The Altamont Speedway Free Festival is one of the countercultures most infamous moments, as the rock ‘n’ roll frolics of the Rolling Stones and others turned sour when biker gangs descended the festival into a violent uproar.
Footage of the festival has often been hard to come by since then owing largely to the criminal element of what followed. However, for the first time, the Library of Congress has released footage from the archive.
Attracting around 300,000 people, the free festival showcased a headline performance by The Rolling Stones with Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers and more.
While the line-up may well have been stellar, Hells Angels had been hired to run security and soon the event descended into a riot, tragically culminating in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter.
As Grace Slick would later recall: “The vibes were bad. Something was very peculiar, not particularly bad, just real peculiar. It was that kind of hazy, abrasive and unsure day. I had expected the loving vibes of Woodstock but that wasn’t coming at me. This was a whole different thing.”
Previous footage of the festival in the Gimme Shelter documentary has now been joined by this home video release showing the musicians mingling with the crowd as they take in the performances on stage.
The emerging footage is part of a 200,000-reel archive acquired by Rick Prelinger in 1996 who provided the contents to the Library of Congress earlier this year. The Library’s head of Moving Image, Mike Mashon, wrote: “I sent the reels up for 2K digitization by our film preservation laboratory.”
Adding: “A couple of days later, I heard from some very excited colleagues that the scan wasn’t the Hyde Park show. It was from the Altamont Speedway concert in California and it definitely wasn’t footage from the 1970 documentary. Many people know the Gimme Shelter documentary pretty well, but there’s a lot more in this home movie.”