A promo poster for the film Gimme Shelter
A promo poster for the film Gimme Shelter


“He had a loaded pistol in his hand and was aiming for Mick.”
> Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully

“Mick Jagger said that if Jesus had been at Altamont, he would have been crucified. And he wasn’t exaggerating.”
> author Stanley Booth, from book The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones

“I thought that day was the end of the Sixties. It had come from the wonderful innocence of the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers to this”
> Chris Hillman, Flying Burrito Brothers band

About 300,000 people attended the hastily arranged free concert at Altamont Speedway, near San Francisco, meant to be the crowning glory of the Rolling Stones triumphant 1969 American tour and their own version of Woodstock. Support acts included Santana, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

But the concert was dogged from the start by violent Hells Angels > hired in a front-of-stage security role in exchange for free beer. They clubbed people with pool cues and fists > and a lot of Hells Angels camped themselves on the stage, which was only 3 feet from the ground.

Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin was knocked unconscious by a Hells Angel after he tried to intervene as the bikies laid into a spaced-out naked man.

Helicopters shunted the acts to the Altamont site and when Mick Jagger arrived he was punched backstage by a fan who yelled: “I hate you”.

The violence didn’t stop when the Stones went on stage and during Under My Thumb the band stopped playing as Jagger pleaded for calm. “Why are we fighting? We don’t want to fight at all. Everybody be cool now”.

The Angels on stage crowded around Jagger and some at the foot of the stage fired up their bike engines.

The Stones soon abandoned the stage and fled by helicopter, but not before just a few feet away a throng of Hells Angels stabbed to death fan Meredith Hunter, 18, after he had brandished a gun and supposedly pointed it at the stage.

“To this day, I still feel that the Hells Angels probably saved Mick Jagger’s life,” maintains Grateful Dead band manager Rock Scully, who had suggested hiring the bikies. “He had a loaded pistol in his hand and was aiming for Mick.”

A DVD cover of Gimme Shelter film

The Stones were unaware of the death until afterwards.

These events are captured on film by David and Albert Maysles in Gimme Shelter, originally meant as a doco on the US tour but concentrating on the Altamont tragedy.

Also that day, 850 people were treated for LSD overdoses > the bad acid a contributing factor to the mayhem. Two concert goers were also killed in a hit and run accident and one LSD-induced fan drowned in a canal.


Hells Angels members made a badly bungled attempt to assassinate Mick Jagger in 1975. They were still angry at Jagger blaming the bikie group for the Altamont concert tragedy in 1969.

Several Hells Angels used a boat to approach the singer’s home on Long Island, New York. But the plot came unstuck when a storm blew in and the men were thrown overboard.

The assassination plot was only revealed to the media about 30 years later.

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