A friend of mine once said to me, “One thing I like about you is that when you’re passionate about something, you want everyone else to be passionate about it, too!”
That compliment is one of the nicest and most accurate statements ever made about me because if I’ve ever engaged you in a conversation about Pearl Jam, you know you’re not walking away from it without a full appreciation for what makes that band special to me.
That got me thinking: Who else might appreciate this passion for Pearl Jam?
So I started reminiscing about the places I’ve visited and the people I’ve met over the last two decades at the various Pearl Jam shows I’ve attended—a total of 38 shows in 5 countries, 13 U.S. states, and 20 cities worldwide.
2000 = East Troy, WI
2002 = Seattle, WA
2003 = Bonner Springs, KS; Council Bluffs, IA; Fargo, ND; St. Paul, MN; East Troy, WI
2004 = Toledo, OH
2006 = Chicago, IL; St. Paul, MN (x 2); George, WA (x 2)
2007 = Chicago IL
2009 = Chicago, IL (x 2)
2010 = St. Louis, MO
2011 = East Troy, WI (x 2)
2012 = Pensacola, FL (x 2)
2013 = Chicago, IL; Seattle, WA
2014 = Amsterdam, Netherlands (x 2); Milan, Italy; Trieste, Italy; Vienna, Austria; Berlin, Germany; Moline, IL; St. Paul, MN; Mountain View, CA (x 2)
2016 = New York, NY (x 2); Boston, MA (x 2); Chicago, IL (x 2)
I’ll start off with Brandon, my best friend from college, who hopped aboard this all-encompassing trip from the word “go” back in the early 1990s. He turned me on to Pearl Jam my junior year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth after we met in our English education courses (yeah, Glorified PJ OGs…I got on board late…if that’s a problem, then this blog is not for you). We initially bonded over dystopian novels and Rage Against the Machine, but he turned me into a full-on Pearl Jam fan when he played me the Live on Two Legs version of “Black.” The two of us sat in his car riding back from shooting pool at Grandma’s Sports Garden, and I was just mesmerized by that live performance, and when it was over, I felt like I had just woken up from a spell woven by Mike McCready’s guitar solo. After the song ended, he looked at me and said, “If you ever tell anyone we listened to that song together, I’ll fucking kill you.” Well, it’s twenty years later, and I’m still alive, and we’re still best friends, and we’re still planning Pearl Jam trips together. Besides, he has a five-digit 10 Club number that starts with a 4, so it’s crucial we stay friends because he gets all of the good seats!
Brandon and I outside Wrigley Field in 2016. We stayed dry this time.
Through Brandon I met Patrick in 2002 at a Key Arena show in Seattle. Back in 1998, Brandon saw Patrick sitting on a bench outside of the United Center in Chicago before a Pearl Jam show. Patrick was wearing a NOFX “Heavy Petting Zoo” t-shirt which struck a chord with Brandon, and the two of them hit it off and have met up again and again to enjoy Pearl Jam shows all over the Midwest. In 2005, the two of them took a road trip together and caught a show in Thunder Bay, Canada. In 2006, Brandon, his wife Courtney, and I drove down to Chicago for a show at the United Center and we met up with Patrick and his buddy Dan before the show at a bar where a Pearl Jam tribute band was playing. A few months later, Patrick and Dan drove up from Springfield, Illinois, to take in the back-to-back PJ/Tom Petty shows at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Patrick took pictures from the second row with a ticket Brandon gave him thanks to that magic 10 Club number, and some of those pictures are framed in my condo. The next year, Patrick, Brandon, and I went to Lollapalooza for a day of hot sun, cool bands, and Pearl Jam. In 2010, Patrick and his wife Gina graciously hosted Brandon and me after a night with Pearl Jam in St. Louis. Of course, we met up again at Alpine Valley for PJ20 in 2011, at Wrigley Field in 2013, and Wrigley again in 2016. Heck, sometimes we even hang out when there’s not a Pearl Jam show!
Patrick, Brandon, and I at Wrigley Field in 2013.
Brandon wisely brought ponchos. He’s more than just a good 10 Club number!
Then there’s Dave and Katy, who sat next to my girlfriend Jaime and me at Stadio San Siro in Milan, Italy. They flew from Ohio for the shows in Milan and Trieste in 2014. As is customary among fellow Pearl Jam fans, I asked them which shows they’d been to in their day. Dave said, “We were at Wrigley last year during the storm.” I was also at that show, so I asked him where he sat. “We were on the field, Mike’s side.” Interesting…I was on the field on Mike’s side, too. Row? “Fifth.” I stopped, got a good look at him, and said, “Dude, I was in the fourth row. The two of you sat right behind me!” I couldn’t believe it! A year later, we had traveled 4,527 miles just to sit next to each other at a Pearl Jam show once again. And being the big Cubs fans they are, the two of them were back at the Happy Confines of Wrigley Field in 2016, where they once again sat next to Brandon and me. Small world, eh?
“Hey buddy, you ever been to Milan?”
I can’t forget about “Scott Stapp”! No, not the real Scott Stapp…just a 5’3” dude who seriously looked exactly like Scott Stapp and seemed to be at every Pearl Jam show we were. It became a running joke between me, Brandon, and Patrick because we’d run into the guy everywhere we went. This guy was a hardcore fan, and he always had a huge smile on his face at every show. The last time I saw him was in 2010 in St. Louis, but he looked way more like Jesus than Scott Stapp. Somewhere, I imagine the real Scott Stapp is jealous.
In 2014, I met Terry from North Carolina before the Trieste and Vienna shows, and then randomly I ran into him at the St. Paul show just a few months later. He and his girlfriend seem to know everyone in the Pearl Jam community, so I’ve dubbed them the unofficial mayors of Pearl Jamville.
I also met this guy named Mike and his wife (whose name escapes me…sorry Mike’s wife!). The two of them sat next to me and Brandon at Madison Square Garden in 2016 (we were on Stone’s side about six rows behind John McEnroe and Chris Chelios, but we still haven’t met those guys yet). Mike and his wife are from the Chicago area, so naturally we ran into Mike in centerfield at Wrigley a few months later. “Holy shit!” Brandon said. “How do you remember shit like that?!”
How do I remember it? I remember it because the experiences I have had following Pearl Jam have made a lifetime of memories for me that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life. I’ve seen Pearl Jam perform in metropolises like NYC, Berlin, Boston, and Amsterdam, as well as rinky-dink cities like Council Bluffs, Moline, East Troy, and Toledo. I’ve stood on the lawn braving outdoor shows ranging in temperatures from 28 degrees in Wisconsin to 106 degrees at the Gorge Amphitheatre. I’ve endured torrential downpours in Bonner Springs, Kansas, and I’ve stood with my feet in the Atlantic Ocean while listening to Pearl Jam perform “Oceans.” These are the just a few of the lasting memories created out of this obsession.
“Waves roll in my thoughts…”
So why share this with you? Well, I suspect that this band means something special not only to me but to Brandon, Patrick, Dave, Katy, Mike, Terry, and countless others who I’ve encountered at these shows over the years. I’ve seen fathers and mothers bring their children to shows, as if their love for Pearl Jam is a family heirloom that they want passed down from generation to generation. This band is much more than lyrics and notes and chord progressions to so many people. This band symbolizes a life journey for so many of us, and I want to share my journey with you. In turn, I hope it inspires you to think about the journeys you have taken in your life and what they mean to you and how you can keep them going.
In 2014, my girlfriend Jaime and I took a two-week Eurotrip to Amsterdam, Milan, Trieste, Vienna, and Berlin (with a pit-stop in Venice) to follow Pearl Jam. It was such a great way to see Europe, that we’ve decided to do it again! This summer, Jaime and I will embark on another cross-Atlantic trip centered around Pearl Jam’s European Tour. Our journey begins in London, where we’ll enjoy some afternoon tea with a side of Pearl Jam. We’ll then make our way to the canals of Venice for a couple of days before hitching a train ride for a show in Padua, where notable scholars such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Casanova attended the city’s prestigious university and listened to Pearl Jam during study breaks. Our next stop will be the origins of ancient civilization—Rome—where Pearl Jam tunes like “Blood” echoed throughout the Colosseum during epic gladiator battles. After navigating the sights, dodging the crowds, avoiding the pickpockets, eating pasta, and rocking out, we’ll catch a train heading north to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance Grunge Movement. After locking eyes with David, we’ll scoot over to Prague for pilsners and Pearl Jam. A night train will take us to our next stop: Krakow. After taking in another show, we’ll take some time to pay our respects to the victims of the Holocaust by visiting Auschwitz so that we don’t lose sight of our fortunes in life. We’ll use the overnight train ride to Berlin to decompress from such a moving day before venturing out to Waldbühne for an outdoor amphitheater Pearl Jam show. From there, we’ll catch our breath in Paris before ending our trip with tapas, sangria, and Pearl Jam in Barcelona, where Brandon, his wife, and their two sons will join us for his 40th show. Before the summer ends, though, I’ll celebrate my 41st birthday with two more Pearl Jam shows at Safeco Field in Seattle with my friend Kelly and two Wrigley Field shows, fittingly with Brandon and Patrick, bringing me to an even 50 shows.
I dragged Jaime to Fenway Park in 2016 to two more Pearl Jam shows.
She’s up to double digits now!
Along the way, I’ll also share some stories from the previous concerts I’ve attended over the last twenty years. Heck, you might even see yourself in some of these stories! And if you do, I hope they make you look back fondly on your restless soul, enjoy your youth, and smile.
Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Long Road” from the Merkinball single, released in 1995.
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