The concert, which was filmed for the documentary, Gimme Shelter, was marred by a variety of events.
Several variations of the story exist, but the Hells Angels somehow came to police the event. Rumours claim that the motorcycle club was paid in $500-worth of beer and were simply supposed to sit on the edge of the stage to make sure no one disturbed the performances.
Throughout the day, as the Angles enjoyed their beer, they got into several fights with concert goers. After Denise Jewkes of the Ace of Cups, who was six months pregnant, was hit in the head by an empty beer bottle thrown from the crowd, the Angles decided to arm themselves with pool cues and motorcycle chains.
The crowd grew more and more restless as the day wore on, and eventually one of the Angels’ motorcycles was toppled. This further agitated the situation to the point that even the performers were being abused; Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the head and knocked unconscious by one of the Angles. The Grateful Dead, who were supposed to perform just before the Stones, cancelled their performance upon hearing the news.
Even the Stones weren’t except from the violence: Mick Jagger was punched in the head by a concertgoer just moments after emerging from his helicopter.
During their performance, the Stones paused their set several times to beg the crowd to calm down. The lowest point of the night occurred when concertgoer Meredith Hunter, enraged after a scuffle with the Angles (he had tried to climb onto the stage with several other fans), returned with a revolver. Grateful Dead manager, Rock Scully, who could see everything from his position on the top of a truck by the stage, later said: “I saw what he [Hunter] was looking at, that he was crazy, he was on drugs, and that he had murderous intent. There was no doubt n my mind that he intended to do terrible harm to Mick or somebody in the Rolling Stones, or somebody on that stage.”
An Angel, seeing the gun, stabbed Hunter, killing him. It was later determined that Hunter was high on methamphetamine at the time of his death.
However, Hunter was not the only death at the festival – two people were killed in a hit-and-run car accident, and a fourth person died by drowning in an irrigation canal. Four births were reported during the event. Many more people were injured, several cars were stolen, totalled and abandoned, and extensive property damage was reported.
“That’s the way things went at Altamont – so badly that the Grateful Dead, prime organizers and movers of the festival, didn’t even get to play,” wrote 11 authors across 14 pages in Rolling Stone magazine. A follow-up article called the event “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong.”