LIVERMORE -- As a former tour manager for the Rolling Stones, Ron Schneider has stories. From horseback riding with Keith Richards, to 100 mph car chases with unruly fans, and the time Richards nearly shot him accidently while trying out a new Derringer pistol.
And then there was Altamont.
It's considered the symbolic end of the 1960s "flower power" movement. Today, the free rock concert held Dec. 6, 1969, at Altamont Speedway -- off Interstate 580 between Livermore and Tracy -- is remembered more for violence than music, the antithesis of the peaceful Woodstock festival four months earlier.
For Schneider, who was backstage for the chaos, Altamont was a trip into the heart of darkness.
"I was surprised to get out of there alive," Schneider recalls. "It was a wild time."
The infamous concert is documented in the 1970 film "Gimme Shelter," on which Schneider, 69, served as executive producer.
Schneider will be the guest of honor when the Livermore Heritage Guild screens the film Wednesday at Vine Cinema. A question-and-answer session will follow.
According to Schneider, a former record industry accountant and film producer who managed the Stones' 1969 American tour, "Gimme Shelter" wasn't planned as a feature documentary.
It was conceived on a plane ride after the tour with filmmaker David Maysles, who Schneider had hired -- along with Maysles' brother Albert -- to shoot concert footage promoting the band's upcoming live album. With the brothers filming nonstop, the tour hit 16 cities during a winter of discontent.
"Life was dangerous," Schneider recalled. "We'd be driving through the streets, and there would be burning cars and riot police ... You were hanging on for dear life."
Guilted into thinking they'd overcharged their fans, the story goes, the band decided to cap off the tour with a free festival. Jefferson Airplane, Santana, the Grateful Dead and others were scheduled to appear.
Schneider was opposed to the idea.
"I didn't want them giving a free concert," he said. "But the event took on a life of its own."
Originally pegged for Golden Gate Park, and then Sears Point (now Sonoma) Raceway, negotiations fell through due to scheduling conflicts and money squabbles. Promoters scrambled to find a last-minute replacement, and just days before the festival's scheduled date, Dick Carter, owner of Altamont Speedway, called to offer up his venue.
At the time, according to Heritage Guild president Jeff Kaskey, Livermore was made up mostly of conservative ranchers, and some guarded their properties with shotguns as an influx of 300,000 hippies and rock fans streamed in from all over the country, abandoning their cars along Highway 50. Newspapers related both bemused "wild wonder" and cranky complaints, Kaskey said.
"It's not just the biggest local event, it's one of the biggest events ever in the country," Kaskey explained. "It's just an incredible mass of people ... Today we'd be too wrapped up in the logistics.
"You never again saw that kind of open free-for-all," he added. "It was the end to an innocence."
That afternoon, Schneider arrived at Altamont with the Stones by helicopter, and it immediately became clear the concert was not going to be all peace and love.
"A security guard walks us through the crowd to the stage," Schneider recalled. "Then a guy punches Mick right in the face ... It was craziness."
The way Schneider tells it, several Hells Angels chapters had come in to protect the generators, as they often did at concerts. They were paid $500, not to perform security, but for the cans of beer they had brought with them and proceeded to throw at the crowd, causing injuries.
When darkness descended on Altamont, the vibe took a turn for the worse.
"I would consider it evil," Schneider said. "You just felt there was definitely evil in the air."
Concert-goers up front were pinned; the Angels, who were guarding the stage, were beating people with pool sticks, and fights broke out. Then it happened. Schneider was backstage and didn't see the scuffle between Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old from Berkeley, and Hells Angel Alan Passaro.
"Somebody was screaming that a guy was stabbed," Schneider remembered. "I knew we had an ambulance by the stage, and I was yelling 'Where's the driver?'... There was a cop standing around who said, 'There's no reason to run because he's dead.' It was like a punch in the stomach."
Schneider, who attributes the violence to a mix of alcohol, drugs and crowding, said nobody in the Stones' entourage saw the stabbing until viewing the film. In it, Hunter is seen pulling a gun, and Passaro stabs Hunter in the back. The footage is a dramatic centerpiece to "Gimme Shelter," a film Schneider shopped around to three studios. The rest, as they say, is history.
"It captures the time," Schneider said of the film. "(1969) was a magical year -- there was black magic as well -- and it shows ... I'm proud of it. If we wouldn't have had that, we wouldn't have had all these memories."
For more on Schneider, go to www.meandtherollingstones.com.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.