When Pearl Jam became the first major music act ever to perform in UM’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 1998, it was the largest music event in the history of Montana, with 22,000 fans rocking out under the M.
Almost 20 years to the day on Aug. 13, the newly minted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers topped that earlier triumph by filling the stadium with 25,500 people. It was only the fourth concert at Washington-Griz – the others being the Rolling Stones in 2006 (23,000 fans) and Paul McCartney in 2014 (more than 25,000 fans).
The fact that the band even performed in Missoula might seem like an anomaly. The concert was part of the band’s four-city “The Home Shows” tour, with other stops at much-larger venues in Seattle, Chicago and Boston. But Pearl Jam has performed at UM seven times since 1993 – almost making the group the Griz house band.
This is largely due to the influence of PJ bass player Jeff Ament, a Montana native from small-town Big Sandy and a part-time Missoula resident. Ament attended UM for about two years in the early 1980s before dropping out to invade the Seattle music scene. (Editor’s note: The University doesn’t recommend this career path, but it seems to have worked in Ament’s case.)
Ament has timed more-recent Missoula concerts to support the election bids of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, another prominent Big Sandy resident he knew growing up. According to the Missoulian, it’s Ament’s “big ask” of the band to play the Missoula shows to support Tester.
Something of a Renaissance man, Ament has helped build skateparks in small towns and cities across Montana and beyond. He and the band also promote many progressive causes, and a pre-concert festival titled Rock2Vote featured live music and promoted organizations such as Forward Montana, Montana Conservation Voters, Montana Native Vote, the Montana Skatepark Association and the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center.
Ament also is an artist and writer who plays a major role in developing the band’s concert posters and album covers. The belligerent sheep on the band’s “Vs.” album, for instance, was taken by him on a farm near Victor, Montana. He also helped create the controversial poster for the Missoula concert, which depicted Tester, an organic farmer, flying in a tractor over a burning White House. Republican pundits were not amused. Other concert logos incorporated Main Hall and the grizzly bear.
Many of the Pearl Jam faithful at the concert contended it was the best on the tour because of the “intimate” size of the venue. This writer personally met people from the Dakotas, Dallas, New York and Manchester, England, all of whom hit Glacier National Park before swinging down to Missoula for the big event. It was a major boon for western Montana businesses.
The band ripped through 29 songs, including favorites such as “Daughter,” “Better Man” and “Jeremy.” It also did memorable covers, including Neal Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Front man Eddie Vedder said he attended the McCartney show in the stadium, and now it was time to “bring in John,” which led to a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which filled Washington-Grizzly with star-like lights from mobile phones.
It was an epic night, prompting one to feel “Alive” on the way out.