Today marks the 50th anniversary of the ill-fated free concert held at California’s Altamont Speedway and headlined by The Rolling Stones. During The Stones’ set, an 18-year-old man named Meredith Hunter who was brandishing a revolver near the stage was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, which had been hired to provide security for the event.
The concert was the final show of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour, and was intended to be a West Coast version of Woodstock. The other acts that performed that day were Santana, The Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Unfortunately, the mood of the Altamont event was a far cry from the peace-and-love vibe of Woodstock, as a variety of altercations — fueled by drugs and alcohol — broke out between audience members and the Hells Angels, who wielded pool cues.
During The Jefferson Airplane’s performance, singer Marty Balin confronted a Hells Angels member he saw beating a concert-goer and he was punched by the biker and knocked out. The Grateful Dead also had been scheduled to play the concert, but when they were informed of the incident involving Balin and the generally violent atmosphere, they decided not to perform.
When The Stones began playing, a number of audience members jumped onstage, only to be beaten by the bikers. While the band played “Sympathy for the Devil,” numerous fights broke out near the stage, causing the group to stop playing multiple times.
The stabbing of Hunter occurred while The Stones played “Under My Thumb.” The incident was captured on camera and appears in the Maysles Brothers‘ 1970 Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, along with a lot more footage from the festival.
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