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Remembering Altamonte: The Rolling Stones Concert That Went Awry

ARUN RATH, HOST:

In the minds of many, the peace and love era of the hippie ended on this day in 1969 with a near-riot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M ALL RIGHT")

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Oh, baby, it's all right.

RATH: A free concert at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California descended into violence, leaving one person dead - the headlining act, The Rolling Stones. Approximately 300,000 people turned out, hoping it be a Woodstock west. In a shockingly bad example of event planning, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club was asked to provide security. Tensions between the bikers, the bands and the crowd escalated throughout the day. As The Stones played out the final chords of "Under My Thumb," screams broke out. Mick Jagger tried to keep the peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONCERT)

MICK JAGGER: People, I mean, who's fighting, what for? Who's fighting, and what for?

RATH: In the melee in front of the stage, 18-year-old Meredith Hunter brandished a gun, and Hells Angel Alan Passaro stabbed him to death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAGGER: Look, that guy there - if he doesn't stop it, man - Listen, either those cats cool it, man, or we don't play.

RATH: Onlookers were confused, horrified.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I don't want him to die. Don't let him die.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: He won't die.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: But I can't hear his heart.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Now, don't worry about it.

RATH: And that's how it ended. Helpless and afraid, The Rolling Stones boarded a helicopter and flew to safety, away from the free concert they'd hoped would go down in history as a night of music and of peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL")

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) Please allow me to introduce myself. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.