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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Do You Remember?
  • Valley Times : Looking Back
  • the Independant : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Times on Thursdays,
and Sundays in the Independant.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Altamont Rock Festival-35 year-old 'Bad Trip'

By Barry Schrader..................................December 3, 2004

December 6, 1969 will go down in Tri-Valley history as its "day of infamy" when the "Age of Aquarius" lost its innocence as 300,000 people tripped out to the music of the Rolling Stones and other rock groups of that era. It was there on the Altamont hills east of Livermore that four people died, and three babies were born.
The 35th anniversary of this horrendous yet mesmerizing rockfest is still talked about by those who were there. A free-lance photographer for the Oakland Tribune, Larry Medina, remembers it vividly. He had been shooting film all day and into the night near the stage, then had his camera and all the rolls of film stored in canisters on the camera strap ripped from him by Hell's Angels, the camera smashed onto the ground and kicked under the stage. It seems Medina was too close to the "action" where a concert-goer was being beaten and stabbed to death by Angels, and cameras meant photographic evidence, thus the sweep of the area to destroy all visible photo equipment. Medina lost his expensive Mamiya large format camera, but escaped a beating and departed the scene empty-handed. He now works at Lawrence Livermore Lab and occupies the office next to mine. So that's how I got this firsthand account.
Another witness to the musical orgy was former Herald Editor Fred Dickey, now retired from newspapering and residing in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. He drove photographer Lee Estes and reporter JoAnn Cook up to the Altamont Speedway early in the day, when the Stones' appearance and related violence were still hours from happening. They left; but later Estes, staff writers Jeff Garberson and Cathy Smith returned to record the event for the newspaper's Monday edition. Meanwhile, the competing Livermore Independent sent photographer Bill Owens and correspondent Jim Crockett out to cover it as well.
The biggest names in rock music were performing throughout the day-Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Santana, Tina Turner, Crosby-Stills-Nash & Young, all leading up to the grand but horrific finale by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
Dickey recalls when he went there the second time "the air was so thick with the pungent odor of marijuana you could cut it with a knife." The Hell's Angels were hired for $500 worth of beer by the Stones' manager to "police" the event and keep fans from rushing the stage. As the music pulsated, the beer and drugs flowed, the crowd surged, and the Angels used brute force--pool cues, knives, beer cans and whatever else they had at their disposal--to beat back the frenzied fans. Valley Memorial Hospital was swamped with drug overdoses, beating injuries and accident victims that night and early into the next day.
Dickey concluded that "whether we approved of it or not, this should be seen as a significant historical event. History does not seek our approval. It was a signature happening of the hippie generation-all about drugs, sex and rock'n roll." He even thinks a historical marker at the speedway site would be appropriate 35 years later, now that all the anguished souls, angry ranchers and overwhelmed police have let this fade into memory.
Now that's a task for the E Clampus Vitas Chapter in the area! Where are they when you need them?!? The Clampers love to commemorate off-beat or unsung historical events with a marker, and then a party.
It was Woodstock on the East Coast that heralded the flowering of the hippie culture, while four months later the bedeviled Altamont Rock Festival signaled the demise of the "age of innocence."

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So now the history mystery question for this week: What two things do Sonny Barger, Sandia's Mim John and Blitz Krieger all have in common? Send in your answers to the address below and the winner(s) will receive another one of those golden capsule bolts (I have a box of them left).
Tim Hunt, do you remember the Altamont (he was just an innocent young sports reporter at the time, and did not inhale)? Then you're much older than I….

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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