The 1960’s was the birth of the large venue outdoor festivals and concerts. Although there were many the three biggest in my mind was the Monterey Pop Festival, the free concert at Altamont Raceway and of course, Woodstock. Each was unique in venue but similar in type artistry. Each left its mark on how music and its generation was interpreted and preserved.
The first major event was the Monterey Pop Festival, held on June 16 through the 18th, 1967, on the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. The first of its kind, the Monterey Pop Festival attracted an estimated 200,000 people. It more or less kicked off the so-called “summer of love” and became a model for future events including Woodstock in 1969.
This festival featured acts including the first major American appearance of Jimi Hendrix and The Who. Others making their premier major appearances were Otis Reading and Janis Joplin. Also featured was Ravi Shankar, the famed sitar player and composer from India.
Overshadowed by the bigger Woodstock Festival, it was the Monterey Pop Festival that set the stage, launched careers and shaped music history as being truly the first rock festival.
Two years after The Monterey Pop Festival in the small upstate village of Bethel, New York some 300,000 – 400,000 folks gathered peacefully on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm for 3 days of peace, love and music. Woodstock exemplified the counterculture of the late 1960’s and the hippie era. Although attempts have been made, Woodstock to this day has never been truly replicated. More on Woodstock in future posts. In order to give the event the homage it deserves.
Probably remembered more for the violence, riots and murder than the music was the free concert at Altamont Raceway. The concert was held on December 6, 1969 at the Altamont Raceway in Northern California, between Livermore and Tracy, California. This free concert was promoted by The Rolling Stones and featured artists including Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Fling Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Grateful Dead who cancelled at the last minute due to the violent outbreaks with the Rolling Stones closing the show.
Although there are opposing sides to the story the Hells Angels Motorcycle Gang was hired by the Rolling Stones to provide security at the event. Stories have been told of the Angels working for beer and hired only to keep people away from the generators and equipment.
The event began peacefully but as the day went on and more drugs and alcohol were consumed by the patrons and the Hells Angels, tensions grew. The crowd became antagonistic and unpredictable, attacking each other, the Angels, and the performers. A six months pregnantDenise Jewkes was hit in the head with a beer bottle thrown from the crowd suffering a fractured skull. A 350-pound circus performer hallucinating on LSD stripped naked and ran berserk toward the stage, knocking guests in all directions, prompting a group of Angels to leap from the stage and club him unconscious. Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin was punched unconscious by a Hells Angel. By the time the Rolling Stones took the stage, a group of about 4,000 to 5,000 people gathered in front of the stage, many trying to climb onto it.
After several attempts by Mick Jagger to settle the crowd, the unthinkable happened.MeredithHunter moved to the front of the crowd and drew a long-barreled revolver from his jacket. As Hunter’s girlfriend attempted to pull the gun from his hands, a space formed around them from people scrambling to get away, and Hells Angel Alan Passaro, armed with a knife, ran at Hunter from the side, parrying the gun with his left hand and stabbing him five times in the upper back with his right, killing him. The Rolling Stones unaware of the incident continued to play. Their set finished without any further violence.
Footage shot at the concert was subsequently incorporated in a film documentary entitled, “Gimme Shelter.” Altamont was referred to as Woodstock West based on its some 300,000 attendees; however, there was great contrast between the two festivals. The Woodstock Festival was all about peace and love. Altamont and the incidents have been considered by many as the possible end of a movement, shattering the whole peace and love principle.