I pride myself on knowing more than my friends do about the 1960s British Invasion. The era is still my go-to music when I need a pick-me-up. That said, in the short time we had to research our new home in Bay Area before we were on the road this way, it never registered that we were going to be living within a few miles of where The Rolling Stones hosted the Altamont Free Concert (long name: Altamont Speedway Free Festival) of 1969. It’s crazy. From our new apartment, we can damned near see where it was held from here…give or take a foothill ridge. That place: the Altamont Raceway Park, on the Tracy side of the Altamont Pass, right where I-205 begins and I-580 splits south around the town. I think it also gets considered Livermore, California because of the proximity and because the Altamont Pass used to be called the Livermore Pass. Things you learn about your new home.
What was the Altamont Free Concert?
Held on December 6th, 1969 nearly 4 months after the original Woodstock, the Altamont Free Concert was supposed to be the left coast’s answer to the Concert of the Century. All the left coast’s biggest acts were there:
Rolling Stones – who closed the night
Grateful Dead – who maybe should have closed the night
CSN & Y.
Jefferson Airplane – before they evolved into a starship
And, I’ll admit, I need to listen to more than the both songs I’ve heard from The Flying Burrito Brothers.
You won’t find many landmarks or plaques about the concert. At least, I don’t expect to find any when I go search in a couple weeks.
The concert wasn’t a proud night for anyone. Some would say it was the insane amount of drugs there. Others would blame The Stones’ decision to go with the Hell’s Angels for security instead of a police force. Then there are those like me who would (presumed) blame the insurance underwriters for signing off on such a horseshit security idea.
Why did the Stones pick Hell’s Angels motorcycle club over the police? From what I’ve seen in TV shows and documentaries about the night, The Stones didn’t want the concert goers harassed by police for any substances they were parting with. Instead, they decided to put a bunch of booze and drugs around a notorious motorcycle gang.
I guess they were giving peace a chance.
You can probably guess why.
Of the estimated 300,000 attendants that night, one couldn’t keep their head out of a canal, one tragically died from a hit-and-run, and then there was the murder by self-defense of 18-year-old Cal Berkeley art student Meredith Hunter, who attempted to rush the stage when the Stones started their set. He was beat down and stabbed, but footage later showed that Hunter had drawn a revolver.
It wasn’t a memorable night, but it was unforgettable.
Here are some videos from the Altamont Free Concert.
The Altamont Raceway / Motorsports Park still operates…on the last Sunday of the month.
I just hit them up on Facebook to confirm.
I’m hoping Katie says it’s okay for us to check it out. I want to see what, if any, reminders there are about the place. I’m hoping there’s more than a mention on their Facebook page bio. When I find more, I’ll update. I’ll also update when I go back through those documentaries suck as Gimmie Shelter from 1970, with footage of the event.