A look into the tragedy at the Rolling Stones' Altamont concert

The Rolling Stones are a sight to see, and they were even more during their heyday, which the rockers from England hit during the late '60s. You can still catch a show sometime in the near future to hear Mick Jagger groove and buy up all of your authentic Rolling Stones mouth merch since they have a tour lined up, set to go after the pandemic-related postponement. But, you might think twice about catching a Stones show after you learn the tragic history of the Rolling Stones' Altamont concert.

The Rolling Stones' Altamont concert was one of the most tragic music events in history. The show took place on Saturday, December 6, 1969, and makes any sketchy barroom show in the sticks look like Ozzfest. The music was awful, the venue was awful, the crowd, etc. The only moderately redeeming quality to the show was its price: free. Everything else will go down in history as one of the most tragic days in rock and roll.

A last-minute venue change

The Altamont concert was doomed before the Rolling Stones' helicopter had a chance to touch down, and it began with the venue. Originally, the Altamont concert was to be held at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, a lush green park full of trees, flowering plants, and wonder. It's a seriously beautiful place, and it would've been an excellent venue for the final free concert at the end of the Stones' 1969 US tour, but the city refused to issue the permits the band needed to perform. That's when good old Melvin Belli, according to The Telegraph, a San Francisco lawyer at the time, scored the tour an alternative location: Altamont Speedway.

The free concert was only announced four days before it was due to take place, and the venue switch occurred 20 hours before the "gates" were set to open. No matter, fans would certainly pour into a free concert put on by a world-famous band who rarely visits the county, and they did. The problem was what spectators saw when they arrived at the venue.

Altamont Speedway, also called "Altamont Raceway Park," was a racetrack devoid of trees or lush foliage, any foliage really. It's open, dreary, and has the feel of an industrial wasteland. Not a great place to put on a show, but the music would surely change that, right? Well, as it turns out, the sound system was garbage too, according to Rolling Stone.

Everything thing that went wrong at Altamont

The venue was only the start of the problems that plagued the Rolling Stones' free concert. A bad sound system is one of the last things you want at a concert venue, but one of the first things you should have for a show described as "Woodstock West" is enough toilets for fans. As Rolling Stone reports, there were about one-sixth the required number of toilets for a crowd of the size at Altamont, forcing concert-goers to drop duces in neighboring fields.

The whole setup of the show contributed to the tragic events that occurred there. The stage was set in a way that fans could surround it, and it was low enough to be swarmed. Altamont Speedway was situated right next to a giant freeway that would taint the music with sounds of passing vehicles as well as create dangerous obstacles on the perimeter. The venue's neighbors weren't warned about the concert beforehand, and these neighbors were quite hostile to the longhaired rock fans that were too close to their property. By the time the Stones showed up, there were approximately 300,000 fans at Altamont Speedway, many of whom were peeved, to say the least. But the single worst element of the Rolling Stones' Altamont Concert was the security, a force of around 100 Hells Angels.

The Altamont bloodbath

"Mick got off the first helicopter with Ronnie [Schneider, the tour manager] when a kid comes running up to Mick and says: 'I hate you,' or something, and punches Mick right in the mouth," one writer wrote about the situation (via The Telegraph).

Mick Jagger getting sucker-punched was about the least concerning bout of violence that took place at the free Altamont concert. Thousands of people were injured throughout the event, and four concertgoers lost their lives. Two fans, as Rolling Stone catalogs, were killed by a car that ran into a group as they sat by a fire next to the road at the end of the night. The driver has never been identified. One person met their tragic death after being warned that taking a fun slide down an irrigation canal was a bad idea. The fan did it anyway and drowned.

The final injury tally for the show is unknown, and much of it was due to violence perpetrated by the Hells Angels, who were reported to have been "fighting with civilians, women, and each other, bouncing full cans of beer off people's heads," according to The Telegraph. They even beat Jefferson Airplane frontman Marty Balin unconscious during the band's set, but that wasn't the worst of the acts the outlaw motorcycle club committed.

Murdered for having a good time

The most gruesome of the four deaths at the Rolling Stones' Altamont concert was Meredith Curly Hunter, Jr., who was outright murdered by concert security. Hunter was an 18-year-old Black man who was doing nothing but minding his own business and having a good time when, according to eyewitness testimony reported by Rolling Stone, was grabbed "by the ear and hair" by one of the Hells Angels. The young man didn't fight. He simply pulled away, irritated and upset, and, apparently, that was enough to set the club member off.

We're not saying this was a racially motivated killing, but the Hells Angels are an all-white outlaw MC, and Hunter was a Black teen in 1969. You can do whatever math you think is best here.

Anyway, the Hells Angel punched Hunter in the mouth, knocking him down. At which point, the "security" literally jumped on him. Hunter tried to run but several other Angels swarmed him. They kicked him in the head multiple times, and one stabbed the kid in the back. Hunter then pulled out a gun and held it in the air. The bikers tore the gun from his hand and stabbed him several more times in the back, neck, and head. The 18-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.