|Altamont Speedway Free Festival|
|Location(s)||Altamont Speedway, California, United States|
|Founded by||The Rolling Stones|
|Date(s)||December 6, 1969|
|Genre||Rock and folk, including blues-rock, folk rock, jazz fusion, latin rock, and psychedelic rock styles.|
The Altamont Speedway Free Festival was an infamous rock concert held on Saturday, December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in northern California, between Tracy and Livermore. Headlined and organized by The Rolling Stones, it also featured, in order of appearance: Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, 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. “That's the way things went at Altamont—so badly that the Grateful Dead, prime organizers and movers of the festival, didn't even get to play.”
Approximately 300,000 people attended the concert, and some anticipated that it would be a "Woodstock West." Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles shot footage of the event and incorporated it into a documentary film entitled Gimme Shelter (1970). The event is best known for having been marred by considerable violence, including one homicide and three accidental deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation canal. Four births were reported during the event as well.
The concert originally was scheduled to be held at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. However, a previously scheduled San Francisco 49ers football game at Kezar Stadium, located in Golden Gate Park, the weekend of December 6–7 made that venue impractical, and permits were never issued for the concert. The venue was then changed to the Sears Point Raceway, but after a dispute with Sears Point's owner, Filmways, Inc., over film distribution rights, the festival was moved to the Altamont Raceway at the suggestion of its then-owner, local businessman Dick Carter. The concert was to take place on Saturday, December 6; the location was switched on the night of Thursday, December 4.
In making the preparations the Dead's manager Rock Scully and show co-producer Michael Lang helicoptered over the site before making the selection much as Lang had done when the Woodstock Festival was moved at the last moment from Wallkill, New York to Bethel, New York.
The move resulted in numerous logistical problems including a lack of facilities such as portable toilets and medical tents. The move also created a problem for the stage design, because instead of being on top of a rise, which suited the geography at Sears Point, at Altamont the stage would now be at the bottom of a slope. The Rolling Stones' stage manager on the 1969 tour, Chip Monck, explained that "the stage was one metre high – 39 inches for us - and [at Sears Point] it was on the top of a hill, so all the audience pressure was back upon them".  Because of the short notice for the change of location, the stage couldn't be changed. "We weren’t working with scaffolding, we were working in an older fashion with parallels. You could probably have put another stage below it … but nobody had one," Monck said. 
By some accounts, the Hells Angels were hired as security by the Rolling Stones, on the recommendation of the Grateful Dead, for $500 worth of beer — a story that has been denied by parties who were directly involved. According to Rolling Stones' road manager Sam Cutler, "the only agreement there ever was ... the Angels would make sure nobody tampered with the generators, but that was the extent of it. But there was no 'They're going to be the police force' or anything like that. That's all bollocks." The deal was made at a meeting between Cutler, Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully,and a Hell's Angel called Pete Knell, of the Angel's San Francisco chapter.  According to Cutler, the arrangement was that all the bands lined up for the free concert were supposed to share the $500 cost for beer to pay the Angels, "[but] the person who paid it was me, and I never got it back, to this fucking day.” 
Hells Angels member Sweet William recalled this exchange between Cutler and himself at a meeting prior to the concert, where Cutler had asked them to provide security:
When Cutler asked how they would like to be paid, William replied, "we like beer." In the documentary Gimme Shelter Sonny Barger states that the Hells Angels were not interested in policing the event, and that organizers had told him that he and his fellow Angels would be required to do little more than sit on the edge of the stage and drink beer and just make sure there werent any murders or rapes going on. Other accounts also state that the initial arrangement was for the Hells Angels to watch over the equipment, but that Cutler later moved them, and their beer, near the stage to placate them or to protect the stage.
In 2009, Cutler explained his decision to use the Angels. “I was talking with them, because I was interested in the security of my band - everyone’s security, for that matter. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. They were the only people who were strong and together. [They had to protect the stage] because it was descending into absolute chaos. Who was going to stop it?”  Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully said if the Angels hadn't been on the stage, "that whole crowd could have easily passed out, and rolled down onto the stage. There was no barrier." 
Stefan Ponek, who hosted a December 7, 1969, KSAN-FM radio broadcast of a four-hour, "day after" post-concert telephone call-in forum (and who also helped organize the event), provided the following for the 2000 release of the Gimme Shelter DVD: "What we learned in the broadcast was pretty much startling: These guys - the Angels - had been hired and paid with $500 of beer, on a truck with ice, to essentially bring in the Stones and keep people off the stage. That was the understanding, that was the deal. And it seemed like there was not a lot of disagreement over that; that seemed to emerge as a fact, because it became rather apparent that the Stones didn't know what kind of people they were dealing with."
The Gimme Shelter DVD contains extensive excerpts from that broadcast. A Hell's Angels member who identified himself as "Pete, from Hells Angels San Francisco" (most likely Pete Knell, president of the San Francisco chapter), says "They offered us $500 worth of beer (to) go there and take care of the stage...we took this $500 worth of beer to do it." Sonny Barger, who also called into the KSAN forum, states: "We were told by one of the (other Hells Angels) clubs if we showed up down there (and) sat on the stage and drink some beer..that the Stones manager or somebody had bought for us." In his lengthy call, Barger mentions the beer deal yet again: "I ain't no cop, I ain't never going to ever pretend to be no cop. I didn't go there to police nothing, man. They told me if I could sit on the edge of the stage so nobody could climb over me, I could drink beer until the show was over. And that's what I went there to do." Emmett Grogan (founder of the radical community-action group, the Diggers), who was intimately involved in the organization of the event (especially at the two earlier-planned venues), confirmed the $500 beer arrangement on that same KSAN forum with Ponek.
"Pete" also tells host Ponek that the Angels were hired by Cutler due to some rowdy, anxious on-stage incidents during the Stones' Oakland and Miami concerts weeks earlier that Fall 1969 tour. As security guards, Pete says "We ain't into that security", but they agreed after the beer offer. He said other than being told to "just keep people off the stage", Cutler gave the Hells Angels very little specific instructions for stage security: "They didn't say nothing to us about any of that." And although the Angels are not security guards, "If we say we're going to do something, we do it. If we decide to do it, its done. No matter what, how far we have to go to do it." (The similar lack of detailed security instructions by the concert's management was also mentioned by Barger during his telephone call-in.)
Altamont Speedway owner Dick Carter hired hundreds of professional, plainclothes security guards, ostensibly more for the purpose of protecting his property rather than for the safety and well-being of the concertgoers. (Barger mentions these guards, as identified by their wearing of "little white buttons".)
Since Ken Kesey had invited the Hells Angels to one of his outdoor Acid Tests, the bikers had been perceived by the hippies as akin to "noble savages". They were considered "outlaw brothers of the counterculture". They had provided security at Grateful Dead shows without reported violence. Further, the Rolling Stones may have been misled by their experience with a British contingent of self-described "Hells Angels", a non-outlaw group of admirers of American biker-gear, who had provided nonviolent security at a free concert the Stones had given earlier that year in Hyde Park, London. Cutler claims he never had any illusions about the nature of Californian Hell's Angels ("That’s another canard foisted on the world by the press", he said ), but Rock Scully remembers explaining to the Stones what the 'real' Angels were like after watching the Hyde Park concert.
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 Rolling Stones waited until sundown to perform. Stanley Booth stated that part of the reason for the delay was that Bill Wyman had missed the helicopter ride to the venue. When they began their set, a tightly packed group of between 4,000 and 5,000 jammed to the very edge of the stage, and many attempted to climb onto it.
Lead singer Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones (who had already been punched by a concertgoer within seconds of emerging from his helicopter) was visibly intimidated by the unruly situation, urging everyone to "Just be cool down in the front there, don't push around." Within a minute of starting their third song, "Sympathy for the Devil", a fight erupted in the front of the crowd, at the foot of the stage. After a lengthy pause and another appeal for calm, the band restarted "Sympathy" and continued their set with less incident until the start of "Under My Thumb". Some of the Hell's Angels got into a scuffle with 18-year-old Meredith Hunter when he attempted to get onstage with other fans. One of the Hell's Angels grabbed Hunter's head, punched him, and chased him back into the crowd. At that point Hunter returned to the stage where, according to Gimme Shelter producer Porter Bibb, Hunter's girlfriend Patty Bredahoff found him and tearfully begged him to calm down and move further back in the crowd with her, but he was reportedly enraged, irrational and so high he could barely walk. Rock Scully, who could see the audience clearly from the top of a truck by the stage, said of Hunter, “I saw what he was looking at, that he was crazy, he was on drugs, and that he had murderous intent. There was no doubt in my mind that he intended to do terrible harm to Mick or somebody in the Rolling Stones, or somebody on that stage." 
Footage from the documentary shows Hunter (seen in the film in a bright lime-green suit) drawing a long-barreled revolver from his jacket, and Hells Angel Alan Passaro, armed with a knife, running at Hunter from the side, parrying the gun with his left hand and stabbing him with his right. In the film, Passaro is seen delivering only two stabs, but he is reported to have stabbed Hunter five times in the upper back. Witnesses also reported Hunter was stomped on by several Hells Angels while he was on the ground. The gun was recovered and turned over to police. Hunter's autopsy confirmed he was high on methamphetamine when he died. Passaro was arrested and tried for murder in the summer of 1971, but was acquitted after a jury viewed concert footage  showing Hunter brandishing the revolver and concluded that Passaro had acted in self-defense.
The Rolling Stones were aware of the skirmish, but felt that if they had stopped playing then the crowd would become even more unruly and start to riot, leading to more chaos.
On May 25, 2005, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office announced that it was officially closing the stabbing case. Investigators, concluding a renewed two-year investigation, dismissed the theory of a second Hells Angel taking part in the stabbing.
The Altamont concert is often contrasted with the Woodstock festival that took place less than four months earlier. While Woodstock represented "peace and love", Altamont came to be viewed as the end of the hippie era and the de facto conclusion of late-1960s American youth culture: "Altamont became, whether fairly or not, a symbol for the death of the Woodstock Nation." Rock music critic Robert Christgau wrote in 1972 that "Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended".
The Grateful Dead wrote several songs about, or in response to, what lyricist Robert Hunter called "the Altamont affair", including "New Speedway Boogie" (featuring the line "One way or another, this darkness got to give") and "Mason's Children". Both songs were written and recorded during sessions for the early 1970 album Workingman's Dead, but "Mason's Children" was viewed as too "popular" stylistically and was consequently not included on the album.
In 2008 a former FBI agent asserted that some members of the Hell's Angels had conspired to murder Mick Jagger in retribution for The Rolling Stones' lack of support following the concert, and for the negative portrayal of the Angels in the film. The conspirators reportedly used a boat to approach a residence where Jagger was staying on Long Island, New York; the plot failed when the boat was nearly sunk by a storm. Jagger's spokesperson has refused to comment on the matter.