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$11 Million Lawsuit Filed Over Rolling Stones' Free Altamont Concert

Attorneys file suit against Sears Point International Raceway, Inc., and Filmways. Inc., for breaking their agreement to allow the Stones to use Sears Point for the festival.

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones warily eye the Hells Angels onstage at The Altamont Speedway on December 6th, 1969 in Livermore, California.
Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty
March 7, 1970

San Francisco — Attorneys involved in setting up the Rolling Stones' free concert at Altamont have announced filing of an $11 million lawsuit against Sears Point International Raceway, Inc., and Filmways. Inc., for allegedly breaking their agreement to allow the Stones to use Sears Point for the festival.

It all appears to be one very sick theatrical stunt pulled off to gain publicity for San Francisco junior jet-set attorney Melvin Belli and for Young American Enterprises and Stones Promotions Ltd., the two plaintiffs who together call themselves The Rolling Stones Free Concert.

The Stones themselves seem to be no more than pawns in the game.

Joint press conferences were staged here, in New York and in London, and Belli spoke via telephone from Johannesburg, South Africa. The Stones actually have nothing to do with the lawsuit being filed in their name, a confession made by John Jaymes of Young American, who chaired the New York press conference in his office. Ron Schneider of Stone Promotions was in London, and one of Belli's partners, Vasilios Choulos, made the announcement at the Belli Building here.

The suit centers around the fact that until just hours before the actual event, the concert was to be held at Sears Point, north of San Francisco in Sonoma County. However, at the last minute Filmways — which owns Sears Point — demanded either a lot of money or rights to the film that was being made of the concert. The Stones' management wouldn't go along with that, and moved the concert across the Bay to Altamont Speedway. There followed one of the blackest days in rock and roll history, and this lawsuit is at least in part an attempt by Schneider and Jaymes to bail themselves out on that one.

But the lawsuit itself is almost incidental to the various shenanigans accompanying it. The Stones themselves are being exploited unmercifully; three days after the press conference, Jaymes admitted to Rolling Stone that the band was upset about a UPI story in the New York Times that listed them as plaintiffs.

He also confessed that the Stones had nothing to do with the lawsuit — it was "a business proposition" so that he and Schneider could recover the losses they'd incurred when the site was switched to Altamont. What emerged from the smooth talking at the New York conference was a clear picture of buck-passing and publicity-seeking.

According to Jaymes, Young American handled the "promotion, logistics and security" for the Stones' U.S. tour, and has been in the youth marketing and concert promotion business since 1966. Stone Promotions Ltd., he said, is wholly owned by Ron Schneider, who is now handling 80 percent of the Stones' business and will soon handle it all. Which is another whole story in itself, because if it's true, that means Allen Klein, longtime business manager of the Stones, is on his way out.

Jaymes said that his firm's services to the Stones ended November 30th, but when the Grateful Dead organization (he meant Sam Cutler, Mike Lang, and Chip Monck as well as the Dead people) were unable to get a site in San Francisco, Schneider asked him to step back in.

"All I had to do was to get a site, take care of the insurance, and see that the money was there," Jaymes said. He believes that had his own people handled the original negotiations with San Francisco officials, the concert could have been held in a park here.

That's because his company has a consultant in Buffalo named Mariano Lucca who is close to S. F. Mayor Joseph Alioto. "He is a little 78-year-old man who does everything for the cause," Jaymes chuckled, adding that "the cause" was making sure everyone knew Columbus discovered America.

Jaymes told the New York reporters that from the money he hopes to win on this suit, he will be able to pay out on suits filed against him because of the Altamont disaster. Foremost, he said, is a $2 million action brought by the mother of Meredith Hunter, the black man killed there.

He said that while he's not sure whether to call it "murder or justifiable homicide," the Maysles Bros. have film footage showing Hunter rushing the stage with a gun and shouting something about killing whitey. "But," Jaymes interjected, "he's still a lovely boy as far as his mother's concerned."

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