The Roskilde Tragedy – Pearl Jam’s Long Road

Roskilde is an unassuming town. It is located on the island of Zealand in Denmark. The town itself dates back to Viking times. Since 1971, the city has been holding a rock festival. Originally started by two high school students and a promoter, the festival was eventually taken over by a foundation that has run it since 1972. In the summer of 2000, Pearl Jam took the stage as the headlining act on the orange stage. By the time the night was over, eight people lay dead crushed among the crowd (another would die later), .

In 2000, Pearl Jam had been together for nine years. Nirvana long ago disbanded in 1994 after the death of Kurt Cobain, Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley was in the throes of drug addiction and would soon die. Soundgarden had broken up a few years earlier. Pearl Jam was the only major Seattle band left. In the spring of 2000, the band released their sixth studio album, Binaural. The band hit the road in support of the new album. First they went to Europe, then to North America, Australia, and then Japan.

Here they are nineteen days before Roskilde:

The band headlined Roskilde Festival in Roskilde, Denmark on June 30, 2000. Billboard Magazine reported the events as follows:

“The horrific Danish accident happened about 45 minutes into Pearl Jam’s set. Lead singer Eddie Vedder halted the show because of extensive pushing and shoving among the 50,000 people in attendance. As the crowd attempted to come closer to the stage following problems with the sound, Vedder repeatedly pleaded for the crowd to “take two steps back.” Several people attempted in vain to withstand the pressure, but lost their balance on the muddy surface and got trampled on from behind. The victims likely succumbed to suffocation.”

In the conflict of who was to blame, Pearl Jam cooperated with the Police in their investigation. In fact, Pearl Jam was unaware of any deaths until after their set had ended. The band was devastated and canceled the rest of their European tour but continued the rest of the tour in the fall. The band issued the following statement:

June 30, 2000
Statement from Pearl Jam in Response to Roskilde Festival Tragedy
Copenhagen, Denmark-
This is so painful…I think we are all waiting for someone to wake us and say it was just a horrible nightmare…. And there are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of these precious lives that were lost.
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.
It is so tragic … there are no words.
Devastated,
–Pearl Jam

Roskilde Monument

The band would release every concert that summer on CD from their European and American tours except for Roskilde. Eddie Vedder would seek solace in surfing and in the friendship of Pete Townshend of The Who. The Who had a similar incident when 11 died at one of their concerts in Cincinnati in the 1970s.

The ensuing debate was about who was to blame. Initially, Danish Police and Roskilde management blamed the band calling them “morally responsible”. Pearl Jam called for a deeper investigation. The band stated, “We feel that we are ‘morally responsible’ to bring out the truth with regard to what happened that night. The recent re-opening of the investigation will hopefully further these truths.“. After a thorough investigation, the Police placed blame on security, malfunctioning speakers, bad weather, alcohol, and lack of seating. No charges were ever filed – against Pearl Jam nor Roskilde management or Roskilde security.

In 2003, the band released their seventh CD, Riot Act. The CD contained two songs about Roskilde: I am Mine and Love Boat Captain. Love Boat Captain states:

“Is this just another day,… this God forgotten place? First comes love, then comes pain. let the games begin,… Questions rise and answers fall,… insurmountable. Love boat captain, take the reigns and steer us towards the clear,… here. Its already been sung, but it cant be said enough. All you need is love . Its an art to live with pain,… mix the light into grey,.. Lost nine friends well never know,.. two years ago today … And if our lives became too long, would it add to our regret? “

For some unknown reason, the band played on as The Who did some 20 years before. In an interview on how close Pearl Jam came to breaking up, guitarist Mike McCready stated:

“I think the thought crossed all of our minds, but it wouldn’t have been a good way to end it all,” guitarist Mike McCready said by phone yesterday from a tour stop in Boston, where the group performed two concerts earlier this week. “We realized we’re making viable music. We can’t stop. We can’t end on a down note.”

And for the past ten years, Pearl Jam has continued on. They have become close with many of the families who lost loved ones that night. It has been a long road for them and will continue to be. Every time Pearl Jam has played “Love Boat Captain”, singer Eddie Vedder changes the lyrics to fit how long it has been (lost nine friends we’ll never know, ____ years ago today). It was last played on July 20, 2008.

Here is a track eerily left off the Binaural CD. Originally called “Open Letter to the Dead”, it was retitled “Sad” and released on the Lost Dogs CD.

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10 comments

  1. This is an amazing post. You have weaved the tragic events of the story with respect and humility. I came across your post by accident as I am working on my Pearl Jam albums post tonight. Hopefully ready in the next 24hours. I plan to link this as an important footnote to the makings of their album Riot Act. Cheers.

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