A historical retrospective on the dark side of the Summer of Love and the end of an era.
As Austerlitz (Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community, 2014, etc.) notes, while the much-hyped Woodstock Festival came to symbolize the 1960s counterculture’s utopian vision, “Altamont became an easy symbol of the failings of that hopeful time.” The idea for the Altamont festival began with the Rolling Stones, who sought to bookend their North American tour with a free Woodstock-like event to be held in the San Francisco Bay Area. Featuring Santana, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane, the poorly planned festival—thrown together last-minute at the unlikely Altamont Speedway—began without a hitch. However, before the night was over, violence reigned, culminating in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter, one of few black concertgoers in attendance. Who to blame for Altamont’s failure and Hunter’s death? The racial turbulence of the times? The cavalier attitude of festival organizers? The violence-prone Hells Angels, hired for security? The Rolling Stones who hired them? The Grateful Dead, who were too high to play to a growingly restless audience? As Austerlitz amply demonstrates, it was all of this and more. Interviewing the likes of Jefferson Airplane guitarist Paul Kantner, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, filmmaker Joan Churchill, and Hunter’s surviving family members, the author looks critically at this pivotal historical event while paying tribute to Hunter, who, as Austerlitz writes, “was not just a name, not just a dead man at a rock concert.” Austerlitz also examines the Altamont documentary Gimme Shelter and the trial and acquittal of Hells Angel Alan Passaro, and he provides updates on the fates of the players involved in the day’s unraveling.
At turns critical and poignant, a thoroughly researched exploration of the ultimate price tag for the end of the 1960s.