Punk: Holding a free concert for 300,000 people when you’re the biggest band in the world. Not: Having the stupid idea of hiring the Hells Angels to do security.
In 1969 the Rolling Stones headlined a free concert at the Altamont Speedway. In its postmortem it was described as “rock and roll’s all-time worst day… a day when everything went perfectly wrong“.
The Rolling Stones had established themselves as the bad boys of rock and roll. The anti-Beatles. There was drug use, arrests, jail (although the sentence was overturned), and the mysterious drowning of a band member, just to name a few transgressions to their name.
What better way to play to this image than to hire a notorious biker gang to do security at a large, terribly organized festival? How about pay them $500 worth of beer to do it? Who could have ever thought this would go so terribly wrong?
So the Hells Angels sat at the front of the stage and got drunk, while the crowd grew increasingly agitated throughout the day. Getting beat with sawed off pool cues and motorcycle chains will do that. But hey, that’s the type of crowd control you get for $500 worth of beer.
By the time the Rolling Stones took the stage at night things were getting ugly. Fights were breaking out–between the Hells Angels and the crowd, and between people in the crowd. Jefferson Airplane’s guitarist was even knocked unconscious by a Hells Angel. It became so violent and out of control the Grateful Dead bailed on their performance and left.
Fights broke out almost immediately after the Rolling Stones took the stage. They even paused their set to gain control of the situation. But there was no stopping the chaos. Amidst it all, Meredith Hunter, an 18 year old high on methamphetamine, pulled out a gun and was stabbed and stomped to death by the Hells Angels. Not knowing Hunter was killed, the Rolling Stones kept playing.
If you need to hire someone to look hard, you ain’t hard.