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Lost footage of The Rolling Stones at infamous Altamont concert released

The festival's descent into violent chaos was previously chronicled in 'Gimme Shelter'

By Joe Goggins

The Rolling Stones on stage
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards feature heavily in the new footage. (Photo: Alamy)

The US Library of Congress has released previously unseen footage of the notorious Altamont Speedway Free Festival in 1969. 

The free concert, held at Altamont Raceway Park in northern California on December 6, 1969, was headlined by The Rolling Stones, with Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Tina Turner also on the bill.

Attended by over 300,000 people, the festival went down in rock infamy, marred by drug-fuelled violence that included the killing of Meredith Hunter, who was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel as he apparently headed for the stage with a gun in hand during the Stones’ set. The incident was captured on camera and extensively analysed in Albert and David Maysles’ seminal 1970 documentary, ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Now, a new 26-minute home video has been made public, which captures the Stones, Gram Parsons, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and more performing and mingling with the crowd. The clip has no audio. You can see it here. Archivist Rick Prelinger initially acquired the footage in 1996; his 200,000-reel collection was obtained by the Library in 2002.

According to Mike Mashon, the head of the Library’s Moving Image Section, a technician recently discovered “two reels of silent 8mm reversal positive – a common home movie format”, accompanied by a handwritten note that read “Stones in the Park”. 

“When I saw that, I immediately thought that it could be a home movie of the July 5, 1969, Rolling Stones Hyde Park concert held in London a couple of days after the death of guitarist Brian Jones,” Mashon continued in a blog post. “But it could also be a copy of a documentary of the same name, which would make the discovery considerably less interesting.” 

“Regardless, I sent the reels up for 2K digitization by our film preservation laboratory. 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.”

It is not known who captured the film. Notable moments among it include Parsons fronting the Flying Burrito Brothers – “you only see the back of his head in ‘Gimme Shelter’, said Mashon – with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards watching from the side of the stage, as well as new footage of Grace Slick singing with Jefferson Airplane and of scuffles breaking out between the Hells Angels, who had been hired to provide security, and concert-goers.

In all, four people died at Altamont, with three accidental deaths in addition to Hunter’s. Dozens of people were injured. The concert is now viewed as a grim counterpoint to the Woodstock festival that took place just months earlier, and stands, along with the Manson murders, as a symbol of the death of sixties hippy idealism. In a contemporaneous report, Rolling Stone called it “rock and roll’s all-time worst day, December 6th, a day when everything went perfectly wrong.”