How do you describe something that feels as though it changed you? I spent eight hours in the car on Monday, Sept. 5 2011 trying to do just that. Trying to put into words what myself and 30,000+ loyal members of the Pearl Jam family (I say family because we are exactly that) experienced at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin this past weekend (Labor Day 2011). I knew I would have friends and family that would want to hear about the experience that was PJ20, but those of you who were actually there will understand completely when I say that it was almost beyond words. As I struggled with this while driving back to Ohio through the corn fields and cow pastures of Wisconsin, suddenly it hit me…
I was listening to 102.1’s “Smells Like The 90’s” lunch break when Filter’s “Take A Picture” from 1999’s “Title of Record” album began playing. I hadn’t heard that song in years but the lyrics seemed to fit perfectly with what I was feeling the entire weekend. For those unfamiliar with the song, Richard Patrick sings in the first verse “I Feel Like A Newborn”. It may seem over-dramatic to say that about a rock concert but in the case of PJ20 it’s completely true. I’m sure I’m not the only one who often feels rejuvenated when I leave a Pearl Jam show. It’s like your inner battery got a fresh charge and now you are ready for anything. PJ20 was different though. PJ20 wasn’t about setlists, or merchandise, or how many songs were played, it was about energy. It’s tough to explain but the energy created by the music and the people at those two shows was palpable, and not just when PJ was on the stage. Everything the entire weekend was positive, even when it was pouring down rain on Saturday. No fights, no petty bickering, no egos, and no major infringements upon others right to have a good time. I’m sure there may have been some of that going on in distant corners of the venue but I never saw it and by and large, any negativity felt totally non-existent (except on the 10c message boards and mostly by folks who weren’t even there. For those folks I say “this is not for you”). I saw things, met people, and experienced things on Labor Day weekend that I feel like are going to be with me forever. You don’t typically get that at a random run of the mill weekend music festival.
So as I continued to drive through Wisconsin past the Mars Cheese something or other, the second verse of the song sang out “Could everyone agree that no one should be left alone?”. Again, appropriate because no one was alone at PJ20. There were several threads on the Ten Club message board in the months leading up wondering whether or not going to PJ20 by yourself was a good idea or not. What those with concerns failed to realize is that when you are at a PJ show, you are always amongst friends and you will never, ever be alone. I gave up taking most of my usual friends to PJ shows a long time ago. Not because I don’t enjoy going with them, but because you never know who you might meet if you give your ticket up to another member of the club. I’ve made several really good friends simply by doing just that. At a Pearl Jam show you aren’t just sitting next to someone who might hi-five you when your favorite song is played, you are next to someone who may end up becoming a lifelong friend. It’s just like the song says…”Troubled Souls Unite.” At PJ20, we united from all over the world and despite our differences in background, nationality, ethnicity, etc. we all united as a singular group of like-minded beings who shared one common yet incredible experience. None of us were alone.
So finally, when the the chorus of Filter’s song asked “Could You Take My Picture? ‘cause I won’t remember”, it almost made me frantic to get home to my laptop. I wanted to write down every single detail I could remember from PJ20 so that I never forget the feeling that I had the entire weekend in Alpine Valley with my “family”. Not just the details pertinent to Pearl Jam but everything from Friday night’s events, to the bands on the side stages, to the museum and to the main stage openers, I want to remember it all and in as much detail as possible so I apologize if this comes off as self-serving and really long (which it will be) but I just don’t want to leave anything out no matter how insignificant it might seem.
Now I’m not a writer and I have never done anything like this so I’m sure I will misspell some things, my punctuation and grammar will likely suck, and this may turn out to be nothing more than some long-winded, boring, online diary entry that no one will enjoy. Hopefully, it will be a little better than that and will provide a small reminder to those that were there, what it was like for those 3 days in September when we all got together in a little place I now think of as “heaven”. For those that weren’t there, I hope this maybe shines a light (even if it is a dim one) on what it was like to be there on September 3rd and 4th (or according to some…4th and 5th) at Alpine Valley Michigan…errr Wisconsin. It will likely take me a few days to get all this written down and posted and it will likely be very, very long but I hope it serves it’s purpose. If nothing else I’ve got a ton of pictures that will hopefully be worth checking out. Here goes nothing.