The secret went out at Woodstock that there were so many people coming in that there was no way we were gonna close the doors. “If you ain’t got a ticket, come on in. If you bought one, drop it over here.” There were people all around that concert trying to give away their tickets.
The Dead did not fare well there. Several things went wrong. First of all, the band’s entrance and exit from the stage depended on risers. And when the Dead were supposed to go on, the wheels on their risers failed. The gear was so heavy that the risers nosedived. We had to take all of the gear off the risers and stick it out on the stage. A big monster undertaking. Plus it was stormy.
Finally we set it up. Then, since we were the first band after dark, they decided it was time to unfurl the light show. Only there was a 60-mile-an-our wind blowing. and the stage was maybe 35 or 40 feet above the ground, all set on big pieces of wood because it had been raining for weeks and weeks, and it was very muddy. They unfurled the light show screen and it billowed out like a sail on a square-rigger and the stage started to scoot down, the whole damn thing started to slide.
The call for action was: pull out your buck knife and rip holes in the $20,000 screen. It was like a cinerama screen. Jonathan Riester just grabbed my buck knife and flew into it. Then my brother; Dicken, did the same thing. Finally, the stage stopped sliding.
That was the beginning. All day long people were saying, “Do not take the brown acid.” Some guy had a brown paper bag full of bum acid. Then this guy comes bouncing across the stage in the middle of the Dead’s set and he’s throwing out brown acid to the crowd. That was a nightmare in itself.
They played a set, but it was not great. “Generally speaking,” said Garcia. “the more people expect, the worse we are. The paramount example was Woodstock.” Weir said: “We had a sound man who insisted that everything was being done wrong so he was gonna set up his whole PA, and proceeded to go about doing so.”
Hanging up the audience for four or five hours!” roared Garcia, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “When you multiply that by the number of people at Woodstock you get several human years.”
“Yeah,” shouted Weir excitedly, “several human years of chagrin and consternation, and add to that the fact that when we finally did get it set up the electrical ground was completely wrong so every time either of us touched our instruments we got horrible shocks.” -Scully
Later in the year a press conference in New York annouced that the Rolling Stones were going to play free in the park in San Francisco. All the radio stations announced, “Free concert, free concert!” Suddenly, it was everybody’s concert. They were going to make a movie of it, a movie; everybody started to looking to make money on it. It wasn’t a free concert – it became an exploited, horrifying event. (The concert was moved to Sears Point less than 24 hours before the show and was moved again to Altamont Speedway, about 40 miles southeast of San Francsico.)
They had such a crowd coming and they had a riot on their hands. We wanted out, but they had our equipment. But the Grateful Dead never did play at Altamont.
When we got there, they had such a crowd that the scene was changing very fast. It had grown up quickly and had incorporated so many people who were just taking. We saw the same thing happening in the Haight-Ashbury. -Scully
Mick, Jerry and Billy (in the cowboy hat) having a friendly chat waiting for the chopper to take them to what would turn out to be a very surprising event. They were looking forward to a fun filled day and ended up with a nightmare. -Jerilyn
This crowd shot is in the thick of it at the Altamont show. At that time I was Chet Helms “Girl Friday” working at Family Dog on the Great Highway. As such, since this had turned into a sort of community project for the SF music scene, I had been sent out to the site the day before, to help out where I could. I didn’t sleep until I got back to SF after the show.
There was lots to do, since everything had been moved there at the last minute from another location. Everyone was scrambling to set up the stage, sound and lights. Forget hospitality!!!
We worked through the day and night with whatever was there.
It was way out in the sticks, far from anything remotely like San Francisco.
Very chaotic and never comfortable right off the bat. No outside services, like stores or gas stations, etc.
It was challenging to say the least.
The whole vibe of the place was weird and the energy surrounding it was bleak. Everyone did as much as possible to keep things coming together through a cold, dark and kind of foggy night. When the sun came up, things got squirrely when people came pouring in from everywhere. The rest is history.
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Photos: Main – Gary Schroeder; Mick and Jerry – unknown