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Posted on August 18th, 2012, by

This hard to find a person all over the world, who haven’t heard the name of the rock band ”“ The Rolling Stones. The names of instrumentalist Brian Jones, vocalist Mick Jagger, pianist Ian Stewart, guitarist Keith Richards, drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman are well-known far beyond the borders of England. During the time of their work they managed to release 22 studio albums in England, 24 in USA, 8 concert albums, 9 in the USA and sold around 200 million of albums in the whole world. This rock band was formed in 1962 and since that moment is considered to belong to the greatest rock collectives with millions of fans and numerous great hits produced. On the other hand this band was a kind of symbol for the 1960s, years of mixture of romantics with violent emotions of young generations, thus the Altamont events are often said to be concluding to the impetuous decade of the 60s.

Further in the paper we will consider some historical facts from the development of the band in order to investigate the background reasons and circumstances for the tragedy in Altamont.  It would be necessary to stop at several key points, including the songs and image of the Rolling Stones band, the relations between the group members, the organization of the memorable concert, security, mood of the crowd, appearance of the band members and so on.

During the autumn of 1969 the rolling Stones were finishing their album ”“ Let It Bleed and were planning their sixth tour in America. After that the band was supposed to give a free concert in Altamont. They took the biker gang Hells Angels instead of security, who in reality caused even more problems after drinking too much alcohol. As a result a fan of the band ”“ Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by the Angels. Thus the Altamont concert remained a bloody spot in the whole history of rock music festivals. There were numerous reasons, identified later, which explained these events, including the image of the Rolling Stones, the songs they sang, the organization, the wrong choice of security, lack of consideration of the public, visiting the concert, along with general culminating moment in the historical development of such cultural phenomenon as rock music.

The whole history of the famous band started from the 1950s, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were classmates at Wentworth Primary School. Their next collision was only ten years later, when Richards was studying at the Sidcup Art College. Later Richard would write about this, saying, that he was going to school, and Jagger ”“ to the London School of Economics. They met in the train and Jagger had several albums in his hands.  This was the start of the era of their success. After numerous albums and concerts the tour of 1969 was supposed to become the greatest tour ever possible. In order to have all the details of this tour there were continuous records done in the “Rolling Stones”ť magazine and informed in the FM radio. The culmination of the greatest tour was supposed to be the concert in Altamont, which in reality remained the most noticed and memorized rock concert in the whole history of music. Very often critics put the names of Woodstock and Altamont together, meaning that the first was to symbolize the specific era in the youth culture, whereas the second one meant the end of it and the cost of it was human life. Actually the whole image, worked out for the members of The Rolling Stones, was corresponding to the cultural trends of the 1960s, they were to appear before their audience as bad and rude guys, absolute antipodes of the Beatles. The songs, they wrote and sang, were naturally to correspond to this image. All these facts might have been also one of the final driving forces for the events during their Altamont concert.

The planning of the concert was far more optimistic, that the actual results of it. It was supposed to become a great day on the history of the band ”“ a free concert, which took place near San Francisco with such participants as Santana, the ever-present Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, the Flying Buritto Brothers, under the sponsorship of the Rolling Stones. The words of Mick Jagger, who said, that this would be a perfect example of how to make a nice gathering for “microcosmic society”ť would sound too cynical, if anybody could predict the outcomes.  A lot of reasons contributed to making this day the most violent and disastrous one in the whole rock music history.

Initially the concert was planned to take place at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. But there was also the football game planned at the Kezar Stadium, also in Golden Gate Park and there was risk, that permits would not even be issued. The decision was taken to move the concert to the Sears Point Raceway, after which the dispute with the owner of Sears Point Filmways Inc. arose and the concert was finally moved to the Altamont Raceway as the businessman Dick Carter suggested. As the concert was scheduled for the 6th of December, the fact, that the place was changed only two days before, had certainly rather negative influence upon the whole procedure of preparation.

There were a lot of problems with logistics, with portable toilets and tents for medical support. The stage was also not high enough for such events – it was only four feet high.

The heads and major organizers of the concert were The Rolling Stones, the band was also scheduled to play the last in the final act. The size of the crowd was amazing, around 300 000 people came to the concert and a lot said this concert would be the same like “Woodstock West”ť. Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin made shooting of the concert and further used it in a documentary film – Gimme Shelter.

Some sources provide the information, that this was the advice of the Grateful Dead to hire the Hells Angels as security for the concert, however for many times this information was denied. Sam Cutler, the road manager of The Rolling Stones said about this, there was the agreement with Angels, that they won’t initiate conflicts with anybody, and take care of the situation, but not like the police force would do. Actually this is hard now to judge about this kind of security, but if we believe, that the following dialogue between Sweet William and Cutler took place, when the Angels said, that they were not going to fulfill the duties of the police or security forces, they would prefer to go to the concert and have fun there. Then they were asked just to help people, to give them directions and so on. These conditions were accepted by Angels. Thus we could make the conclusions as for the organization of the security for that concert. There was probably nobody at that moment to stop and to think, that there are a lot of arguments, which demanded proper if not the best possible security for such event, where the huge crowd was absolutely under the influence of the violent songs and the party atmosphere, supported most possible also by LSD or other drugs, this was also a free concert, which meant absolutely anybody could come to it and so on. Besides, the Hell Angels, who came to the concert were young and nobody even saw their leaders there. The documents confirmed, that the Hells Angels were not interested in policing the event as it was said before, although  the Angels would be required to do little more than sit on the edge of the stage and drink beer. The final argument against the Hell Angels as security should have been their demands of beer like payment, this meant, that they were drinking their beer the whole day and as a result became violent and aggressive.

At the very beginning the crowd was more or less peaceful, however by the moment, when the Rolling Stones were to appear on the stage, the situation worsened sufficiently. A lot of visitors of the concert drank, took LSD or amphetamines, certainly their aggressive mood was growing and as a result numerous fights started to burst out between the people of the crowd and finally they started to attack angels as well. After The Rolling Stones began to sing, a crowd of around 4000 – 5000 persons tried to attack the scene and to climb on it. At the same time one of the fans, Meredith Hunter was beaten and stabbed by the Angels to death. There were other cases of death reported during that night.

Finally the glorious Altamont concert turned out to become one of the greatest shocks for the history of pop music, symbolizing the final for the hippie era and general modern culture of the 1960s in America. Later, it was labeled as the symbol of the end of the Woodstock Epoch. Never any other rock concert took place at that site.

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