Gimme Shelter: Watch the Classic Documentary of the Rolling Stones’ Disastrous Concert at Altamont

It’s often remem­bered as the day the Six­ties died. On Decem­ber 6, 1969, the Rolling Stones and a group of West Coast bands put on a free con­cert at the Alta­mont Race­way near San Fran­cis­co. The con­cert was billed as “Wood­stock West,” but instead of being anoth­er gath­er­ing of peace, love and music, it was more like a bad trip.

The event was hasti­ly put togeth­er by the Stones to cel­e­brate the end of their Amer­i­can tour, their first with gui­tarist Mick Tay­lor. The stage at the venue was unusu­al­ly low and was sit­u­at­ed at the bot­tom of a hill. To keep the audi­ence of 300,000 peo­ple from engulf­ing the stage, some­one had the bright idea of enlist­ing the Hells Angels motor­cy­cle gang to form a secu­ri­ty cor­don around the stage in exchange for (essen­tial­ly) all the beer they could drink.

As the con­cert descend­ed into chaos, the Hells Angels beat peo­ple with pool cues and motor­cy­cle chains. A gui­tarist and singer for the Jef­fer­son Air­plane, Mar­ty Balin, was knocked uncon­scious. When a man in the audi­ence bran­dished a pis­tol dur­ing an alter­ca­tion while the Stones were onstage, he was stabbed and beat­en to death by mem­bers of the gang.

The whole sor­ry episode is cap­tured in Gimme Shel­ter, the clas­sic doc­u­men­tary by the broth­ers Albert and David Maysles and Char­lotte Zwerin. The film was released in 1970 and can be seen above in its entire­ty. Gimme Shel­ter con­tains ele­ments of a typ­i­cal rock and roll doc­u­men­tary, with footage of the Stones on the road and play­ing a con­cert at Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York. But the main focus is Alta­mont. The Maysles broth­ers hired a large team of cam­era­men for the event, includ­ing film­mak­er Robert Elf­strom, Mag­num pho­tog­ra­ph­er Elliott Erwitt and a young George Lucas.

Gimme Shel­ter is a fas­ci­nat­ing record of the Six­ties coun­ter­cul­ture as it was falling apart. The last third of the pic­ture is painful to watch but dif­fi­cult to turn away from. The hubris and naiveté of the time are cap­tured in a scene before the event, when Mick Jag­ger tells a group of reporters what Alta­mont is all about: “It’s cre­at­ing a sort of micro­cos­mic soci­ety, which sets an exam­ple to the rest of Amer­i­ca as to how one can behave in large gath­er­ings.”

Relat­ed Con­tent

The Rolling Stones Jam With Their Idol, Mud­dy Waters

The Rolling Stones at 50: Mick, Kei­th, Char­lie & Ron­nie Revis­it Their Favorite Songs

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