First Exhibition of Bill Owen’s Photographs at Altamont during Guitar Player Live!

A Walk and Talk with the photographer will reveal the dangers involved


One of the many highlights of Guitar Player LIVE!, a 3-day celebration of guitars, music, and gear, presented by the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center and Guitar Player Magazine in Livermore, California will be the first-ever exhibition of Bill Owen’s photographs of the Altamont Speedway Free Festival at the Bankhead Theater.


On Saturday, September 12 from 1:00 to 2:00pm there will be a “Walk and Talk” with the photographer. Hear the stories behind the photographs as Bill shares his wit and wisdom. The exhibition will be open to the public during the festival from 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 12, and noon to 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 13. The exhibit will be on display to patrons of Bankhead Theater performances throughout the month of September.


Guitar Player LIVE! will also feature free clinics, concerts at the Bankhead Theater and free performances by well-known regional bands and exhibitor endorsees on four outdoor stages. On Saturday evening, September 12 at 8:00 p.m., celebrity guitarists including Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson’s guitarist), Elliot Easton, Greg Hampton, Steve Lukather and Earl Slick will select the winner of Guitar Superstar, an international guitar competition. To cap off the festival evenings, several local taverns and restaurants will also host local band performances, and the Vine Cinema will feature a special run of classic and cult guitar films.

Many young residents and visitors to Livermore, east of San Francisco are not aware that it was the infamous Altamont Speedway Free Festival took place here forty years ago.   The Altamont Speedway Free Festival was a rock concert held on Saturday, December 6, 1969, at the Altamont Speedway in northern California, between Tracy and Livermore. Headlined and organized by The Rolling Stones, it also featured, in order of appearance: Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills & Nash, with the Rolling Stones taking the stage as the final act.  The Grateful Dead were also scheduled to perform, but declined to play shortly before their scheduled appearance due to the increasing violence at the venue. 

Approximately 300,000 people attended the concert, and some anticipated that it would be a “Woodstock West.” Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles shot footage of the event and incorporated it into a documentary film entitled Gimme Shelter (1970). The event is best known for having been marred by considerable violence, including one homicide and three accidental deaths: two caused by a hit-and-run car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation canal. Four births were reported during the event as well.

The Altamont concert is often contrasted with the Woodstock festival that took place less than four months earlier. While Woodstock represented “peace and love”, Altamont came to be viewed as the end of the hippie era and the de facto conclusion of late-1960s American youth culture: “Altamont became, whether fairly or not, a symbol for the death of the Woodstock Nation.” Rock music critic Robert Christgau wrote in 1972 that “Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended”.

Bill Owens shot the concert for the Associated Press newswire. “Our plan was to be the first news photographers to transmit images of the event. We didn’t know if the UPI (United Press International), Newsweek, or television stations were covering the event but it turned out that they weren’t,” says Owens. “I made images of the violence at the Altamont concert and sold them to Rolling Stone and numerous national magazines. I was afraid to use my own name in the photo credits, as I feared the Angels would come and murder me. Beth’s (the other AP photographer) photographs did show the man who did the murder, and he was later arrested and sent to prison.”


Bill Owens is an internationally renowned photographer living in Hayward. His most famous work, Suburbia, has been exhibited in museums around the globe. He is also an author, digital movie producer, brewer, distiller and “raconteur.”

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