I’ve spent more than half my life following them from city to city. Now Pearl Jam is getting ready to perform, tonight, in my hometown…and I’m stuck, helplessly, on the side of the road, staring in horror at the pieces of my mangled car.
I feel myself enter a state of detachment as I talk to the police and hand over my insurance information. No one was seriously hurt in the accident, so I force myself to piece sentences together and breathe. Later, I’ll cry for my crushed little car. Soon, I’ll figure out how to make up for this lost time.
I am supposed to be in line for my spot at my 44th Pearl Jam concert.
I can’t believe this is happening.
I’d been focused on this weekend for months. First, Pearl Jam announced not just their fall tour, but its launch in Pittsburgh—my hometown, which I love with loyal and unabashed devotion. I jumped to welcome fans and friends from all over the country, as well as the band whose music has seen me though my every tragedy and triumph since I was 12 years old. Pearl Jam is not just a band to me. To me, they are a sense of community, personal solace, and insatiable longing.
And, talk about longing… a few weeks after Pearl Jam’s tour was announced, I met Billy.
I felt like I’d spent my entire life wishing for Billy. It seemed like I recognized him immediately—the singular human being who is uncannily equipped to dazzle me, adore me, and be my very best friend. We went out on dates that were equal parts easy and exciting.
Billy and I fell head-first in love.
Billy is also a new member of Ten, a Pearl Jam tribute band I’d been going to see for years. Ten was scheduled to perform the night before the Pearl Jam concert, and I couldn’t wait to dance as my new love and lifelong love came together.
The Pearl Jam tour could not come fast enough.
At long last, October arrived. The members of Pearl Jam made their way to Pittsburgh. Stone Gossard was spotted in a restaurant. Twitter users located Matt Cameron at a gym. People in Pearl Jam shirts appeared downtown, and we fans felt a surge of excitement in the city.
The night before the Pearl Jam concert, my friends and I gathered at the Hard Rock Café for Ten’s kickoff tribute concert. Our friends and even my mom gathered to see Billy and the members of Ten play. Down on the dance floor, Pearl Jam fans asked each other which cities they had traveled from. I replied “Pittsburgh!” and relished the rare feeling of being home for a show.
Meanwhile, Ten smoldered with “Release” and then tore into Pearl Jam’s catalog. They delivered old and new songs with both reverence and a dizzying energy. Their practiced riffs and solos gave way to what felt like an utterly natural and downright euphoric tribute. Their set exploded.
I kept my eyes on Billy, and was elated to watch the love of my life play the music of my life. I watched, smug, when he crouched over his guitar and a line of girls at the foot of the stage reached up and pawed at his long hair. Billy flicked his head back, oblivious, met my gaze, and tossed me a kiss over their heads. I was drenched in bliss.
Late that night, home after the show, I programed my alarm clock to devote the entire next day to the Pearl Jam show. I wanted leave early enough to secure my spot in the front of the General Admission line. It meant everything to me to grab a spot on the rail and welcome my favorite band to my town. I wanted to show Pearl Jam how much their visit meant to me, personally, and I was determined to be among the few in the very front.
So, that night, I folded myself into Billy’s arms for a few hours of sleep.
The morning of the Pearl Jam concert moved painfully slowly, until suddenly, it stopped.
It came to a crashing halt when another car collided, never braking, into the side of my Subaru. There was a horrific crunch that would play on a nauseating loop inside my head for the next several days.
Witnesses, police and tow trucks appeared. Thankfully, Billy and my friend walked away from the wreck, but I couldn’t stop apologizing to them as they stood in the rain on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe this had happened to them inside my car, on this important day.
Eventually my mom arrived, stepping like an angel out of the rain and pulling me into a hug. Billy and I got into her car and rode down to the concert venue, where we joined my friends in line for Pearl Jam.
Maybe the rain had kept everyone away, but to my tremendous relief, there weren’t very many people between us and the front of the General Admission line. I shivered with excitement, but felt like the car accident kept lurking behind every thought. Any idle moment took me right back to the crash. But when the staff of Consol Energy Center finally let us in, I had to shake free. Billy and I took off running.
We were funneled down a stairway to the bottom of the arena, and I just remember trying to land as quickly and carefully as I could on every step down. Suddenly, the ceiling just opened up in front of us, the stage looming large. The still-small crowd spread out across the rail, leaving us – unbelievably – a perfect opening in front of Eddie Vedder’s mic.
I couldn’t believe we’d made made it.
I looked around, made some calls, and located my loved ones in the seats around the arena. And then, the lights dimmed. Twenty thousand people seemed to inhale.
Finally, their familiar shapes started to appear. The guys walked out and took their places. Pearl Jam…the band I love in such an intensely personal way…had come to my town, and I was right there with them.
A Pearl Jam show feels like this: a palpable energy starts brewing in the crowd—the fan club section in particular. We throb with anticipation. When the band comes out, we lob that energy onto the stage—the sincerest exultation as the band gathers speed. Pearl Jam takes that energy, appreciates it, feeds of it, ignites it and tosses it back to their grateful, starving audience. We take it back and bask in it, each of us contributing our own sense of relief, or gratitude, or whatever it is that we’ve found—or are still searching for—in Pearl Jam’s music. We pass that energy back up on stage, and the cycle repeats, growing with every pass… until finally, at the end of the night, an immense, intense frenzy rattles the entire room.
Pearl Jam’s music hits me like none other—like a shock to a raw nerve. And every time I see them, in whatever city I’ve followed them to, I feel like I hear one song better than I’ve ever heard it before. Something will hit me with startling clarity, and the song will reveal itself to me in a new way. But that night, I didn’t have a singular moment.
I just sang along, and soaked it in. I loved the music, and the band, and Billy, my perfect partner—at long last—standing beside me. I stood in the purple glow of Pearl Jam’s lights and felt love just radiate out of me.
It was cleansing, and it was a sweet relief, to just love…with my entire heart.
I came to Pearl Jam with raw nerves that night. Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave Pittsburgh for the first of two Pearl Jam shows in Philadelphia…following that feeling of longing out of town again! I hope I have a less exciting day tomorrow, but I do expect to be hit the same way with another shock of love and energy. And I will love it, with all my heart.
For more from Jolene, visit her blog: Misadventures in Pittsburgh