Altamont Festival was a one-day event that took place on December 6, 1969, a few months after Woodstock Festival. It was nicknamed as the West Woodstock but the story was quite different. Altamont Festival was characterized by chaos, violence and also death.
The idea came from Jefferson Airplane who wanted to make a free concert with The Rolling Stones, the biggest band of the time alongside The Beatles. Initially the festival was scheduled to take place in San Francisco but Jefferson Airplane quickly realized that local authorities were not doing their part and had to change their plans. At the last minute (just two days before the event!), Dick Carter offered his Altamont Speedway and the band accepted in desperation.
It was then necessary to set up the event in such short notice. The stage was built but it didn't even have barriers to separate it from the audience so in conversations with The Rolling Stones manager Sam Cutler, it was agreed that the Hells Angels could help protect the stage as they had done it at other events with no hassle. And so it was.
But on December 6th more than 300,000 people showed up at the Altamont Speedway. The lineup included Santana, the first performer on the stage, TheFlying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills & Nash,Jefferson Airplane, and The Rolling Stones. Also the Grateful Dead were included in the bill but declined to act a few moments ahead of time due to the rising wave of violence.
It is unclear how it all began since everyone has different versions but the fact is that the ambience quickly became cloudy and violence took over the venue. Witnesses claim that the Hells Angels were involved in all the batting scenes.
But the worst was still to happen. When The Rolling Stones took the stage, Mick Jagger, who had already been punched by a member of the audience, appealed for calm and urged people not to push. But when they played "Sympathy For The Devil" the violence resumed and a man named Meredith Hunter wanted to take the stage with other people from the audience. The Hells Angels tried to stop them, but Hunter, who according to some witnesses was drugged and extremely angry, wanted to return. Stopped again, the man drew a revolver. That's when a member of the Hells Angels grabbed him and stabbed him twice, killing him. The Altamont Festival has gone down in history for the worst reasons.
But aside from Hunter, the festival was also marked by other deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident and one by drowning in a canal by an LSD-induced person. Many cars were also stolen and then abandoned and there was extensive property damage.
The festival was filmed by Albert and David Maysles who included footage in a documentary released the following year called Gimme Shelter.