Thursday, August 18, 2011

1969 Altamont Free Concert

On the train I heard of a big concert that took place at Altamont Speedway; The Rolling Stones West Coast answer to Woodstock.   Although the Speedway is in Alameda County, it is actually in the San Joaquin Valley, and the closest town is Tracy (Mountain House now.)  It is where the 580 and the 205 split. 

The line up included, in order of appearance: Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, with the Rolling Stones taking the stage as the final act. The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform, but declined to play shortly before their scheduled appearance due to the increasing violence at the venue.  (Wikipedia)

Several logistical problems plagued the concert.  First, it was moved to the location only a day before.  It was originally planned for San Jose, and then San Francisco, but both venues fell through.  It required quick logistical changes.  The problems of  parking or ample rest rooms were not overcome.  300,000 or more were at the concert.  That crowd would have required much more planning and accommodation. Cars were parked up and down the freeway.  The hastily built stage was too low, which allowed audience members to sit or lean over the stage disturbing the concert and damaging property.  The Hells Angels were hired, for $500 of beer.  The used their bikes to block access to the stage.  There were fights over the bikes, and over keeping people off the stage.  Often the Hells Angels would use clubs to control the crowd.

The 1969 concert has been declared the end of the hippy era.  It demonstrated that free-love and drug abuse have consequences.  The concert is known as having four births, but also four tragic deaths.  The deaths included an accidental drowning which occurred in a local canal, a hit-and-run auto accident, in which a car ran over a couple of party goers, and a tragic murder.  A young black man, Meredith Hunter, at the concert with a white girlfriend, which was a bigger deal in those days, high on methamphetamine, had brought a gun to the concert.  When he pulled the gun to confront some of the Hells Angels, who were in charge of security, one of the Hells Angels stabbed him in the back of the neck, as he was taken to the ground and kicked.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.  Latter is was adjudged to be self defense because of the gun.

There were also many broken heads and other injuries.  The concert performers had to stop many times to ask the crowd to calm down.  The lead singer for Jefferson Airplane was hit, Mick Jagger was hit when he first arrived, and there were many scuffles.  Several times while the Rolling Stones played, they had to stop and calm the crowd.  Many times they threatened to stop the concert, but in the end, thought the riot would be worse had they stopped.  The Rolling Stones did not realize anyone had been murdered until after the concert.  

At the concert there were too many drugs, too many people who were interested only in themselves, too many people.  What was suppose to be the best party of December, turned into a tragedy instead; and the end of the age of innocence.

1 comment:

  1. Christopher Bolei: we had a great time that day