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Roskilde Relief Fund

Pearl Jam and Roskilde 2000: Myths and Facts

Editorial by Karen Bilotti

I write this article as a Pearl Jam fan righteously indignant about the treatment of Pearl Jam since the June 30, 2000 Roskilde tragedy. I am quite certain that I speak on behalf of most, if not all, Pearl Jam fans.

The perpetrators of the abhorrent treatment of Pearl Jam include the Roskilde management, the Denmark police, and several journalists and commercial proprietors who shall remain nameless. I do not want to feed their egos and promote their shameless causes any more than has already been done.

As the title of this article indicates, it is my intent to set the record straight about the "myths" that have been promulgated since the tragedy and the "facts" that prove I am right. The media has thus far accepted the statements made by the parties identified above without: (1) taking note of the absence of fact to support the allegations; (2) checking the accuracy of the facts alleged; and (3) critically analyzing the self-serving and oftentimes ridiculous statements.

By the end of this article, each reader will know two things without reservation: (1) Pearl Jam is definitely not in any way responsible for the Roskilde tragedy; and (2) the Roskilde management and Danish police may well be responsible for the tragedy and have purposely deflected the issue by using Pearl Jam as a convenient scapegoat.

Myth No. 1: The Roskilde Tragedy Was An Act of Violence

In its press release last week concluding that Pearl Jam, but not the Roskilde management, has "moral responsibility" for the tragedy, the Danish police stated, among other things, "We have spoken to numerous witnesses who have told us that Pearl Jam are well known for almost appealing for violent behavior."

Assuming for purposes of argument only that this allegation is true, it is irrelevant. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Roskilde tragedy. Violent behavior is intentional. It includes, for example, the fires started at the end of Woodstock 1999. It includes the rapes that occurred at Woodstock 1999. It includes the female-stripping that recently occurred in Central Park, New York City at the Puerto Rican day parade.

Roskilde would have involved violent behavior if, for example, one or more fans had intentionally pushed other fans to the ground and held them down until they suffocated. That is not what happened.

Rather, Roskilde 2000 involved crowd behavior that, at the very worst, was negligent. More likely, however, the crush of people in front of the Orange Stage during the Pearl Jam set was simply the nature of the beast.

"The beast" is concerts in general. It doesn't matter whether the performing artist is Pearl Jam, Iron Maiden, Eminem, Garth Brooks, Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears, fans attending concerts are going to want - and to try - to get as close to the stage as possible. What necessarily results - in every case - is a crush at the front rail. It happens every time and will continue to happen until the end of time. There is no stopping it.

Admittedly, by all accounts the crush at the front rail during the Pearl Jam set at Roskilde 2000 was extraordinary. The question that begs is why. The answer is quite simple. It really boils down to numbers. Keep in mind that Roskilde 2000 was a festival show, not a Pearl Jam show, which means that instead of, say 15,000 or 20,000 fans being present, there was maybe 70,000 or 80,000 fans being present. Assuming that just 50% of these people wanted to see Pearl Jam, there were a lot of people at the show who wanted to be in front of the stage. And since this was a general admission show rather than a seated show, there was nothing to stop the huge numbers of people from cramming themselves in like sardines.

The difficulties of maintaining a safe environment for concert attendees at massive festivals like Roskilde 2000 have long been documented and debated. When you get that many people into one space, bad things can happen. And when they do, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to gain control. There is simply not enough security muscle to go around.

In the end, there is no question but that Roskilde 2000 will be Exhibit "A" to future arguments by those who believe - perhaps rightly - that large festival music shows should be entirely abolished because they are inherently unsafe.

Myth No. 2: Pearl Jam Has a History of Appealing for Violent Behavior

As illustrated above, "violence" has nothing to do with the occurrence of the Roskilde tragedy. Notwithstanding, the record must be set straight concerning the Danish police's reckless, slanderous, harmful and, most importantly, inaccurate claim that Pearl Jam has a history of appealing for violent behavior.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In-concert quotes by Eddie Vedder appealing for safe crowd behavior are legion and begin as early as 1992, two years after the band first formed. The quotes continue to the present day. A few of the many examples follow:

3-2-92 - Paard, Den Haag

"Just a couple of words. In my whole life, I never wanted a policeman or anything of authority. But in fact, all my life I've been in a crowd like this, and whenever I was back there and people throw up onto the stage and jumped back off it always looked so cool, but when you are up here, see all these people's heads bein' smashed in by boots and stuff, it's really fuckin' ridiculous."

3-28-94 - Bayfront Amphitheater, Miami

"One of you guys up front is hitting people. This guy right here…get him out. Pull him out. We don't wanna see him anymore."

9-26-96 - Randalls Island, New York

"I just want to address y'all again - you know, if someone got hurt until the point that they weren't living anymore, I don't think I could ever play again. Some bands go on - we couldn't. Music is not that important."

"There's a fuckin' mental hospital up the street - is that where you came from? It's a little too fuckin' crowded to be having a fuckin' moshpit - with all due respect. Just calm down!"

Myth No. 3: Pearl Jam Appealed for Violent Behavior at Roskilde

Danish police have implied that Pearl Jam appealed for violent behavior at the Roskilde 2000 Festival. The implication is drawn from the police's raising of the issue of Pearl Jam's alleged history of appealing for violent behavior.

The implication could not be further from the truth. For the record, it is understood and agreed that in the very rare case where a band appeals for violent behavior, the appeal can be both direct and indirect. Direct, of course, would be when one or more band members, while on stage, tells the crowd to do something untoward. By all accounts, that did not happen here.

An indirect appeal for violence, on the other hand, would be where a band plays music with the potential - if not the design and intent - to invoke a violent audience response. "Fuck tha Police," for example, comes to mind as a possible example of this.

Pearl Jam has no such song in its now voluminous catalogue. I invite the unknowledgeable reader of this article to consult the following website, which contains lyrics of all songs ever recorded by Pearl Jam in its now very nearly ten years of existence:

And so as to narrow the focus and save time, I will advise the unknowledgeable reader of this article that Pearl Jam played the following songs before prematurely ending its Roskilde 2000 set: (1) Corduroy; (2) Breakerfall; (3) Hail, Hail; (4) Given to Fly; (5) Animal; (6) Evenflow; (7) MFC; (8) Red Mosquito; (9) Betterman; (10) Insignificance; (11) Light Years; and (12) Daughter.

I guarantee that examination of all of Pearl Jam's lyrics - not just the lyrics of the songs played at Roskilde - will in no way support any claim that the band encourages, let alone tolerates, violent behavior in anyone, let alone its fans. Quite the contrary. Pearl Jam's lyrics show a depth of feeling, empathy, sorrow and understanding that is unparalleled in rock music history.

Let me give you just one example. Ask yourself what male rock star, other than Eddie Vedder, would have either the inclination or ability to put himself in the shoes of the woman described in "Betterman," the ninth song in the 12-song Roskilde 2000 set, so as to write the following compelling lyrics:

Waitin', watchin' the clock, it's four o'clock, it's got to stop
Tell him, take no more, she practices her speech
As he opens the door, she rolls over…
Pretends to sleep as he looks her over
She lies and says she's in love with him, can't find a better man…
She dreams in color, she dreams in red, can't find a better man…
Correct answer: No one.

Finally, if the claim that Pearl Jam encouraged violent fan behavior at Roskilde 2000 - or at any time in the past - was accurate, the band clearly would not have reacted to the tragedy in the manner that they did. By all accounts, Pearl Jam immediately stopped playing as soon as they were notified that there was a problem. By all accounts, Eddie Vedder appealed to the crowd, more than once, to step back so as to relieve the pressure at the front rail. "People are in trouble here. You have to move back." By all accounts, Eddie Vedder crouched down and cried as the extent of the tragedy unfolded before his very eyes. By all accounts, the band immediately ended its concert after witnessing the bodies being pulled into the area between the stage and front rail.

Furthermore, hours after the tragedy, Pearl Jam issued the following statement on its website, expressing heartfelt and profound regret for what had occurred:

"This is so painful…I think we are all waiting for someone to wake us and say it was just a horrible nightmare…

"And there are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of these precious lives that were lost.

"We have not yet been told what actually occurred, but it seemed to be random and sickeningly quick…it doesn't make sense.

"When you agree to play at a festival of this size and reputation it is impossible to imagine such a heart-wrenching scenario.

"Our lives will never be the same, but we know that is nothing compared to the grief of the families and friends of those involved.

"It is so tragic…there are no words.


"Pearl Jam"

Of course, a cynic would say that anyone in Pearl Jam's shoes would have done the same thing. I beg to differ. In contrast, and for example, the response of Roskilde management, who was at least as closely associated to the tragedy as Pearl Jam was (and then some, for reasons discussed herein), was the complete opposite. Devastation and remorse were not the focus of their public statements, if they were ever even expressed. Rather, Roskilde management quickly opted to continue the festival and, worse, to publicly criticize the bands who were unwilling go with their inconsiderate program. From their website:

"The accident at the Roskilde Festival on Friday 30 June which claimed eight lives has prompted OASIS and PET SHOP BOYS to cancel their shows. The two bands were scheduled to play on Saturday night and their assistants visited the festival site during the afternoon to announce that the concerts were too close in time to the accident. They felt that playing would put too much of an emotional strain on the musicians. Further the bands' two representatives felt that the security had not been improved sufficiently despite the fact that the authorities had checked them thoroughly and approved them despite the fact that both bands have played under identical security conditions at the Roskilde Festival.

"Both Oasis and Pet Shop Boys find that performing would be disrespectful to the victims and their families. In response, the Roskilde Festival pointed to the fact that the victims had looked forward to see and hear their favourite (sic) bands on the Saturday bill have chosen to go through with their concerts and dedicate them to the dead and show their respect this way.

"By refusing to play for their fans in Roskilde the festival management feel that the bands are actually causing the fans more risk as they will now seek out the other smaller stages.

"Thus the two sides (Oasis and Pet Shop Boys on one and the Roskilde Festival on the other) disagree as to what would cause the greatest risk - going through with the concerts or cancelling - and changing the program without two of the main attractions. As mentioned the authorities have checked the security conditions and approved them.

"The Roskilde Festival management are of the opinion that the bands that decide to follow through with their concerts on the existing and approved conditions show both respect and consideration to the dead, their families and the audience.

"Despite a string of opposing opinions the two sides agree to communicate their sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of those killed."

It was - quite simply - not the Roskilde management's place to decide how any band should respond to the tragedy that occurred during the Pearl Jam set on Friday night. While they might think it respectful for all bands to "go through with their concerts and dedicate them to the dead," quite obviously not everyone would agree with the conclusion, which ultimately is a personal decision. As the sponsors of an event gone horribly wrong, it was incumbent on Roskilde management to fully respect the individual band's decisions of what was right and wrong under the extraordinary circumstances presented, and not to challenge those personal decisions in a press release on their website.

Furthermore, Roskilde management's claim that the crowd would be in greater physical danger if the show were canceled was self-serving (considering that they had a fiscal interest in the continuation of the festival), speculative (considering that nothing like what happened at Roskilde had happened in the history of rock music), ridiculous (what kind of people would violently respond to the cessation of a festival resulting in the deaths of so many people?), and, not surprisingly, inaccurate. But I digress.

In conclusion, and getting back to the original point of this section, it is obvious that Pearl Jam did not have, and has never had, a desire that its fans engage in any kind of violent behavior. This is evident from their behavior during the tragedy, their behavior immediately after the tragedy, their "devastation" over what occurred, their long history of public statements supporting concert attendee safety and, in general, the overall attitude of the band and its music/lyrics.

Myth No. 4: It Was Pearl Jam's Responsibility to Anticipate, Plan for, Address and Correct the Behavior and/or Conditions Which May Have Caused or Contributed to the Deaths of Nine People

The press releases by the Roskilde management and the Danish police (as well as the releases by the aforementioned journalists and commercial proprietors) sometimes expressly state, and otherwise always suggest, that the Roskilde tragedy was Pearl Jam's fault. How audacious and ridiculous.

Quite simply, if certain behavior and/or dangerous conditions of the premises caused or contributed to the subject incident, such behavior and conditions - if they were anyone's responsibility - were the responsibility of the Roskilde management and/or Danish police. To state it as simply as it can be stated, it is the band's job to play music. It is the festival organizer's job to do everything else. Crowd control, premises control and security control falls under the category of "everything else."

Currently available evidence establishes that there are real issues about Roskilde management's potential responsibility for what occurred. I refer specifically to the issues of: (1) the unmitigated slippery mud bowl in front of the Orange Stage; and (2) the failure to identify and address the submerged fan problem sooner. The validity of these items as issues is well-established, and it is quite evident the Roskilde management and the Danish police are using Pearl Jam as a scapegoat to deflect inquiry.

First of all, let's return to the Danish police's statement, in support of its conclusion that Pearl Jam bears "moral responsibility" for what occurred, that "We have spoken to numerous witnesses who have told us that Pearl Jam are well known for almost appealing for violent behavior." The ridiculousness and inapplicability of this statement has already been discussed.

Notwithstanding, and assuming for purposes of argument that the claim is true, the first question that needs to be asked is why the festival organizers and police are first discovering this fact after the tragedy. Isn't this something they should have known beforehand? After all, it was their job to determine the quantity and quality of security guards needed to provide a safe environment for the concert attendees. And quite obviously the number of fans, zealousness of fans and behavior of fans varies from band-to-band and must be taken to account - in advance - in determining the security needs for a particular event. Especially since this was a festival show where 70,000 plus fans were expected to attend.

Also in support of its conclusion that Pearl Jam bears "moral responsibility" for the Roskilde tragedy, the Danish police have stated that: "Whipping a crowd into a frenzy is appalling under conditions like those at the festival, where the ground was slippery and the visibility was poor due to vapour in the air from many thousand people sweating." There is so much wrong with this statement it is difficult to know where to begin. Best effort follows.

"Whipping a crowd into a frenzy is appalling…" What does "frenzy" mean exactly, and where is the evidence to support the conclusion that the Roskilde crowd was in a "frenzy"? The Random House Dictionary defines "frenzy" as "a fit of violent mental excitement." Again, the Roskilde tragedy did not involve violent crowd behavior. Too many people in one place? Yes. Violent crowd behavior? No. Moreover, the whole point of a rock concert is to provide fans with "mental excitement." To criticize a band for providing fans with excessive mental excitement, as opposed to ordinary mental excitement, is absolutely ludicrous.

Of course, it's interesting that the Roskilde police department was careful to quality their "frenzy" statement. It wasn't the whipping of the crowd into the frenzy, per se, that was the problem. It was whipping the crowd into a frenzy "under conditions like those at the festival, where the ground was slippery and the visibility was poor."

Is that right?! So the Danish police admit that there were dangerous conditions of the premises at the Roskilde Orange Stage before Pearl Jam took the stage. If that's the case, then why didn't Roskilde festival management remedy the conditions - or at the very least address the conditions - before Pearl Jam began its performance? And considering that problems existed but were not addressed, how can the Roskilde police department credibly say that "it does not blame the organizers for the tragic accident"? Since when it is a band's job to go out into the audience before playing a set to take a look at the ground to determine whether or not it is slippery? Since when is it a band's job to go out into the security-controlled areas before playing a set to assess the visibility of the crowd on behalf of security personnel that they did not hire and do not control?

Incidentally, it is noteworthy that, even after the tragedy, Roskilde management had so little regard for what occurred that they, after deciding to continue the festival, made no effort to make the premises safe for remaining concert attendees. In particular, they made no changes to the ground surface in front of the Orange Stage so as to prevent further injury. In contrast, the managers of the Werchter Festival, held in Brussels, Belgium the same weekend as the Roskilde Festival, and in response to the tragedy, went out and bought mats and placed them in front of the stages so as to prevent slipping accidents. Kudos to them. Shame on the Roskilde management.

Also in support of its conclusion that Pearl Jam bears "moral responsibility" for what occurred, the Danish police stated that "visibility was poor due to vapour in the air from many thousand people sweating." Assuming this is true, what does this have to do with Pearl Jam? Number one, where is the evidence to support the conclusion that poor visibility had to do with the crowd's body temperature? Number two, poor visibility to whom? Pearl Jam doesn't need to see the crowd in order to do its job. So if, in fact, there was a crowd visibility problem, it was security's problem and/or the festival management's problem. It was a problem that they failed to address, with fatal consequences.

Also in support of its conclusion that Pearl Jam bears "moral responsibility" for the Roskilde tragedy, Danish police condemned crowd-surfing and pointed out that it is "a phenomenon closely connected with Pearl Jam." Once again, there is so much wrong with this statement that it is difficult to know where to begin. Best effort follows.

First of all, and to state the obvious, the deaths at Roskilde tragedy involved the deaths of nine people who were stuck below the crowd, not above it. Second, any connection between crowd-surfing and the submersion of the nine dead fans has yet to be established, and may ultimately never be known. Third, it is at least equally possible, and probably much more likely, that the initial falls were due to slippery ground below rather than individuals floating above. After all, if crowd-surfing were apt to cause people to fall to the ground, it, like crowd-surfing itself, would be a well-known phenomenon. It is not. Fourth, remember that by all accounts the crush at the front of the stage during the Pearl Jam set was extraordinary. In a crowd packed that tight, where an individual's feet did not even have to be on the ground in order for them to remain upright, pressure from above was not likely to make any difference whatsoever in any individual's vertical positioning. Fifth, as everyone knows, crowd surges in front of the stage at general admission shows are common. It is very reasonable to assume, considering how slippery the ground was, that an erratic crowd surge was likely to cause people to lose their balance and to slip and fall in the mud.

Moving on, the claim that "crowd-surfing" is a phenomenon "closely connected with Pearl Jam" is ridiculous. It may be that crowd-surfing is much more likely to occur at a rock show than, say, a Backstreet Boys show, but the fact remains that crowd-surfing started long before Pearl Jam ever formed, crowd-surfing occurs at all rock shows and crowd-surfing will continue to occur at rock shows in the forseeable future.

The fact also remains that crowd-surfing is indispensable to security. Every concert, all concert long, individuals in the crowded area in front of the stage decide that they need to get out. They are too hot. They can't breathe. Whatever. The most efficient way of getting these people out - if not the only way - is for the individuals to be lifted up over the crowd and "surfed" to the front where security can pull them out into the safe harbor between the front rail and the stage.

Finally, it is noted that - by appearance - the Roskilde management and the Danish police have successfully buried the issue of whether security personnel should have identified and addressed the submerged fan problem sooner. There has been virtually no discussion of it since immediately after the tragedy, when one security guard broke rank and said that he had told his supervisor long before Pearl Jam stopped playing they needed to stop the show or else "they'll die." Press releases by the Roskilde management and the Danish police, even those finding the band "morally responsible" and the security and management not "morally responsible", have entirely ignored this critical and damning issue.

It looks like there's a reason for this. Not only has one security guard openly supported the notion that security knew or should have known sooner to stop the show, but I have personally spoken to Roskilde attendees, including one attendee who fell to the ground in the single area where the nine people died. This individual who fell to the ground advised that he was a mere two meters from the rail, front and center, when, at the end of "Evenflow," the sixth song of what would be a twelve-song set, he suddenly noticed that there was no pressure from behind. During "MFC," the following song, a second, larger group, himself included, went down. At this point, approximately 30 to 45 people were on the ground. Lucky to be on the periphery of the downed crowd, the witness I talked to was able to extricate himself two songs later and to be pulled from the crowd via security.

It is obvious, therefore, that there is a real issue concerning the fault of Roskilde management in regards to the incident considering that there were a large group of fans down in an area very close to the front and center of the stage. Presumably these fans were - or at least should have been - visible to Roskilde security. Despite this, it took at least another 20 minutes after the first people fell (specifically six songs) for someone to go onto the stage and to ask Pearl Jam to stop playing. And rumour has it that the individual who finally identified the problem was a photographer, not a security guard.


In conclusion, while it may be that the tragedy was a true accident, if there was fault - and there are certainly valid issues of fault - it clearly lies with the Roskilde management and the Danish police, not with Pearl Jam. Furthermore, the feeble effort on the part of these organizations to deflect inquiry into their own wrong-doing and to transfer focus and responsibility to Pearl Jam, a true innocent in the tragedy, is spineless and pathetic. Shame on them and all who otherwise perpetuate the myths.