Lost 9 Friends 10 Years Ago Today

by Jessica Letkemann on June 30, 2010

Ten years ago we had a day not unlike today. Pearl Jam was touring Europe. Playing a massive outdoor show. Today in Berlin, on June 30, 2000 at a big festival in Denmark called Roskilde.

There are a lot of things that Eddie Vedder may have imagined the band he’s in could have in common with his favorite, The Who. But I am 100% sure that a major concert tragedy was never one of them, not in his worst nightmares. And yet, a decade ago exactly on this day, Pearl Jam played at the Roskilde festival and the unimaginable happened. Nine fans were killed in the crush of the general admission crowd. So hard to believe that it’s been ten years, but those kids who perished were never forgotten by fellow fans, and certainly never forgotten by the band.

“I think we are all waiting for someone to wake us and say it was just a horrible nightmare,” the band said in a statement right after the tragedy. “We have not yet been told what actually occurred, but it seemed to be random and sickeningly quick… it doesn’t make sense…. When you agree to play at a festival of this size and reputation it is impossible to imagine such a heart-wrenching scenario. Our lives will never be the same, but we know that is nothing compared to the grief of the families and friends of those involved.”

“All of us spent two days in the hotel in Denmark crying and trying to understand what was going on.”Stone Gossard, August 2001, Spin Magazine

“A friend of an Australian guy named Anthony Hurley asked if I would write something for the funeral. That was just hands-down the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do—not really knowing what was appropriate, not knowing how the family or friends felt; maybe I’m the last person they’d like to hear from. But it meant a lot to them, and it really helped me. I think it also helped the rest of the guys. Hurley had three younger siblings, and they said he really cared about our band, and that’s why he was in the front. And that he was actually doing something he loved during his last minutes.”Eddie Vedder, August 2001, Spin Magazine

“Lost nine friends we’ll never know two years ago today / And if our lives became too long, would it add to our regret?”“Love Boat Captain,” 2002.

Looking back now, I am struck by how much more strength and courage it took for the band to continue on than I even thought at the time. The horror of it could have made them never pick up an instrument or go near a microphone ever again.

“I think the thought [of PJ breaking up after Roskilde] crossed all of our minds, but it wouldn’t have been a good way to end it all,” Mike McCready told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer two months after the event.

So what of that last day of June a decade ago? For me, just like today, I was home in New York recently back from Europe myself. My phone started ringing that evening, friends wondering if I was ok or I knew this person or that person was safe. Almost immediately, it hit the news. It had been raining, slippery and dark. The band was seven songs into its set. Everything stopped during “Daughter.”  Soon there were articles and posts everywhere. An ill-advised video on the BBC’s website that I would be much happier to have never set eyes on. And on and on.

“Some of us thought maybe we should cancel the [North American] tour. I felt if we cancel, what are we running from? It made us deal with it every day on some level, and that was the most positive thing we could do. The shows were all reserved-seating, which made it a lot easier. At first, it was hard to look at the crowd. A couple of kids I saw at Roskilde, they’re burned in my memory forever. Sometimes, when you’re looking at a crowd, you can’t help but see those faces.”Jeff Ament, August 2001, Spin Magazine

But not only did they manage to march onward into a massive U.S. tour just a month later — though the pain was more than evident in some of Ed’s more obvious lyric changes and between  song comments, and “Alive” disappeared from the setlist for a long time — they remained intact, productive, and vital all these years. For that I will always be thankful.

Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.

Leave a Comment