Sunday, December 06, 2009

40 Years Ago Today- Altamont!

When asked the question, what was the definitive music event of the sixties? Most people will answer, Woodstock. Woodstock symbolized the peace, love and understanding era (or at least 1969) and it became iconic of the end of the sixties. While Woodstock defined what was right about the sixties, Altamont demonstrated what was wrong and it led to the death of the Woodstock nation. The Altamont free concert was held on December 6th, 1969 at Altamont Speedway and was headlined by the Rolling Stones. This infamous concert was best remembered for the considerable violence including one homicide and three accidental deaths. An excellent document of the event is available in the film, Gimme Shelter, a documentary that followed the Rolling Stones on their 1969 American tour and the lead-up to the free Altamont concert. Approximately 300,000 people attended the event that ended in mayhem and much controversy.

Much of the problems with this concert, as compared to Woodstock, was the choice of security hired to add muscle and order. The Hells Angel's were allegedly hired by the Rolling Stones on the recommendation of the Grateful Dead, for $500 worth of beer. Here's a brief description (courtesy of wikipedia) of the result of this bad judgement:

Although peaceful at first, over the course of the day, the mood of both the crowd and the Angels became progressively agitated, intoxicated and violent. The Angels had been drinking their free beer all day in front of the stage, and most were highly drunk. Fueled by LSD and amphetamines, the crowd had also become antagonistic and unpredictable, attacking each other, the Angels, and the performers. By the time the Rolling Stones took stage in the early evening, the mood had taken a decidedly ugly turn as numerous fights had erupted between Angels and crowd members and within the crowd itself. Denise Jewkes of local San Francisco rock band the Ace of Cups, six months pregnant, was hit in the head by an empty beer bottle thrown from the crowd and suffered a skull fracture. The Angels proceeded to arm themselves with sawed-off weighted pool cues and motorcycle chains to drive the crowd further back from the stage.

After the crowd (perhaps accidentally) toppled one of the Angels' motorcycles, the Angels became even more aggressive, including toward the performers. Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the head and knocked unconscious by an Angel during the band's set, as seen in the documentary film Gimme Shelter. The Grateful Dead had been scheduled to play between Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Rolling Stones, but after hearing about the Balin incident from Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, they refused to play and left the venue, citing the quickly degenerating security situation.

The definitive moment of the film, was the stabbing of Meredith Hunter. Hunter is seen in the film attempting to get on stage with others, but was grabbed and punched in the head by an Angel. Hunter is shown in the documentary drawing a gun from his jacket and pointing it at the stage, at that moment he is tackled, stabbed and stomped on by the Hells Angels. Alan Passaro the man that stabbed and killed Hunter was arrested and tried for murder, but was acquitted after the jury watched the footage from the film and declared he acted in self-defence.

The footage that was filmed at Altamont for Gimme Shelter was what really made this documentary so significant. Personally, I consider Gimme Shelter one of the best music documentaries ever. It has the drama and build-up of a real event that was unpredictable and intriguing and you don't have to be a Rolling Stones fan to enjoy the film, as it is an important document of a decade, oh so long ago...

I've looked hard to find a decent recording of the Rolling Stones's set at Altamont and I actually found a complete recording of the show. During the film, they show the Stones' performing only a few numbers so this is a real treat, a historical document, if you will. It's not the best sounding recording, (it's definitely an audience recording complete with chatter and screaming), but it captures some of the chaos and craziness of the crowd, as well as the Stones' amazing set. Check out the first ever performance of Brown Sugar! Are they the greatest rock 'n' roll band? You decide!

Download: The Rolling Stones- Altamont, December 6, 1969. rar (Part 1) (Part 2)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Searching round for this forever! Thanks and keep up the good work!

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