Pearl Jam’s concert film, Let’s Play Two premiered in theaters in a few countries around Europe in November, including Budapest, Hungary. The film is an emotional chronicle of Pearl Jam’s two shows at Wrigley Field in Chicago, on August 20 and 22, 2016, and Pearl Jam’s frontman, Eddie Vedder’s love for and involvement with the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The documentary is filled with highly emotional and moving scenes, in fact, the whole film is a rollercoaster ride of affection, dedication, passion and heroism. Along with great, timeless music, of course. One of the most moving scenes in the film is when Eddie Vedder ‘singles out’ a fan in the audience, addresses him, and talks to him for a while. The fan’s name is John Evans, who had camped out near the stadium for four days before the first show. The documentary crew interviewed him before the concert and then Eddie Vedder asked one of the producers to stand next to John in the crowd during the show so that he knows who to speak to when they play their song, “Release”, a very special song to Pearl Jam fans, and especially to John Evans. What a nice bunch of people. I got in touch with John and he was kind enough to share his incredibly moving and inspiring story with us.
Pearl Jam filmed their Let’s Play Two concert video on August 20 and 22, 2016 in Chicago, at Wrigley Field. You arrived at the stadium four days before the show. Can you tell us about those days and the feelings, thoughts you had then?
Pearl Jam was born in Seattle but with Ed (Eddie Vedder, the singer) being from Chicago, the event had a whole epic nature to it and I just wanted to be there (I live in Michigan, so I’m not that far away). I wanted to experience it, immerse myself in it as deeply as I possibly could so I got there early. It was an interesting experience. I’d camped out at shows before, like a lot of people do, but it was always only like a day or two. For the first two days I was there pretty much by myself. I camped out in front of a fire station because I thought it’d be safe, although the whole time I was there I never had a single problem, I wasn’t feeling afraid or anything, and I just got to watch Chicago, I got to watch Wrigley Field – there were three baseball games that took place, two night games and one day game. And just sitting there by myself, especially at night when I was all alone, it just gave me a lot of time to reflect on why I was there and what Pearl Jam meant and means to me. I had a sign that said Pearl Jam on it that I’d written and the people that walked by… well, you know, the community of Chicago and specifically the Chicago Cubs fans are so into Pearl Jam that it just brought me closer to the band. Not on a personal level, ’cause I never met any of them or anything but, you know, what the band and their music meant to me. I was listening to the music in my head the whole time, playing songs what not, and I just felt that it was something that I really wanted to do at that time. I was going through some stuff in my own personal life and it was just something I needed to do. There was a journey I just needed to take, so I did.
How did the people of Chicago react when they saw you and found out that you’d been camping out there for days?
They were fantastic. They were so warm and friendly. Some people called across the street when they walked by, screaming ’Pearl Jam!’, some people brought me water and even the people from the fire station would come out from time to time to check on me. The captain himself came out and introduced himself, and said, ’I just wanted to meet you. I heard you’d been out here for three days already.’ It was fun. Everybody was great. People were coming out from the baseball games, milling around, high-fiving me, shaking my hand, that sort of thing, and as word spread a little bit, which was not my intention, I just wanted to be there, but word kind of spread and people would come by to see if I was OK. This one guy named Daniel (who I had never met before, but later became friends and Pearl Jam brothers with) brought me a hamburger and fries ’cause I hadn’t had anything to eat – I was eating tuna fish out of a can pretty much and crackers, so yes, it was wonderful. The camaraderie and the enthusiasm was great, especially as it got closer and closer to the concert and more and more people started to really feel the energy. It was just great. I don’t know if I’d do it again, but it was fun.
John’s kit in Chicago
And then the concert started and you’re up front and at one point Eddie starts talking to you. How did it make you feel? I mean, it was an incredible moment in the film.
It was. It was profound – that’s really the only word I can use to describe it. At first I didn’t really know what was going on. For the couple of the days leading up to the concert there was a documentary crew that had been filming for the movie and they interviewed me… Apparently, in the original version of the movie there was a lot of interview footage but then as the movie progressed and as the Cubs started winning, they wanted to incorporate that and they cut it down, which is fine, I loved the movie, I thought it was beautiful the way it was. The reason I talked (to the crew) about the song “Release” specifically, was because two years prior to that my dad had died, and shortly after it I went to see Pearl Jam in Detroit at the Joe Louis Arena. They opened with “Release” and it was one of those moments where everything, everything came together emotionally and it was very, very difficult. And so then at Wrigley Field, as the intro to “Release” started I was already getting emotional, when Ed kind of called me out. At first I thought he was talking to someone else.
You didn’t realize that he was addressing you?
There was one of the producers who interviewed me earlier and he was standing in front of me, looking at Eddie, pointing at me, but you know how sometimes things happen and your brain just doesn’t process it, it says, ‘OK, he’s gotta be talking to somebody else, it can’t be me’, even though the guy is pointing right at me. And then Eddie walked closer to me and started talking to me a little bit more and then I it dawned on me and I just couldn’t believe it. You know with Ed’s own personal story, the things that he experienced with his dad, not knowing him and then learning who he was… I don’t know… I mean, everybody who listens to the song, “Release” has a connection to it, and even if they haven’t lost a parent, they still feel it. And knowing Ed’s story, knowing what that song means to him, it meant a lot to me to have him do that, to have him call me out and talk about it, and then have him sing the song… He was singing to everybody in Wrigley Field, I get that, but at the same time it felt like he was really singing it to me. And when all the people at Wrigley Field that day started singing, it was just incredible. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. It felt like everybody was trying to hug me with their voices. Everybody was trying to say, ’We’re here with you, we are all in this together’, and Ed, Stone, Mike, Jeff, Matt, and Boom and everybody… it was profound moment.
It must have been like a miracle for you.
It was. Absolutely. The producers wanted to know if I was going to go the second show. I told them I couldn’t ’cause there were some things going on, but the real reason was that all of that brought up a lot of stuff and I just knew I couldn’t stay there, I needed to go home and just be home. On the drive home I was sobbing in my car, I cried the whole way home because it just brought up so much stuff. There is a lot of back story around it, about how I feel responsible for my dad and everything, so I was crying and screaming at myself. But that Wrigley Field experience, that moment with Ed, that moment with those 40 thousand people, that moment with Pearl Jam it started a very, very important healing process for me and while from time to time things still pop out of nowhere, overall I really feel that I’ve done some very important and needed healing. And that started it.
Can you remember the first time you heard Pearl Jam’s music or how you got into it?
I distinctly remember. I was living in Los Angeles right around the time when Ten came out. I didn’t know anything about Pearl Jam at the time.
What did you listen to, what was your favorite band?
I was just kind of listening to everything, I didn’t have a favorite band before Pearl Jam. I’m from Michigan, so there is a lot of Motown floating around and I loved that. I love jazz, blues, hard rock; I listened to Led Zeppelin, the Stones, U2 etc. Anyway, so I heard a couple of songs by Pearl Jam and I really liked the way they sounded. I hadn’t heard anything like that before. “Alive” and “Jeremy” was playing a lot on the radio at that time. The music in and of itself was like nothing I’d ever heard before and Ed’s voice… there just weren’t voices like that. And on top of the quality of his voice, it sounded like he was living what he was singing. Which is what I love about Pearl Jam. I remember hearing an interview with Eddie one time and he said, ’it’s very difficult to go out and put on these shows, because we’re not up there just playing music, we’re living it as we’re playing it. We are emotionally involved in these songs.’ And I could hear that the very first time I ever heard a Pearl Jam song. But other than when I would hear it on the radio, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. And then somebody I’d worked with gave me the cassette of Ten (we had cassettes back then). I was moving back to Michigan at the time, and from Los Angeles to my home in Michigan, which is around two thousand miles or so, a four day journey, all I did was listen to Ten over and over and over again. I was about halfway from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and I had already listened to it like two times, when it suddenly clicked. It wasn’t a conscious decision, like ’Oh, yeah, I’m gonna start loving this band’, it was just everything that I was going through personally, everything that was in the music, in the songs, in the instruments, in Eddie’s voice, it was like we shared DNA or something. From then on, it just grew and grew and became more engrained in me to a point where the songs weren’t even songs anymore, but it felt like they were telling my story. There was a connection and I had never had any other band do that. There are some fantastic bands, like the ones I mentioned, stellar, world-class, all-time great bands, but there is nothing to me like Pearl Jam.
I understand, I totally feel the same way. What is your other favorite Pearl Jam record?
I’m not even sure that Ten is my favorite album by Pearl Jam, it was just my introduction to them. I mean, I love Ten, I love it, but each album, and I’m sure you would agree, each album has its own voice, own personality. My favorite is always the one that I connect with at the time, depending on what’s going on with me personally. I love all of them for different reasons and at different times, I mean, I can listen to any of them and be thoroughly engrossed in it. In fact, I have Pearl Jam radio in my car, and that’s all I listen to. When they put in one of their favorite songs from another band into the rotation, that’s the only time I listen to anybody but Pearl Jam. But I say that in the greatest way. It’s not any sort of an obsession or compulsion, it’s just that if I’m listening to somebody else, that means I’m not listening to Pearl Jam and I’d rather listen to Pearl Jam. I mean, they’re great and there’s nothing better to me than listening to Pearl Jam.
John Evans at Wrigley Field
I agree. Before we wrap this up, can you tell me how your friends or family reacted when they learnt that you would be in the Pearl Jam movie?
We had a family get-together, it was one of my nieces’ birthday and I told them about it. It was about a month after the concert. So I’m crying and they’re crying, we’re all crying, they were just really excited for me. They know the music and they are kind of casual listeners, but in their hearts they are Pearl Jam fans, because I’m such a Pearl Jam fan. They were very happy for me and they knew, especially my sister knew what it all meant because of our dad. And my friends were really happy for me, so it was exciting. The experience at Wrigley Field: that was everything to me. Everything else is icing on the cake. It’s been wonderful and I’m thankful but the thing in my heart that I care about is that moment. Being included in Let’s Play Two was/is very meaningful to me, but I am not interested in any personal fame or recognition (to whatever small degree that might occur. It was the connection to Ed, and Pearl Jam, and everyone at Wrigly Field that night, and being fortunate enough to be in the film that matters to me… and means the most to me. I received heartwarming and breathtaking messages from people who had lost their dads (or moms, brothers, sisters etc.), and who also feel a deep connection to “Release”. I love the fact that many people are affected by that song… and while the Wrigley moment was profound and deeply emotional for me on a personal level, it makes my heart swell to know that so many others shared that moment during “Release” in their own personal ways, whether they were actually at Wrigley Field that night or experienced it when they watched Let’s Play Two.
The first and last Pearl Jam concert in Budapest, Hungary was 21 years ago, in 1996. And that’s a long time. Do you have any special message to the Hungarian Pearl Jam fans?
My heart goes out to you for that long hiatus because I know what it’s like to go without seeing them even a year. You, we, we are all part of the Pearl Jam family, or the “Jamily”, as we call it, so you’re not forgotten. And I’m sure that the band’s thinking about you, although, I can’t speak for them at all, of course. I hope that Pearl Jam goes back to Budapest and you’ll have an incredible show for the ages. Don’t give up hope! And you, Miklós, you are living proof that if you put your heart into it and show how much you love them, you can get things done, like what you just did with the premier of Let’s Play Two in Budapest. It’s an incredible group of people, not just the band, the people surrounding them and they love when people love Pearl Jam. So just hang in there, keep sending the love out to Pearl Jam. As far as I know they are doing a European tour next year and I hope they’ll make it to Budapest. I would love to come and be there and see you guys and see the joy on your faces as they walk on stage.