LIVERMORE -- They say if you can remember it, you weren't there.
Even so, the March 27 screening of the film "Gimme Shelter" at the Vine Cinema in Livermore was a trip down memory lane for audience members who'd actually witnessed the free concert at the Altamont Speedway on Dec. 6, 1969.
The sold-out showing was presented as a fundraiser by the Livermore Heritage Guild; Ron Schneider, the Rolling Stones' tour manager that year and the film's executive producer, was the evening's honored guest. Lively spectators, more than a few dressed in hippie regalia -- beads, tie-dye shirts and fringed jackets -- applauded every time Schneider appeared on screen.
"They say you never bring a knife to a gunfight," Schneider said in introducing the film. "At Altamont, the knife won."
Members of the Heritage Guild set up shop in the theater's foyer, taping interviews with concert attendees and compiling an oral history of the event. The first-person experiences varied widely, depending on where they'd sat (or stood) for the show.
In the audience was Viviane DeLeon, 59, who was front and center at Altamont. She was literally a poster child for the so-called "end of flower power," proudly displaying a promo poster from Scanlan's Monthly showing her as a fearful 16-year-old surrounded by Hells Angels, with a headline touting Altamont as "Pearl Harbor to the Woodstock Nation."
"It was a very traumatic experience because we had just had Woodstock, and this was going to be our Woodstock," DeLeon said. "I was right there when all that action was going on. It was intense."
DeLeon, who grew up in Hayward, could be seen dancing at several points in the film. She had met her friends at the stage and was trapped up front for the concert's duration.
"There was so much activity, a lot of tension and fights," she recalled. "It was scary."
Carl Silva, 61, of Livermore said he and his friends had abandoned their car and hiked a mile over the hills to the concert, finding themselves in the middle of a human deluge. He grooved to Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Santana, but then things started getting "wild and crazy."
"All I could see from where I was at was the dust around the stage from where fights were breaking out," Silva said. "The Hells Angels were keeping people away from the stage, but they were doing it violently."
Others who had been at Altamont disagreed with the film's portrayal of Altamont as a complete disaster, and wondered what was left on the cutting room floor. Kevin Ryan, 62, of Pleasanton, was there watching on the hills far from the stage. A longtime Stones' fan, Ryan said from his vantage point he couldn't see the violence in the front and enjoyed the music with his friends.
"We all had a great time," Ryan said.
No one in the audience reported witnessing the concert's darkest moment, the stabbing death of 18-year-old Meredith Hunter by a Hells Angel. Shown at the film's climax, the footage of the incident drew audible gasps from first-time viewers.
Even leaving Altamont had its scary moments, as Schneider revealed in the post-screening Q&A. In the helicopter ride to the airport, the pilot told the cramped passengers the copter was overloaded and he'd be forced to land it like a plane, which he'd never done before.
"We made it," Schneider said. "But it was a little hairy."
Schneider also explained how "Gimme Shelter" had been cobbled together. It was filmed over the course of a week; the cameramen hired at the last second, one of them an aspiring director by the name of George Lucas. It wasn't until on the plane back from Altamont that the deal for a feature film was made, for an investment by Schneider of $133,000. Filmmaker David Maysles and editor Charlotte Zwerin edited the movie for six months, while Schneider negotiated with the studios.
"I'm still proud of this, and I can always enjoy watching it," Schneider said. "It's always great to listen to the Stones."
For Schneider, the screening also confirmed accounts he'd heard, that many who were there saw Altamont as a positive experience.
"It's a microcosm of society," Schneider said of the concert.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.