It’s December 1969 and a young Mick Jagger announces a free outdoor show that some believe will be the Woodstock of the West. But things don’t go as planned, the consequences of which will be felt for decades to come.
Episode written by J. Thorn, edited by Eve Paludan.
Recorded at 88.7 FM WJCU studios, University Heights, Ohio.
Audio mixed and engineered by Adam Phillips.
Produced by J. Thorn and Adam Phillips.
All research was conducted at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – Library and Archives in Cleveland, Ohio, with a special thanks to Jennie Thomas, Director of Archives, William Jackson, Archives Assistant, Sule Holder, Library Assistant, and Laura Maidens, Librarian.
“Burning Time” – Threefold Law
“Fool’s Blues,” “Orchid” – Blacklight Betty
“Mourning Dove Blues,” “Upside Down,” “Evil Banjo” – Adam Phillips
“Decision,” “Imagine A New and Darker You,” “Worse” – Tower of Light
“Gaia in Fog” – Dan Bodan
“Meadow” – Density and Time
“Voices in My Head” – Quineas Moreira
Sound FX Credits from Freesound.org:
The Eagle Has Landed by jjwallace
Gig audience.wav by BeeProductive
Military Helicopter.wav by Benboncan
freebird Take 3.wav by stringerbell
For a complete list of sources cited, see the show notes for this episode.
Austerlitz, Saul. Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont. Thomas Dunne Books, 2018.
Bonanno, Massimo. The Rolling Stones Chronicle: the First Thirty Years. Holt, 1990.
Cohen, Rich. Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones. Random House Publishing Group, 2016.
Dalton, David, and Mick Farren. Rolling Stones in Their Own Words. Quick Fox, 1980.
Davis, Stephen. Old Gods Almost Dead: the 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones. Broadway Books, 2001.
Hotchner, A.E. Blown Away: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Maysles, Albert and David Maysles, directors. Gimme Shelter. Cinema 5, 1970.
Russell, Ethan A., and Gerard Van der Leun. Let It Bleed: the Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties. Springboard Press, 2009.
Taylor, R., director. YouTube. YouTube, YouTube, 24 Nov. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxnVY37b0ME.
I’m starting to feel like a J Thorn groupie or stalker. This is great, a story I never knew. And eerily, if you take out the years and band names, it would be difficult to determine if the story happened in 1969 or 2020.
couple other thoughts – I wonder why this type of thing isn’t taught in school with history? We usually get the Kent State shooting, but not this. Plus I wonder if the racial tension of the time was tamped down and overshadowed by the vietnam war and that the issues of today wouldn’t be happening if things had played out differently 50 years ago. And if something like this happened today, it would probably be the end of a band, but it seems to have not even affected the Stones or their career.
Great job on the research, writing and production! I enjoyed your thoughtful perspective. I was only 9 at the time, but I remember the heated discussions about Altamont that continued among parents and kids through my high school years in the 70s. Conformist parents back then were far more terrified of the counterculture movement than we can appreciate today–and the Altamont disaster just added fuel to the fire.
A consequence of Altmont for me personally was that my parents forbid me to ever go to a rock concert, date a guy with long hair, or wear jeans. Of course, I defied all the rules with my “mind expanding” burnout music-loving friends. We had many long, hazy sociological debates about Altamont and its effects and causes while listening to Stones albums. Why was Altamont so different from Woodstock where everyone generally embraced everyone? Event organization and the choice of security were a disaster for sure, but what role did the rash of harder drugs and bad acid trips play in exacerbating chaos and negative feelings? Was it a bad idea for the Stones to play “Sympathy for the Devil”? Considered the devil’s anthem at the time, some claimed the song inflamed the situation.
Unfortunately, I think Altamont and other violent concerts of the 60s and 70s paved the way for Tipper Gore and her notorious battle to censor “explicit” music in the 80s. (Dee Snider rocked the Senate hearing!) This leads to questions about how much power music has over people’s behavior, especially young people. I love the Stones and the innovative dark edge they brought to rock, and I do not believe that music has more power over behavior than personal choice. At the same time, I have hope that music does have the power to help heal old wounds and bring people together.
I so agree. That battle has shifted from music to video games.
This was fantastic! The story, along with the background music, were so chilling I was glad I listened to it during the day. I didn’t realize the Stones never acknowledged or apologized to Hunter’s family. Drops the Stones down a big notch in my book. What a terrible position they were in, though, not knowing whether it would be better to stop the show or keep going. To continue after a concert-goer had been killed seems cold and heartless. And yet, if they’d stopped, a full-blown riot could have happened, with many more deaths.
I was born in ’68 and I’d always heard that Altamont was the death of the 60’s and the hippie, free-love movement. I’m so glad you focused on Meredith Hunter, giving a name to the person we’ve all seen in the footage being beaten. I never knew anything about him. Your story of him and his girlfriend broke my heart! It’s good to remember that this was a person who died and not just a thing that happened back in the 60’s.
Thanks, Kim. I really appreciate that. I found it to be an emotionally resonant story and, unfortunately, timely.