Altamont Revisited

Even the Love Generation had its festival of hate

The Stones performed "Under My Thumb." At that point Meredith Hunter, the eighteen-year-old black man who was stabbed by a Hell's Angel near the front of the stage, probably was already dead. Jagger launched into spirited performances of songs like "Midnight Rambler" and "Sympathy for the Devil," never looking back at his fellow Stones, who just picked up the pace and registered no additional emotion about the chaos in front of them.

Few people know or remember that the Grateful Dead were scheduled to perform after the Stones that December night. Standing next to me at the back of the stage were Dead guitarist Bob Weir and bassist Phil Lesh. As we talked the three of us didn't yet realize that someone had been killed about 30 feet in front of us. Nevertheless we suspected something was wrong, based on the looks on people's faces.

"It's over, man. It never should have gotten to this," Lesh said, shaking his head in anger, as Weir briefly dropped his head in sadness. They left before the show ended, walking past the band's equipment and two Hell's Angels (who didn't seem to recognize them) standing near the stage.

The violence at Woodstock  99 inspired cynics to dub it "Rapestock," but 30 years ago the Love Generation had its own festival of hate
The violence at Woodstock 99 inspired cynics to dub it "Rapestock," but 30 years ago the Love Generation had its own festival of hate

The Tribune, like the other Bay Area newspapers, had planned to run front-page news stories from the wire service reports about Altamont, but the next day, I got my first front-page byline on a news event for the ages. People were already calling it "the death of the '60s," and it had to do with more than just the end of a decade. Throughout the years the people who claim to have been at Woodstock have increased to the point where it appears everyone in the nation under age 30 was there. But even though Altamont reportedly attracted 300,000 fans, few, if any, ever brag of their presence at Altamont, which came to be known as "the hippie apocalypse."

The following year Jagger allegedly approached Bill Graham with a plan to perform a series of concerts at Winterland in downtown San Francisco. The Stones wanted Graham to produce it. There's little doubt Graham saw this as an attempt by the band to get back into his good graces and accepted their "apology," something the band never offered to people in the Bay Area.

During the first show, I was sitting in the balcony, overlooking the stage in a secluded section reserved for Graham's guests. During Stevie Wonder's opening set, I spoke briefly to Jerry Garcia about Altamont and, in essence, the bad karma the Stones had created with this show. When the concert ended, I asked Garcia if he thought the Stones had redeemed themselves to their Bay Area fans. Not wanting to get into yet another karma conversation with a writer, Garcia simply replied with the briefest of smiles: "Sometimes payback is not enough." Little did we know that the karma was basically to continue: Even Woodstock had simply been a precursor to stadium concerts, corporate tour sponsorships, videos, and photo/interview approval. It was an egg to the musical chicken for upcoming generations. No more phoning a number on a press release and getting Mick Jagger on the phone.

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