A Brief History
On December 6, 1969, the Rolling Stones were performing at the Altamont Free Concert when the Hells Angels motorcycle club members contracted as security got into a fatal confrontation with a music fan.
Never particularly famous for good judgment, rock and roll bad boys The Rolling Stones reached a new low in intelligent decisions when they contracted the brutal outlaw motorcycle gang, The Hells Angels, to serve as ushers and security for the concert at Altamont, California. Why they would pick a known gang of criminal ruffians boggles the imagination, except perhaps the Stones were trying to play off their reputation as the Bad Boys of Rock and Roll.
When an African-American fan, Meredith Hunter, age 18, approached the stage, the attendant Angels threw him back into the crowd, apparently with some enthusiasm. The irate music fan returned shortly thereafter, but this time with a revolver, at which time he was stabbed to death by Angels member Alan Passaro.
All this tumult was caught on film, and Passaro was charged with murder. Passaro was later acquitted in a jury trial, on the grounds of self defense. The film of this incident was featured in a 1970 documentary film, Gimme Shelter.
Incredibly, the Hells Angels agreed to the security job for about $500 worth of beer (a bit over $3000 worth today), another of the incredibly bad choices made for that concert. The Angels proceeded to get drunk (no kidding, Capt. Obvious, what did you think would happen?) and threw cans of beer at fans, often belting fans that irritated the Angels with sawed off pool cues and other clubs as well as chains. Not surprisingly, the fans also became irate, and scuffles between Angels and concert goers began to break out.
Lead singer Mick Jagger got bopped in the beezer by a fan, and pleaded for calm to the audience. To no avail, of course, as the riotous atmosphere continued. Hunter was one of these enraged fans, and was reported to be high on drugs at the time of the incident. The autopsy found Hunter was on met amphetamines and was stabbed 5 times in the upper back. The .22 caliber revolver was recovered at the scene.
Hunter’s mother sued the Rolling Stones for $500,000, and later settled for $10,000. Passaro was found drowned in a lake in 1985 under suspicious circumstances, though murder was never proven. The Hells Angels reportedly tried to kill Mick Jagger at some point after the concert, obviously without success.
Oddly enough, I have not been able to find other subsequent cases of the Hells Angels being hired as concert security for free beer. Who knows, maybe even rock and roll bands learn!
Question for students (and subscribers): What was the craziest concert you ever attended? Feel free to share your stories of rock concert disasters, bad decisions and the like, in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Selvin, Joel. Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day. Dey Street Books, 2016.