This Day in PJ: May 2, 2003 – Buffalo, NY

by Kathy Davis on May 2, 2009

hands of the music stand

hands of the music stand

May 2, 2003: Pearl Jam at HSBC Arena - Buffalo, New York

From the TFT Concert ChronologyFor ‘People Have the Power,’ Ed invites a young lady (”Nana, from the heart of Buffalo”) on stage to hold the lyrics up for him. At first she seems nervous, but as the song progresses, she is more confident and by the end, is rocking right out. Great singalong and a long, impassioned, powerful version with the crowd chanting back the chorus, Eddie yelling “let’s hear you!!” and asking, “It’s the ultimate goal, yeah?” Ed and Nana do a back-to-back lean, and Nana helps sing the closing chorus into the mic. At the song’s end, Ed gives her a great, dramatic dip. This version is so good that most thought it was the close of the show and are stunned when the band returns for the third encore.

As it happens, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing “Nana from the heart of Buffalo” since the day before this show.  We are part of a close group of old-timer Pearl Jam fan friends, many of whom met back on the old PJ AOL Message board. Our “garden” spans the U.S. - I was brought into the fold by a couple of mutual friends,  and we all had a chance to meet and down red wine at a friend’s house the night before. 

At the time, I could never have known that the young, reserved, beautiful girl would turn into a cherished and beloved sister/friend.  Nana moved to my coast (the left one of the U.S.) a few years back to get her Masters degree in creative writing and that facilitated our bond. She has a spectacular gift of putting memories into words.   We share a love of PJ, reading, writing, lots of different music, ridiculousness and many other common eclectic tastes that make every meeting a joy.

Nana recently blogged about her memories of this wonderful May 2, 2003 Buffalo Pearl Jam show in which she acted as Ed’s human music stand.  I was lucky enough to be in attendance at this show, front row Stoney, and was watching the “Ed is pulling someone onstage” machinations.  I remember watching Ed’s gaze, seeing all the different faces of people who thought he meant them, and feeling the strange awkwardness of Ed trying to communicate his choice of stage partner.  I recall the difficulty he had trying to communicate who he meant, and finally leaning down to the security in the pit and saying something to the burly guy, that gesture finally cementing Ed’s selection.    My seatmate and I saw Nana start her journey to the stage, and I think you can hear our excited “woos!” and shrill chants of “Nana! Nana! Nana!” on the bootleg.  It  is always fun when Ed pulls someone onstage from the audience, and it’s surreal when it’s someone you know!  I couldn’t imagine anyone cooler or more deserving of such a unique honor. 

I remember the look of giddily contained joy on Nana’s face as she stood up there, and Ed asking her name and where she was from so he could introduce her, and him tossing his head back a bit when she answered.  Those of us that knew her laughed when Ed introduced her as being from “the heart of Buffalo” since she had come from Minnesota to see the show.  I could see Nana’s gaze going out to her seatmate, and was amazed that her hands were steady and strong when Ed gave her the lyric sheet to hold, imagining that had that been me, my hands would have been too quivery to hold it still. I also recall watching the experience unfold, and that the two of them were having so much fun, it seemed Ed didn’t want the song to end! I remember Ed repeated another chorus or two, extending the tune to a little over 7 minutes.  It was empowering on many levels. 

But enough from me. Here are excerpts from Nana’s blog about the experience; and I highly recommend reading any of her words that you can get your eyes on.  Her writing and insight is a true gift, as is her friendship.

there was a lull after “sonic reducer.” my favorite cover, and i had enjoyed it; as the lights dimmed i pulled at my shirt and flapped it, circulating the moist air as best i as i could. i didn’t notice the commotion on my side of the stage. it started as a low murmur, almost a collective, questioning hum and then there were shouts and feverish whoops. my travel partner prodded me and told me to look up, and there was eddie, crouching at the lip of the stage, pointing into the crowd. in memory he is alternately a football field away and close enough to touch. his expression was set into a familiar look of determination—lips pursed, eyebrows knotted; he pointed and then made beckoning motions—seemingly frustrated at the divide, at the inability to accurately communicate his wishes. i watched, amused, thinking maybe he was motioning at the pixie-like girl with limp bluish-greenish hair to whom he’d given his harmonica at the end of “smile,” which they’d done a short while ago. people started to stand on their seats, and point to themselves, me? me? me? and he mouthed, not you. not you. her. her. her.

sometimes, i think certain things happen only to me, or they never happen to me, so when my travel partner hoisted an unwitting me up onto my chair , my first thought was why she would set me up for such disappointment. she started pointing at me. i probably rolled my eyes, or think that’s perhaps what i did, or would have done if i’d had my bearings but in actuality i was likely taken with the occasion, as bright-eyed and hopeful as all the others. eddie kept pointing and beckoning, more animatedly, and he was nodding, yes, yes, yes, her her her. he tapped a security guard on the shoulder and pointed and i realized, finally, that he was pointing to me. i didn’t feel anything because it was all too much. my friend pushed me forward as the security guard clambered through the crowd and hoisted me over the guard rail; my only coherent thought was to tie my hoodie tightly around my waist and then i was walking up the stairs, stage left (right?), and then i was on stage, and this little slip of a man with tiny pupils hovering in impossibly blue irises and a buzz cut that was growing out was reaching to take my hand.

all the things that happen when one is nervous and about to do something new, and potentially embarrassing, in the presence of a large group comprised mostly of strangers, happened to me. my mouth went dry and my tongue was heavy in my mouth and, as it always does whenever i am uncertain, my right knee began to tremble. his hand was rough and his t-shirt was stretched out, multi-colored with fresh sweat stains. i was more conscious of myself than normal, wanted to fret with my hair and adjust my clothing but it felt inappropriate to do so. he lead me to the front of the stage. he asked my name. i told him. he asked where i was from, and when i said “minnesota” he laughed. turning to the crowd, he said, “this is nana, from the heart of buffalo,” and he turned back to me and said, “it’ll be our little secret,” and i laughed, because i’d ruined it a little—i was no lucky local. it didn’t appear to matter. he coaxed me closer towards his mic and gave me a piece of paper, the words printed with a permanent marker, big black letters imposing against the bleached white. they were song lyrics, “people have the power,” was underlined at the top. “i just need you to stand here and hold this for me, all right?” he said, “and flip it over when we get to the bottom, here.” he pointed to the bottom where it said, only, “refrain.” i nodded, an imperceptible gesture, he looked at me again, eyes asking, you got this, right? i sort-of smiled. i didn’t have many options. there was a silent count, and then the drums and guitars started at the same time, all so well-oiled, and i was the rattling piece that threatened to roll away when it was needed most.

for the first few enternities of seconds i held the page tight between my fingers and looked at it, like it would tell me something amazing, but it only hissed at me and told me to look up, as my friend has done earlier, look up, because eddie vedder is singing in your ear, and his voice is as deep and rich as it is when you fail to match it as you sing along with him in your car, and stone is to your right, all loose on the guitar and mike is having fun with everything and matt cameron, who you saw with soundgarden so many years ago, is behind you, and he is wearing a green t-shirt and making his job look easy. you have followed and fought for and admired these five people for most of your life and the last place you should be looking is down, at the scarred black surface of the stage, where the dusty ridged imprints of shoes are visible to the minutest detail and every cigarette eddie has smoked over the course of three hours is smashed and broken underfoot, each one bleeding a trail of tobacco; there is a mostly empty wine bottle, and a discarded shirt, and he is exuding a heat just behind you while you are attempting to memorize the words to a song you’ve never heard before because you think you can’t do anything else. the song didn’t matter, except that it did.

every time i tell the story seems somehow egotistic; i feel like uncle rico from napoleon dynamite. in the six years since, i tell it with less and less detail, partially because not everyone is a pearl jam fan (i call them “unenlightened”) but mostly because (and i say this with a bit of shame) i don’t want that event to be the greatest most amazing thing that ever happens to me and i feel, perhaps irrationally, that if i cling to this sequence of memories i’ll never be able to allow other, special occasions into my heart. i worry that i’ll forever be the little black girl who got on stage with pearl jam six years ago, then ten, then 25; i love being that girl, but she is different now, via that experience, and so many others.

the shoes i was wearing that night split at the seams and succumbed to holes in the heels; the jeans i was wearing that night sprouted tear after tear and now it is only my will that keeps them together. i’m wearing the same yellow hooded sweatshirt right now, it has holes at the armpits and the cuffs are dirty and i dug it out of the trash several times after my mother threw it away when my back was turned. i held on to the shirt i was wearing for a long while, refused to wash it, yes, ok, because it smelled quite strongly of you-know-who and you-know-who smells pretty damn good; now i’m sure it’s in the bottom of a laundry basket at my father’s house—still unwashed, but at least it lives. this is one of my failings. i believe experiences, people, emotions, are made more real by tangible items—the pick that eddie vedder gave me at the end of it all, after we had danced together, clumsily, because i am least graceful of all when dancing, after i had hugged him more than my fair share of times, after he had invited me to sing and i took him up on it and now, recorded for posterity, is my croaky voice in tandem with his on a bootleg, that pick embodies everything that occurred in those ten minutes—from the time i put my foot on the first step to the time the security guard showed me the way back to my seat. eddie cupped my hand in his and, he tried to make eye contact but i evaded, looked at my hands, he put his guitar pick in the center; “you take that,” he said. “that’s for you.”
after the show, on the train, anonymous hands clapped me on the back and people shouted “nana from the heart of buffalo,” and i fell asleep with that refrain, churning in circles, for always.

doing the leaning thing

doing the leaning thing


Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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