The Rolling Stones didn’t play Woodstock, but no matter: they birthed their own music festival at California’s Altamont racetrack. Featuring the Stones, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Altamont’s lineup was nearly as epic as Woodstock’s, with more than 300,000 in attendance. The speedway was ill suited for such a massive turnout, as was the security provided by the Hells Angels biker gang, who were paid in beer for their services. The situation, fueled by drugs and alcohol, deteriorated over the course of the festival, culminating in near riots close to the stage as the Stones started their headlining set.
The violence peaked when a Hells Angel stabbed and kicked concertgoer Meredith Hunter to death after Hunter, high on methamphetamines, pulled a gun. The Stones claim they never noticed the scuffle — though it was caught on film by a crew filming a documentary — and have never publicly commented on the death. Altamont never hosted another festival, and the “Western Woodstock” is instead remembered as the antithesis to Woodstock’s philosophy of peace and love, with historians citing Altamont as the end of the hippie movement.
It’s widely hypothesized that Don McLean penned lines in “American Pie” in reference to the Stones’ ill-fated music festival: “No angel born in hell/ Could break that Satan’s spell/ And as the flames climbed high into the night/ To light the sacrificial rite/ I saw Satan laughing with delight.”