On June 30, 2000, Pearl Jam performed at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark when an unimaginable tragedy occurred. By the end of Pearl Jam's performance, nine people were dead, and dozens more were injured. It marked a day in Pearl Jam history that would alter the band forever, and forever changed the way they approached their security protocol.
Much like the Rolling Stones at Altamont, blame for the disaster fell on everything from the festival to the band to the event security. The story of the rock group's Roskilde performance is one of immense devastation, yet it managed to bring the band closer to their fans and even the families of the fans who lost their lives.
Roskilde Boasted A Reputation As A Safe Festival, And Security Underestimated Conditions As A Result
On the day of the tragic incident, a crowd of 50,000 gathered for the annual Roskilde Festival in Denmark, with Pearl Jam slated as the main stage's headliner. Security guard Per Johansen said the size of the crowd was "nothing special. It was really crowded. But not dangerous."
"We'd had that [size] crowd before, and there was no problem," Johansen insisted. Security at the event totaled out to 17,000 volunteers; according to staff, no fences surrounded Roskilde to keep out trespassers.
The festival began in 1971, from there garnering a reputation as a fast-growing and safe event for concertgoers. Though they had reduced attendance to 70,000 - from 90,000 in '98 - Roskilde was unprepared for the combination of high attendance, rainy weather, and the crowd's excitement at seeing one of the last remaining grunge bands. In the end, nine people died with another 26 taken to the hospital.
The Festival Stood On Farmland, And The Doomed Incident Took Place On A Rainy Day
The band took the stage at 10:30 pm, ready to entertain the tens of thousands of fans. At that point, the constant rain had turned the ground to mud. Because of the wet weather, it quickly became difficult for people to stay standing. When vendors ran out of boots, attendees started putting plastic bags over their feet. That factor, along with several others, led to the event that unfolded just as the band took the stage and started their set.
"It was tight even before the music started - people were stumbling left and right," said attendee Tomas Miller. "Half an hour in, I knew it was life and death. I couldn't lift my arms. It was difficult to breathe. I lifted my head to feel clean air. I was scared for my life."
A Stampede Broke Out When Pearl Jam Started Playing
Nearly a fourth of the festival's attendees tuned in for Pearl Jam, a testament to how high the energy was for their set. When the Seattle band took the stage, their appearance incited a literal stampede, trapping unfortunate attendees under a sea of muddy people. Different parties blamed different factors for it, from woefully unprepared security to malfunctioning speakers producing too quiet a sound.
Amid all this, Pearl Jam continued to play, as they were unaware of what was going down.
The Band Only Played For 45 Minutes
Under an hour into the band's set, Pearl Jam finally knew something was wrong. According to Eddie Vedder, fans kept sending mixed signals; only when he saw someone pulled out of the crowd "and they were blue" did he realize something had happened. Their tour manager, Dick Adams, ran onstage and informed Vedder they had reason to believe people were dead. At that point, Vedder attempted to calm the crowd.
"What will happen in the next five minutes has nothing to do with music. But it is important," Vedder said to the crowd after learning what happened. "Imagine that I am your friend and that you must step back so as not to hurt me. You all have friends up front. I will now count to three, and you will all take three steps back. All who agree say, 'Yes' now."
Later on, Vedder remarked how "Alive" was supposed to be the next song they performed.