From Dream to Disaster: Teaching Students about the Rise and Fall of the Altamont Free Concert
Altamont, the iconic 1969 free concert, has been a significant historical event that still holds an influential position in shaping our understanding of music, society, and counterculture. As educators, it is essential that we teach our students about this momentous event. In doing so, we can encourage a broader cultural awareness and understanding of the events that have shaped society. This article highlights effective ways to bring the story of Altamont to the classroom.
The Altamont Free Concert took place on December 6, 1969, in Northern California. The failed festival has since become symbolic of the end of the idealistic 1960s and an iconic lesson in crowd dynamics and crowd control. Headlined by the Rolling Stones and featuring performances by Santana, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the event was marred by violence and tragedy—a direct contrast to the peaceful intentions of its promoters.
Approaches to Teaching:
1. Contextualization: To understand the significance of Altamont, students must be familiar with its broader cultural context. Begin by discussing the events leading up to the concert, such as Woodstock and Monterey Pop Festival. This will give students an understanding of how these events shaped societal values in terms of peace and artistic expression.
2. Experiential Learning: Multimedia resources are vital for bringing this historical event to life. Show students documentaries or news footage from the period. Encourage them to listen to music from performers at Altamont and other popular artists at that time to gain a deeper appreciation for the counterculture movement.
3. Analyzing Perspectives: Engage students in discussions about different stakeholders involved in organizing and attending Altamont—promoters, artists, fans, security personnel (Hells Angels), political leaders, etc. Ask them critical questions about what they might have learned from their experiences, what could have been done differently, or what actions these stakeholders took that contributed to the event’s disastrous outcome.
4. Exploring Ethics: Discuss the ethical implications of various decisions made by promoters, performers, and security. Guide students in analyzing these choices by considering various ethical theories and principles.
5. Connecting to the Present: Encourage students to connect Altamont’s history to contemporary events. Have them research how modern music festivals or other large-scale gatherings address the issues related to crowd safety, logistics, and organization. Let them explore how those experiences contrast with or echo what happened at Altamont.
The study of Altamont offers a valuable opportunity for students to engage with an important and complex historical event that shaped cultural consciousness. By incorporating multimedia resources, fostering critical thinking skills, and connecting the past to the present, educators can facilitate an enriching learning experience that demonstrates the relevance of history in today’s world.