20 Years Ago: Pearl Jam Concert Tragedy Leaves 9 Dead, 26 Injured
Every band's worst nightmare came true for Pearl Jam on June 30, 2000.
The group was playing for a rain-soaked crowd from the Orange Stage at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, part of a lineup that included Lou Reed, Iron Maiden and Oasis — and drew more than 100,000 ticket holders to one of northern Europe's largest and longest-running annual outdoor gatherings. Every concert comes with its own degree of chaos, but at this show, the audience's enthusiasm spiraled out of control, leading to a crowd crush that killed nine people and injured 26.
As singer Eddie Vedder later recalled, the band had no idea what was happening until it was too late. "It was chaos," he lamented. "Some people were yelling 'thank you.' Others, who weren't in bad shape, were running up and saying 'hi.' Then someone was pulled over, laid out and they were blue. We knew immediately it had gone on to that other level."
In a bitter twist, Vedder noted that the next number in the set list was supposed to be "Alive," a hit from their 1991 debut Ten. "There were still 40,000 people out there," he continued. "They were ready for the show to start again. They started singing, 'I'm still alive.' ... That was when my brain clicked a switch. I knew I would never be the same."
Organizers and officials attributed the tragedy to a confluence of factors, including mud-slicked grounds that made it more difficult for audience members to stay on their feet, but the band members were outspoken in their belief that lives could have been saved if the festival had safer procedures in place — or if security had acted more quickly to let the group know things were unraveling on the ground.
Watch a TV Clip of Pearl Jam at Roskilde
Angered by a report that described Pearl Jam as "morally responsible" for the incident, the band released a statement firing back at the festival, insisting that the deaths and injuries "cannot be written off entirely as a ‘freak accident’ or ‘bad luck,' as some have called it" while pledging to delve into everything that contributed to the tragedy. "It is our belief," they added, "that if we had been informed of a potential problem at the moment that it was first identified by the festival security, we could have stopped the show earlier and lives could have been saved."
The group's commitment to do right by the fans who lost their lives at Roskilde continued in the years that followed, as evidenced by a moving post at the band's official site that commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the show — and subsequent efforts by band members to reach out to those left behind after the deaths.
Titled "Roskilde Ten Years After: A Light in the Darkness," the post focused on the experiences of Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, who traveled to Copenhagen in 2003 in order to meet personally with the victims' survivors and marked the beginning of an unlikely friendship with Ebbe and Birgitta Gustafsson, who lost their son Carl-Johan at the festival.
"I cannot thank Ebbe and Birgitta enough for the kindness and the love they have shown me," Gossard is quoted as saying. "There are very few times in life when you meet someone with such a loving and spiritual presence. Birgitta's openness and love has had a significant impact on me. I think we both have touched each other in an unexpected and beautiful way. And it has come out of tragedy — every parent's nightmare. I am very grateful to her."
Gossard and his bandmates marked the tragedy's 20th anniversary in June 2020 with a statement noting that "nothing has been the same since," and explaining how their own experience as parents has deepened their understanding of the pain felt by the families of the people who died.
"Twenty years later, our band has 11 more kids, all of them precious, and another 20 years between us," they wrote in the statement. "Our understanding of gravity and the loss felt by the parents of those boys has grown exponentially magnified as we imagine our own children dying in circumstances like Roskilde 2000. It is unthinkable, yet there it is. Our worst nightmare."