rock history

The Rolling Stones’ Altamont Speedway Free Festival: The final stab on the 1960’s peace and love generation

If Woodstock was the height of the 1960’s peace and love movement, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival was the exact opposite. Organized by The Rolling Stones as a free festival, it featured some of the biggest names from the U.S West Coast: Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, Santana and Crosby Stills Nash & Young. The Rolling Stones were headlining, having returned recently to tour in the US after a long hiatus due to their former guitarist Brian Jones not being able to get a entry visa in the U.S. Jones was dismissed from the band earlier in 1969 and on July 3rd he passed away drowned in his swimming pool. With a new record, “Let It Bleed”, and a new guitarist, Mick Taylor, the Stones returned to America and decided to do a film-documentary of the tour. After their successful free concert in London’s Hyde Park, that served as a tribute to Brian Jones, the band wanted to also give a free concert to their American fans, but decided to organize it as a festival with several other bands. It looked like the perfect event to close the 1960’s, but the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, that took place in Altamont, California on December 6th, turned into a disaster and one of the darkest days in Rock history. When the Hell’s Angeles were hired as security to the festival in conjunction with the unexpected number of over 300.000 people showing up, the Stones and the organization had no clue of the Pandora box they opened. As soon as the event started, several scenes of violence performed by the Hell’s Angels against the people in the audience triggered what would become the rest of the day. When Jefferson Airplane were on stage they were threatened by the Angels which ended up by singer Marty Balin being beat up. Shortly after arriving and watching the violence in the festival and fearing for their own safety, The Grateful Dead decided to cancel their appearance. Aside of the violence, several drug overdoses were also haunting the event, but even so, the Stones decided to go ahead and perform when it was already night. After interrupting the songs several times to issue warnings to the audience, the band kept playing, but still the agitation and altercations between the Angels and the audience continues. During the band’s performance of “Under My Thumb”, in front of the stage, the band started to notice screams and the Angels involved in a fight with a young 18 year old black man called Meredith Hunter. This ended in the young man being stabbed to death by the Angel after pulling out a gun. The whole scene was witnessed by the Stones and the audience; the band, unaware that Meredith had just been murdered kept playing the show until the end, even reprising “Under My Thumb” Together with the Manson Family murders, Altamont was the final stab in the 1960’s peace and love generation. For the Stones, it was a cursed year, with the death of Brian Jones and the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. The final balance was the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter and three accidental deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident, and one by LSD-induced drowning in an irrigation canal, several people injured, numerous cars stolen and then abandoned, and extensive property damage. The events and footage from the festival were made into a film-documentary “Gimme Shelter”, directed by the Maysles brothers, which was originally released in 1970 and it’s now widely available.

Watch the original 1970 trailer for “Gimme Shelter”

Watch a more recent trailer of “Gimme Shelter”

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