Photos & Perspective: PJ20 Was a Rain-Soaked Birthday Party of the Highest Caliber"/>
This post is part of a series in which longtime Seattle music photographer Laura Musselman provides her thoughts on what it was like to be at, and shoot, a show.
Laura Musselman PJ 20 went down Sept. 3 and 4 at Alpine Valley Amphitheater in Wisconsin.
By Laura Musselman
PJ20 was not so much a music festival as a birthday party for Pearl Jam with 12 opening bands. Everyone, including the people who live in the area, seemed confused as to why it was being held in Wisconsin at Alpine Valley. As far as I could tell it was for a few reasons: 1. Alpine Valley holds 37,000 people, the second-largest-capacity theater in the United States. 2. It is centrally located in the middle of the country and generally has predictably good weather over Labor Day weekend. 3. Pearl Jam really likes playing there.
I know a lot of Seattleites are a little bent that it didn't happen here, but it was a destination for everyone who showed up. I saw a myriad of license plates from Oregon to Pennsylvania, heard tons of different accents from around the world, and the amount of Pearl Jam T-shirts at Milwaukee's Mitchell International airport on Monday was insane. You should have seen the Chili's airport bar.
When I found out about the PJ20 show, I half-considered going and could also use it as an excuse for a vacation to visit family and friends. When I found out the rest of the lineup included my friends the Young Evils, Star Anna, the hugely underrated David Garza, Jason Lytle, the newno2 (who I had never heard but ended up LOVING), Joseph Arthur, Liam Finn, John Doe, and Glen Hansard, as well as Mudhoney, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Strokes, I decided that I simply had no choice but to go.
Saturday was hellish, there's no getting around it. It was miserable. Those of us who went to both days looked at Saturday as something that we had to go through to get to Sunday. It wasn't the music or problems with the show itself--it was the 50 percent chance of thunderstorms which ended up being a 100 percent chance for the vast majority of the day. The torrential downpour started right before the Young Evils set--already blessed/cursed as the first of 13 bands who were progressively more well-known as the day went on, obviously ending with QotSA, the Strokes, and Pearl Jam.
Seattle's The Young Evils.
Most of the people who attended the show spent the day at home or in the parking lot tailgating, waiting for the rain to subside and showing up only right before Pearl Jam took the stage at 9:30. There was a medium-sized but enthusiastic crowd at the side stages all day, despite being soaked under their put-on-too-late-ponchos. Since the lineup was the same both days, Sunday felt like a redo for each band, Pearl Jam included. No one's set was bad, no one's set was exactly the same as the previous day--Sunday just felt different, better, happier, easier.
The smaller stages were organized better than those at any other "festival" show I've ever seen. They were literally next to each other, attached in the middle by a covered "backstage" area. When one band's set ended, the next band immediately started on the attached stage. There was no time to get bored, antsy, or focus too long on how you just wanted to go home and change your shoes.
It would be impossible to review each set, but it would be remiss not to mention that Queens of the Stone Age rocked my face off; the Strokes were way, way better than I ever imagined (and that I heard a guy in passing say to his friend during "Last Nite," "Dude, this isn't even their song. This is totally a Tom Petty cover." WHAT?); and that Chris Cornell coming out for a Temple of the Dog reunion was not unexpected but still completely awesome. Glen Hansard duetted with Eddie on "Falling Slowly" on Sunday, giving everyone goosebumps.
On Saturday he pulled a poncho'd dude-bro out of the audience to sing, as well as started a cute little sing-along of "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." Mike McCready played guitar with Star Anna, Jeff Ament played bass with David Garza, Eddie duetted with Liam Finn and John Doe, and the band backed up Joseph Arthur for a song. I got the feeling that a lot of people watching the side stages were there just waiting for an appearance by a Pearl Jam member, but ended up digging the bands they were watching that they had never even heard of. Not only did Pearl Jam throw a great big party, but they also found new fans for a handful of deserving musicians. It was clear that the fans were having the time of their life, but the best part was that the bands obviously were too. Saturday night, Julian Casablancas was on backup vocals for a six-minute version of "Not ror You," ending in an improvised jam where he sang " . . . jammin' with my favorite baaaannddd . . . "
The Pearl Jam that I saw this weekend and the Pearl Jam that I saw in 1998 are completely different. It's clear that Eddie Vedder is finally comfortable as the frontman of this band, no longer the enigma he tried so hard to be for the first 15 or so years they were around. He talks a lot between songs now. A lot. He's kind of funny! It may have been the vibe of the weekend, it may have been the two or three bottles of wine he threw back by himself onstage, or it may have just been that he's changed.
On Sunday, he played a solo song that he had written earlier that day. I'm not sure if it'll be appreciated by anyone who wasn't at the show, but it was really touching and sweet to watch that night with the other 35,000 or so adoring fans. It ended with, "I'm so glad we made it/To when it all got good/Never thought we would."
I'm thrilled this band has made it 20 years, and I'm thrilled that I was there for the birthday party. If you didn't make it out there, don't worry--the entire weekend is on YouTube. Seriously, everything.
PJ's Eddie Vedder (right), chatting up Dhani Harrison.