Sixties City Main Menu

       by Bill Harry

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 Globe Park but, due to a disappointment over film rights, it was switched at the last moment to Altamont, a speedway track, 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, 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. 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.”

The 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. He bled to death after being stabbed five times in the back and once under the ear. 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 note:
(from 'Stony Brook Independent' 28/5/2005)

Now, nearly 36 years after the fact, investigators have closed the case, dismissing a long-argued theory that a second member of the Hells Angels gang played a role in the stabbing. The incident, which occurred amidst nearly 300,000 people, was documented in the film documentary "Gimme Shelter." As the Stones play on stage, a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang can be seen stabbing Hunter in the film footage. The Hells Angel in question, Alan Passaro, was acquitted of the charges against him after a jury concluded his actions were in self-defence because Hunter was carrying a gun. There had been rumours over the years that a second unidentified assailant had inflicted the fatal wounds, not Passaro, and the case has remained open since.

Alameda County Sherrif Department member Sgt. Scott Dudek said that after a renewed investigation, authorities came to the conclusion that Passaro acted alone in his assault on Hunter and did so only after Hunter pointed a gun toward the stage where the Rolling Stones were performing. Sgt. Dudek said Passaro's lawyer confirmed his client (who passed away in 1985) was the lone assailant. In addition, enhanced and slowed-down footage from the film shows Hunter brandishing the gun just before Passaro leaps from the stage and stabs him, Dudek said. This time-altered footage is similar to the footage viewed by Stones frontman Mick Jagger in an early scene from "Gimme Shelter."

Also see Sixties city: Woodstock      Events 1969

Mersey Beat website
Rock and Pop