Pearl Jam / National Park Road Trip - by Kevin Montavon

Kevin Montavon has visited National Parks in the 48 lower states and attended over 1,500 concerts before beginning this road trip. He also sings in the band Plow Horse. 


On April 11th, 1992, I tuned into Saturday Night Live because 1) I was home on a Saturday night, and 2) I wanted to see the band that was scheduled to play. Having spent the previous five years spinning records on college radio, I was a fan of the emerging Seattle band Mother Love Bone, who had been at the cusp of superstardom when their lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose on the eve of the release of their major-label album debut. I was aware that Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament had a new band, but in those pre-internet days it wasn't as easy to check out a new band as it is today. You couldn't just click on a readily available YouTube actually had to take a chance and (*gasp*) PURCHASE records. And as of that night, I had not made the effort to check out the new band.

Their performance started innocently enough, the singer seeming almost reserved in his gas station attendant's jacket and backwards ballcap. As the song went on, the performance became more and more animated. I could tell these guys were really feeling the music. The singer seemed almost lost in a world of his own, and by the time the lead guitarist took a solo, the entranced vocalist was shaking so hard that his cap went flying off and a mop of curly hair came spilling out from underneath. There was now an added visual element, this chaotic whirlwind of action and flying hair. Meanwhile, Ament ran paces behind him like a tiger locked in a tight cage, jumping and crouching with the various moods of the song. These guys were thrashing around like the speed metal bands that I was so fond of at the time, but the song they were playing was more like something out of my older brother's Classic Rock Album collection. 

The song was called "Alive," the lead guitarist's name was Mike McCready, and the enigmatic singer was a cat named Eddie Vedder. The band of course was Pearl Jam. I bought their album Ten the next day, and a few months later saw them live for the first time. It was on the Lollapalooza II Tour; along with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, Front 242, and Lush. Pearl Jam were the second band on stage that day, but played as if they were the headliners. At one point during a long jam in the song "Porch," Eddie Vedder climbed the stage rigging all the way to the top, walked across the canvas roof of the stage.....which drooped low with every step, swung back down the rigging on the other side using just his arms, jungle gym style, and perched himself about 30 feet above the audience. And then.....he just let go and dropped, disappearing into the crowd. I thought for certain that he must be dead. It took ten more minutes of their set for security guards to fish him out of the massive crowd, but he emerged unscathed and finished the song! It was the single most insane thing that, to this day, I have seen someone do onstage. What I didn't know at the time was that this maniac was doing this at every show! 

I became an even bigger fan, Vedder in particular becoming a huge influence on my own forays into becoming a singer, songwriter, and performer myself. Over the years I would see them a few more times in concert, but in 2006 I took my girlfriend Heather to see them in Pittsburgh.....and I created a monster. She was so caught up in the atmosphere of a Pearl Jam concert that she became a completely obsessed fanatic. She spent months learning the words to every song, hung up pictures of Eddie at work like a lovestruck teenager, and even joined the "Ten Club" band fanclub. Since that time we have seen 12 additional Pearl Jam shows together, often traveling long distances to shows, and even basing entire vacations around seeing multiple dates. 

Which brings us to today: earlier this year Pearl Jam announced "The Home Shows" and "The Away Shows." These are 7 concerts in four cities, mostly in baseball stadiums, and one small football stadium. Heather was able to buy tickets through the Ten Club lottery system for the two shows at SafeCo Field in Seattle, as well as the show at Washington Grizzlies Stadium in Missoula, Montana, hometown of Jeff Ament.

Now, Heather and I also love to visit the National Parks of The United States. When our vacations aren't spent following bands around we use them to see our nation's impressive system of parks, monuments, memorials, historic sites, battlefields, and military cemeteries. Over the last two decades we have managed to visit most of the major units in the Lower 48 states, some multiple times. So when the opportunity presented itself to combine our two favorite things: travelling to parks, and seeing Pearl Jam concerts, we immediately set the plan in motion.

So now the tickets are procured; the car is rented; cabins, hotels, and campsites are booked, with other accommodations to be found on the fly; vacation time has been granted from our respective employers; and we are hitting the highway on The Great American Roadtrip 2018: Pearl Jam Edition! Sixteen days on the highways & byways of these United States, with stops in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, Glacier, and Badlands National Parks; Devils Tower and Mt. Rushmore National Monuments; and Little Bighorn National Battlefield.

A popular saying these days is "You only live once." This is true, and I appreciate that fact and always try to make the most out of the one life I am living. I am also fond of another saying made popular by some of the great people I have met on the road, and that is, "Always go to the show." In this case, even if the show is 2,433 miles away.