Altamont, the name brings shudders to the powers that be on both sides. I've seen it trashed by people who should know better and ones who don't want to know better. How do you handle 400,000 plus people who are having a great time without corporate sponsorship? And yes, it was 400Ks as a friend of mine in the military whose job it was to observe gatherings, crowds, mobs, etc. of people came up with that 400k figure from aerial photos.
It was a glorious day driving out behind Mt. Diablo to get to Altamont by the back way. The 580 freeway was closed down as people just parked their cars right on the road and walked in. The Highway Patrol was going nuts as they couldn't do a damn thing about all these thousands and thousands of cars parked on their fuckin’ freeway.
The scene we walked up to was just amazing as tens of thousands of people were filling up this huge sweeping bowl shaped area in the middle of the raceway. Three- or four-story scaffolding had been erected on both sides of the stage just filled with speakers, all connected with a spider’s-web network of cables going to huge amplifiers and soundboards.
We found a place somewhere in the middle, about a football field’s length from the stage. About 50 outhouses were set up all in a row next to this huge inflatable balloon laying on its side. The balloon was about 100 feet long and 40 feet in diameter, where, after being surrounded by a sea of people, one could walk in and get this feeling of euphoria and clearing of the head by all this space. After a few minutes in there you were ready to go out into the crowd again.
The announcer for the concert was a guy with a British accent who really had a way of talking to the crowd. If there were delays, which there were, he could talk to us and we listened and were patient. At one time it was so packed in front of the stage that he asked us all to stand up and move back ten feet. Can you imagine that? Over 400,000 people got up and moved back ten feet to relieve the pressure against the stage.
There was so much going on, what with enjoying the crowd and the drugs, we really didn't mind any delays. And drugs there were. An abundance of them. I remember this guy walking around the crowd with a paper bag full of Orange Sunshine tablets. He was handing out finger-fulls of it to all takers. I remember counting eight hits in the palm of my hand. There were four of us in our party. Joints were being passed around all day, and behind each joint was a gallon of Red Mountain wine. Red Mountain being the choice of many people at $5 a gallon.
The bands I remember were Santana; Crosby, Stills and Nash and Young; Jefferson Airplane, and The Stones. Santana at that time was fairly new and they were terrific. Marty Ballin stood out with Jefferson Airplane, especially with the song, “Plastic Fantastic Lover.” The whole place was rocking with that one. And then came The Stones.
As the story goes, The Stones flew in on a helicopter, forget about getting in by car, and as they got off the helicopter, some kid ran up to Mick Jagger and said,” I hate you,” and punched him in the face. Apparently the kid’s girlfriend dumped him because she was madly in love with Jaggar. This didn't stop them as the whole place erupted when The Stones walked on to the stage.
Jagger wore a costume that was half black and half crimson going vertically. From where we were sitting he looked like the flame of a candle flickering and dancing in the wind. In the studio version of, “Sympathy For The Devil” there is a chorus chanting in the back ground singing, Woo Woo, with each chord change. The hills around us were alive with this chant as all 400,000 of us sang it during its performance. The Stones were young and they were hot. It was a great show marred only by the music being stopped because of fighting between the Hell’s Angels and the people directly in front of the stage. There was such pressure against the stage at that time, that the Angels — not your most patient and tolerant bunch of guys — physically beat people back.
Now we come to the part that everybody harangues Altamont about: the killing of eighteen-year old Meredith Hunter. (Jagger by the way means Hunter in German).
There were two people killed and one baby born that day at Altamont. For a city the size of 400,000 in a 12-14 hour period, there would be a lot more deaths and a lot more births. One person who died was run over by a car as people were leaving the concert — he was laying down in his sleeping bag. Meredith was jumped by the Angels when he pulled out a gun. Jesus — what was he thinking to bring a gun in the first place to the concert? One can only imagine what would have happened had he started pulling the trigger. The way people were packed in there would have been many wounded and perhaps some killed. The Angels (who were hired by the Grateful Dead to be security and paid in all the beer they could drink), you might say, you—just—might—say, did their job. Oh, I suppose they should have wrestled Meredith to the ground, taken the gun away from him, and put the cuffs on him. But unfortunately that’s not their style, or the cops either, when someone pulls a gun on them.
By this time it was dark and the interruptions to the music were so frequent that the concert was brought to a close. People were tired, it had been a long day, and were ready to go home.
In closing, I would have to say that about 97 to 98% of the 400,000+ people at Altamont had a great time. The vibes were good; the music was great; and the drugs were terrific. All in all, a glorious day.