The event was intended to be California’s answer to
Woodstock, a free ‘Thank You America’ concert by The Rolling Stones following
their recently successful American tour. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson
Airplane were also due to appear and the date was set for 6th December 1969.
The concert was originally to take place at the Golden Gate Park but the
city authorities, on hearing about the Rolling Stones playing (not originally
advised to them) and fearing a large crowd, refused to grant the required
permits(1). It was then due to be held at Sears Point
raceway but there was a dispute over film rights and the site was finally
changed to Altamont Speedway track only 40 hours before the concert which
caused a great deal of confusion on the roads with fans who were unsure
where it was to take place. 300,000 spectators watched as Santana began
the first set. . . .
Hell’s Angels had been hired to take care of security(2),
in exchange for a few hundred dollars' worth of beer. Violence was in the
air and the Angels knocked Jefferson Airplane’s singer Marty Balin unconscious.
The group intended to stop playing, but the Angels threatened to beat up
guitarist Paul Kantner (3). The Angels then took exception
to a fat youth who’d stripped naked and they beat him to the ground. The
Grateful Dead decided not to play. The Rolling Stones arrived by helicopter
and, as Mick Jagger emerged, he was hit by a youth who shouted, “I hate
you. I’m gonna kill you.”
Stones began their performance, playing ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and ‘Sympathy
For The Devil.’ They were witnesses to a killing and saw the Angels
turn on a black youth, 18 year-old Meredith Hunter, and club him with
pool cues, fists and chains (4). He bled to
death after being stabbed five times in the back and once under the
The Angels claimed that he had brandished a gun, but no gun was ever
found. At the trial, the Hells Angel defendant, Alan Passaro, was
freed with a verdict of ‘Justifiable Homicide'.
Three other people were to die at the festival and many others suffered
serious injuries. Two died when a car ploughed through their campfire
after the concert had finished and a man on an 'acid' trip slipped
into a canal.
Sonny Barger, president of the Oakland Chapter of the Hell’s Angels was
to say, “I’m no peace-creep in any sense of the word.” In the closing weeks
of the Sixties, the ‘Summer of Love’ had turned into a winter of hate.
Sixties City Notes (from Terry Roth and other sources)