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Likely Stories - Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day

I knew the ultimate ending of Altamont when I first picked up the book by the same name. In fact, the first sentence on the inside of the dust jacket gives it away:

"The definitive story of the Rolling Stones' infamous Altamont concert and the murder that brought the sixties rock revolution to a shocking conclusion.”

What I wasn't prepared for was how many easily-correctable missteps were made along the way/Mick Jagger, especially, was adamant about the Stones hosting a free concert in San Franciso. The show took place on December 6, but not in San Francisco. The location was changed three times, the last time coming just two days before the show.

The concert and the events leading up to its tragic ending are chronicled in the book Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hells Angels and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day," by Joel Selvin, who has written more than a dozen books about musicians, bands and the music business.

The Stones had played 24 dates in the U.S. over the previous month, and had faced criticism for high ticket prices, thus Jaggers' desire for a free show at the conclusion of the tour. The concert was also going to be filmed and released in theaters, and the band anticipated a big payday from that, so Jagger's idea of a free show wasn't totally out of the goodness of his heart.

More than 300,000 fans showed up at the Altamont Raceway near Tracy, Weren't California, about 50 miles east of San Francisco. There weren't adequate food, water or restroom facilities for a crowd anywhere near that size, and tensions ran high throughout the day.

To add fuel to the fire, the Stones had hired members of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club to provide security at the venue. The bikers were paid with $500 worth of beer.

Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all took the stage prior to the Stones' performance, and members of the Hell's Angels stationed themselves around - and on - the stage. Fights broke out in the audience, and a member of Jefferson Airplane was knocked unconscious by one of the bikers.

Close to the end of the Stones' set, the Angles and a concertgoer named Meredith Hunter got into some sort of altercation. Hunter tried to rush the stage, was rebuffed by the bikers, and then he pulled out a pistol. After that, several bikers descended on Hunter, and he was eventually stabbed five times.
One biker went to trial for Hunter's death, and was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.

Altamont is a well-written, well-reported book. The author did an excellent job, and I'm glad I read it. But it just left me...sad. In addition to Hunter's death, there was just so much needless violence at the concert, and it all could have easily been prevented.

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Kevin Tankersley teaches in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media at Baylor. A Senior Lecturer, he has been with Baylor University since 2005. In addition, Tankersley is a prolific writer whose work regularly appears in the Wacoan, where he and his wife Abby, a freelance chef, are food editors. He enjoys good food, music and books.