1969 is perhaps the most important year in music history, because of Woodstock, of course. In August ’69, Woodstock set a high bar for music festivals all over the world, proving that rock and roll, sex and drugs did not necessarily add up to disaster. But this was challenged by the disastrous Altamont Speedway Free Festival, a Woodstock-esque brainchild of the Rolling Stones which did not turn out very well, to say the least.

therollingstones1(Image Courtesy: newslang89.wordpress.com)

The band hoped to end their US tour with a bang that year, attempting to create something of a West-Coast equivalent of Woodstock – both in scale and vibe. But looking back on the two events, it became clear that Woodstock succeeded not because of the inherent peacefulness of the 1960’s youth culture, but because of tireless months of preparation by its organisers.

Altamont on the other hand was a largely improvised affair, thrown together last minute, and did not even have a definite venue until a few days before the event. The lineup had Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and the Grateful Dead, who would all support the headlining Stones. The event also infamously included members of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang acting as informal security staff, in exchange for $500 worth of beer as a “gratuity.” Put together, this was definitely a recipe for disaster.

altaont1(Image Courtesy: http://www.altmanphoto.com/)

It started off with Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin being knocked unconscious by one of the Hells Angels in a melee during the band’s performance. Hearing about this, Grateful Dead, which was the next to last act, promptly left the venue out of concern for their safety. It was during the Rolling Stones’ set however that the real drama unfolded. A 21-year-old Hells Angel named Alan Passaro stabbed a gun-wielding 18-year-old named Meredith Hunter to death just 20 feet in front of the stage where Mick Jagger was performing “Under My Thumb.” Oblivious to what had actually happened, the Stones completed their set, bringing an end to a day that had seen 3 accidental deaths and 4 live births!

The killing of Meredith Hunter was caught on camera and used as part of a documentary Gimme Shelter. Check out the video: