Seeing Pearl Jam is what I needed to feel ‘Alive’

While my ears couldn’t always process the words, I felt every song in my soul.

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Miguel Beristain

Crowd cheers as Pearl Jam takes the stage, captured September 16, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Miguel Beristain, Multimedia Deputy Director

I go to a lot of concerts. It’s kind of my thing at this point. People ask me: “Hey, what’re you doing tonight?” and nine times out of ten I say, “I’m going to [insert artist name here].” Sept. 16 rolled around and my situation was no different. I was so excited to go to Lights on the Lawn and see Two Friends play their iconic “Big Bootie Mixes” live and in person. But hold on, slight change of plans–Pearl Jam was in town. As a member of the “big four” grunge bands, they’ve been regarded as the most influential and popular American rock band of the 90s. Their breakout album “Ten” went 13x platinum in the US, one of the highest-selling albums of all time. I mean, how could I not go? 

Eddie Vedder sings his heart out, captured Sept. 16, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

If you don’t already know, Pearl Jam is famously a jam band. Every setlist on this tour has been different; no one except for the band knows what they’re going to play. Some nights they play none of their hits and just play deep cuts. But you’re not there for the hits, you’re there for the experience of seeing a band that Rolling Stones magazine lists as one of the top ten live acts of all time. Believe me, they delivered on that promise. The band members are living legends and showed off their virtuosity brilliantly the entire night.

To fully encapsulate the energy of the night, keep in mind that the Bridgestone was completely sold out, something not even modern-day superstars like Billie Eilish and Kendrick Lamar could do. During “Better Man,” Vedder stepped away from the microphone and let the arena sing “She lies and says she’s in love with him, can’t find a better man. She dreams in color, she dreams of him, can’t find a better man.” During “Even Flow,” the stands literally shook with the amount of singing, cheering and jumping. While it’s a well-known fact that Vedder’s voice is sometimes hard to understand, that didn’t stop the crowd from yelling whatever lyrics came from their heart. 

The Pearl Jam crowd was full of characters. There were older folks, college students, middle-aged, soccer moms and even children. During the interludes where Vedder would speak to the

Mike McCready plays guitar, captured Sept. 16, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

crowd, he would point audience members out. Surprisingly, Vedder even called out people’s birthdays, some as young as thirteen and as old as 72. A huge baseball fan, Vedder personally gave a shout-out to former MLB star Ray Burris, who happened to be standing right in front of me. An iconic moment of the night was when Vedder saw the crowd of children at the barricade and joked, “there’s a whole kids section up front…you’ve got a big responsibility being up here with a mic but I bet I could talk one of those kids and their parents into letting them drink their first cup of red wine.” Guitarist Mike McCready intermittently threw guitar picks into the crowd, at one point chucking a handful of them like he was feeding ducks. 

What I love most about concerts is meeting all the people in the crowd. One of the photographers I was shooting with explained that he’d shot over 500 shows in the past ten years but hadn’t had the chance to shoot Pearl Jam, his favorite band of all time, until tonight. A photographer I met said he toured with the band before and had seen them 145 times, but still seeing them every night was an adventure. He would tell me “[Vedder] is about to do a big jump during this song” and knew lots of tidbits about the band. 

During the performance, Vedder gave a shout-out to his friend Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, a band he cited as a key inspiration for Pearl Jam’s music. He thanked his road crew as well as thanked all road techs living and working in Nashville, “without them none of this would be possible.” Before playing “Spin in the Black Circle” he encouraged fans to check out Jack White’s Third Man Records here in Nashville. 

Pearl Jam’s crowd soaks in the music, captured Sept. 16, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Let’s talk about that encore. At most concerts I’ve been to, the band uses the encore to play their biggest hits and thank the audience for showing up. A way to tie up ends. Pearl Jam’s encore was more of a grand finale, rather than a chance to play a couple more songs. Vedder spoke to the crowd again and said, “You don’t mind if we take care of the fine people behind us do you?” and had the band face the back of the arena to sing to the crowd behind them. All I wanted the whole night was to see my favorite Pearl Jam song, “Yellow Ledbetter,” live, and in true Pearl Jam fashion, they ended the night with it. One of the most iconic guitar intros of all time, one that inspired me to play guitar. Reader when Vedder said to McCready, “Make me cry,” before as the solo started and he did in fact make me cry too. 

I have yet to see a band interact with the crowd as much and as well as Pearl Jam did. Even

Eddie Vedder and Matt Cameron perform at the Bridgestone, captured Sept. 16, 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

though I had incredible seats, I knew that even if I was in the nosebleeds I would feel like they were singing directly to me. At one point, Vedder started throwing tambourines into the crowd, throwing one up to the second level behind the stage where a kid caught it and the whole arena cheered. He leaned over the barricade to shake people’s hands, McCready similarly reached his guitar into the crowd and let fans touch his iconic Stratocaster. During “Alive” the arena house lights came on welcoming the crowd into the performance itself. As the arena chanted “Hey, I, oh, I’m still alive,” all you could see were smiles and tears from people who had waited their whole lives to see this song live. Couples were hugging, friends were high-fiving and people were crying. Keeping his promise, Vedder did in fact take this opportunity to pour a small glass of wine for one of the kids in the front and then gave the bottle to some lucky soul in the crowd. 

Pearl Jam is a band that welcomes people from all walks of life. Their lyrics can have deeply personal meanings, while on the surface seeming random or innocuous. “We’ve been a family for 30 years, and I know just as musicians we’re all part of that same family,” Vedder said to the crowd. I know I walked away from that show with new friends, stories and memories I will cherish forever. Thank you Pearl Jam and thank you Bridgestone Arena for giving me an experience I will never forget.