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- Posted on Mar 29th 2010 3:00PM by Dan Reilly
With all the problems at the infamous concert, very little is known about why things went so horrifically wrong. Check out this exclusive excerpt from Cutler's book in which he recalls the problems leading up to the event. Then, pick up 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' on April 1 to hear how Cutler dealt with the fallout from one of the most notorious rock shows of all time.
I finally met up with Keith at Altamont on Friday afternoon and I was appalled by what I saw. The place was an absolute s---hole, the worst possible spot for a concert one could imagine. There were already more than 100,000 people at the site and their numbers were increasing by the hour.
The sight of Keith Richards spurred the workers on. Keith was absolutely blown away by the general good vibes and the sheer effort people were putting in. He happily walked around, sharing a joint and thanking people for their heroic devotion. We retreated to the proposed backstage area, where someone had thoughtfully parked a tiny caravan-cum-dressing-room. I reviewed arrangements with an ad hoc committee of Bay Area volunteers.
The stage was impossibly low, less than a meter in height, and this was a primary concern. It was located at the foot of a hill in the neck of a valley. We decided to build a barricade of trucks at the back of the stage so that at least we would have some protection from the crowds. I noted with concern that a lot of people now at Altamont already seemed drunk.
I went to the offices of the racetrack and met the owner, Dick Carter. He seemed a nice enough guy but completely out of his depth. He told me that he had a contract for the concert and I asked to see it, but it suddenly became unavailable. He said that it had been signed by John Jaymes on behalf of Young America Enterprises. The Rolling Stones hadn't actually signed the contract themselves. I smiled inwardly, feeling reasonably certain that there was no way anyone from the Stones would sign a contract for a site that was inherently unsuitable for the purpose.
Carter said he had insurance and that John Jaymes had promised that he would be indemnified from all liabilities. Jaymes now controlled the site and, in effect, the whole show. I wondered if Mick had a clue about any of this, and then decided it was perhaps all part of a fiendishly cunning master plan of Ronnie Schneider's to protect the Rolling Stones from any legal liability should things go wrong. I went off in search of Jaymes to talk about police and security.
Jaymes was speaking with a high-ranking officer from the California Highway Patrol. The police were decidedly unhappy about the number of cars approaching the site; there was already gridlock on the main north-south highway. Thousands of cars were being abandoned some five miles away and people were wandering all over the neighboring ranches. There was a distinct possibility that kids could be shot by hostile ranchers.
The Highway Patrol was finding it almost impossible to keep any of the roads open for emergency vehicles. The police had hired every tow truck from miles around and as fast as cars blocked the roads, the cops towed them away.
Two deputies arrived from the Alameda Sheriff's department and talked about getting a court order banning the concert. I laughed in their faces. What did they think the people who were already here would do in that event -- simply disappear? The sheriffs told me that every available man was on duty. They had asked the Governor's office for extra police.
When I asked how many men the Alameda Sheriff's department had on duty, I was told "around 20." The Highway Patrol said that every available car and officer in the East Bay had been diverted for duties at or near Altamont. They estimated this was around 30 cars. They also had a helicopter.
It looked like there were going to be roughly 50 cops to control a crowd of half a million people. It was becoming increasingly clear that we were going to have to use our own people for personal security.
I asked Jaymes how many men we had. Twenty, he told me.
"Are they all armed?" I asked.
"Certainly," said Jaymes.
"What the f--- happened to the hundred guys you promised at Sears Point, then?" Jaymes shrugged and said he didn't think they were necessary.
I told Jaymes that I wanted every one of our police officers on the stage and directly answerable to me. Jaymes agreed and then told me that he would be in the racetrack offices with Dick Carter, close to the phones in case of any emergencies. I dismissed this as Jaymes simply opting for the superior comfort and safety of the office, and demanded that he get all of his men to the site early in the morning.
The music was due to begin in something like 14 hours and I wanted to be sure that our security was present from the get-go. I wanted Jaymes there with me to instruct his men on the chain of command. Jaymes assured me that this would not be a problem. I went off to find Keith.
It was now getting dark and in the dusk there were people spread across the site as far as you could see. There were at least a couple of hundred thousand people present already. There was nowhere for helicopters to land in darkness, and I told Keith that if we didn't leave soon we were here for the night. He was having such a good time he decided he wanted to stay on site until the show. I left him in the trailer, having made him promise he wouldn't wander off on his own. A couple of Hells Angels were in the backstage area and they seemed chilled out. I left them chatting with Keith and a group of others who were sitting in the caravan rolling spliffs and having a good time. I needed to check out what was happening on the hillsides surrounding the stage.
From the stage itself, the view was unsettling. Hundreds of campfires had been lit and people could be seen partying. A huge crane was lifting massive spotlights onto the top of a scaffold tower, with crowds of people immediately below. If one of the lights had been accidentally dropped, many people would have been killed. Equipment guys could be seen swarming over the PA towers.