Altamont Free Festival

Altamont Raceway Park, City of Livermore, Alameda County, State of California 95391

Saturday December 6, 1969

About the Show

Music

Photos

Video

About the Show

The Venue

The Altamont Speedway Free Festival was a counterculture rock concert in the United States, held on Saturday, December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in northern California (Livermore). Approximately 300,000 attended the concert, and some anticipated that it would be a "Woodstock West". The Woodstock festival was held in Bethel, New York, in mid-August, fewer than four months earlier.

The event is remembered for considerable violence, including the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter and three accidental deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident, and one by LSD-induced drowning in an irrigation canal. Scores were injured, numerous cars were stolen and then abandoned, and there was extensive property damage.

The concert featured (in order of appearance): Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, with the Rolling Stones taking the stage as the final act. The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform following CSNY, but declined to play shortly before their scheduled appearance due to the increasing violence at the venue. "That's the way things went at Altamont—so badly that the Grateful Dead, prime organizers and movers of the festival, didn't even get to play," staff at Rolling Stone magazine wrote in a detailed narrative on the event, terming it in an additional follow-up piece "rock and roll's all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong."

Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles shot footage of the event and incorporated it into the 1970 documentary film titled Gimme Shelter.

Altamont Free Festival Location
Altamont Free Festival December 6, 1969
The nearly ground-level stage is directly beneath the top balloon, in between the two speaker towers

Carlos Santana. The Universal Tone 2014

It was Altamont Speedway---and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be the first band to go on, then or now. Now that I look back on it, I think that while Woodstock was as close to spirituality as you could get, Altamont was about overindulgence and cocaine and strutting your stuff to see how badass you were. (…) You can see it in the movie Gimme Shelter---it was all so tangible. The Stones wanted us to be in their movie, and I think we were all pretty much in agreement that we didn’t want any part of that. (226-227)

Rolling Stone August 5, 2019

Musically, though, Altamont was better than Woodstock. I’m sorry people got hurt, but I have to say that everybody played incredible at Altamont: the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, ourselves.

Posters/Ticket

Promotional Poster
Fake Poster #1
Fake Poster #2
Fake Ticket (show was free)

Music

The Band: Santana #5

Carlos Santana (guitar/percussion/vocals), David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums), Michael Carabello (percussion), Jose “Chepito” Areas (percussion), Gregg Rolie (keyboard/vocals)

Incomplete Set List

Savor - Jingo - Evil Ways - Conquistadore Rides Again - Persuasion -Soul Sacrifice - Gumbo

Note

Due to crowd violence, the show is interrupted in the middle of “Soul Sacrifice” for 1:26.

Gimme Shelter

John Katsilometes (Las Vegas Sun June 5, 2013)

During the recent unveiling of Mumm Napa Winery sparkling wine at Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay (May 22, 2013), I asked Carlos Santana about the letter The Rolling Stones wrote to Santana asking for permission to use footage from the ill-fated Altamont free concert in the documentary “Gimme Shelter.” The movie captured footage of violence between fans at the concert, which drew 300,000 people, and the Hells Angels. The stabbing death of 18-year-old, pistol-brandishing fan Meredith Hunter near the stage is captured in the film. In the months after the tour, the Stones signed a letter asking Santana for permission to use the footage of the band’s set that opened the concert in the upcoming documentary, at the time under the working title “Love in Vain.” Santana was asked about the letter, dated June 10, 1970, and now on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

“We said no, right?” Santana asked with a chuckle, by way of verification. Correct. He said no. But why? "Altamont, just the word, has a very negative vibration. It was like they called it the end of the hippies. It was the opposite of Woodstock, and that’s because people were not properly monitoring security. Because of (legendary promoter) Bill Graham and The Rolling Stones, we opened a lot for the Stones, and they were gracious enough to ask us to open for them at Altamont, and we were very grateful to them to invite us. But I said no (to being in the film) because it didn’t show anything in a good light. That’s the best way to put it. It didn’t show the Stones or ourselves or anyone in a good light. The Hells Angels, who were out of their minds, just took over. It came out very negatively.”

Note

Although Santana' music is not featured in "Gimme Shelter", Santana's drummer Michael Shrieve is seen briefly talking to Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead).

Letter from The Rolling Stones asking permission to use Santana's music for the movie "Gimme Shelter"
Santana refused
Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead) and Michael Shrieve (Santana)
learn about the less-than-Woodstock conditions at Altamont
in "Gimme Shelter" (Warner Home Video 1970)

Photos

Photos by Robert Altman

Robert Mark Altman (Oct 10, 1944–Sept 24, 2021) was an American photographer. Altman attended Hunter College at the City University of New York and studied psychology and anthropology. Initially he had no intention of becoming a photographer, and said that the camera he wore around his neck was essentially just a prop to "meet girls". However, after graduation, he opened a shop called the Electric Lotus and displayed some of his photographs on a notice board here. The reaction here was so positive that Ansel Adams ended up taking him on as a photography apprentice.

He was soon hired as a photojournalist by Rolling Stone magazine. Here he was able to capture shots of the Rolling Stones while in the recording studio, and also captured shots of artists such as Joni Mitchell and Iggy Pop at music festivals. He found that being a photographer opened doors to places where others were not allowed, and he was able to closely follow the stars and capture images that immortalised the 1960's culture. Following his early success as chief staff photographer for Rolling Stone, he expanded into fashion photography and fine art. He became a television producer/director for KEMO-TV, an independent station in the San Francisco Bay Area. For a decade beginning in the mid 1990s, Altman taught web design and photoshop as adjunct professor for several institutions including San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman
© Robert Altman

Photos by Jim Marshall

© Jim Marshall
© Jim Marshall
© Jim Marshall
© Jim Marshall
© Jim Marshall

Photos by Various Authors

© John Cuniberti
© Blair Goodwin
© Bill Owens

Uncredited Photos

Video

The Santanamigos Channel