Violence At Altamont: The 'Hells Angels Stabbing' And The End Of The 1960s

By Rebeka Knott
David Crosby and Graham Nash perform with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, California, United States, 6th December 1969. Source: (Eamonn McCabe/Redferns)

It was meant to be a west coast Woodstock, but today we remember it as the "end" of the '60s: Altamont. The Hells Angels, a rowdy crowd, and a poorly-arranged venue all conspired to turn a multi-band extravaganza, headlined by the Rolling Stones, into a violent and even deadly debacle. The notorious event known as Altamont, officially called the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, was held at a racetrack in northern California on December 6, 1969, four months after the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival had taken place in upstate New York. With its "peace and love" theme and spirit of togetherness, Woodstock became an emblem of the harmony and togetherness that the hippies and the counterculture could achieve. Altamont was its polar opposite. The Stones were on a bill that included the leading west coast and San Francisco artists of the day, including Jefferson Airplane, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Some 300,000 music fans flocked to Altamont, where the Hells Angels had been enlisted to help out, although stories differ as to what exactly the members of the famous biker gang were expected to do. In contrast to the hippies' vision of making the world a better, groovier place, from 1967's Summer of Love through to the Woodstock festival, Altamont was an explosion of bad vibes. Altamont is now known as the place where "the Hells Angels stabbed a man to death while The Rolling Stones were putting on a concert," and not as the Woodstock sequel it was meant to be. The stabbing at Altamont happened to a man named Meredith Hunter and one of the Hells Angels, Alan Passaro, was tried for murder but found not guilty. Here's their story...