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The night Pearl Jam rocked the Commodore Ballroom

FILE: Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam perform on May 5, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) FILE: Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam perform on May 5, 2006 in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

On May 4, legendary Seattle grunge rockers Pearl Jam return to Vancouver for the first time in years, launching their 35-date Dark Matter tour with a concert at Rogers Arena. The highly anticipated event has a former radio promotions manager reminiscing about one of the most memorable concert promotion events in Vancouver history: a private show for the most dedicated Pearl Jam fans in town – and the tickets were absolutely free.

Around this time 24 years ago, a radio war was brewing in Vancouver.

For the first time, CFOX was facing a direct rock station competitor in the newly minted XFM, and we were determined to protect our #1 status at all costs.

CFOX’s then-programming team – Bob Mills, program director; Rob Robson, music director; and I, the promotions director – landed on a long-shot idea: How about a private show with one of the world’s biggest bands, just for our listeners?

We went through a list of artists and stopped at... Pearl Jam. The band was just about to launch a brand-new album, Binaural. Could the stars be aligned?

We got busy and reached out to Mark Abson and Patrick Zulinov from Sony Music; Bruce Allen from House of Blues (now Live Nation) for a venue; and Paul Mercs, who, at that time, was the only promoter Pearl Jam would work with in Vancouver. The odds of pulling it off were slim, but you don’t know if you don’t ask. That long shot, after many bouts of negotiations, turned into a signed contract.

We got it. Pearl Jam. The legendary Commodore Ballroom. May 11, 2000.

The tickets were free – but the only way to get your hands on them was by tuning in to the radio station.

Around that time, Pearl Jam was still at war with Ticketmaster, battling service fees and the scalpers who were keeping true fans from seeing their shows. One of the stipulations of our agreement was that we needed to come up with a system to ensure that only winners and their guests could attend – no selling of any tickets.

I came up with an idea that was approved by the band: every contest winner and their guest had to come to our studio at 1006 Richards St., where we made a photocopy of their IDs to verify their identities on show night. It was simple, and it worked. Not one ticket was advertised for sale – which was pretty impressive for a show that made international headlines.

The on-air contest sparked a frenzy. The phone lines rang non-stop. Local Pearl Jam fans and fans around the world tried to win tickets. Everyone who worked at the station suddenly had long-lost friends and relatives reaching out.

Anticipation built leading up to the day of the show – Pearl Jam would soon be rocking the Commodore. For us, there was no question about which venue to book. Not only is the Commodore the best live music venue in the city – a quintessential experience for local concertgoers – but it also held personal significance for many of us at the radio station. Another story for another time.

A few fans already lined the alleyway of the Commodore when our staff arrived early to put up banners and get ready for the night. I remember making a brief speech to our promo team before we unlocked the doors. I reminded them that everyone outside had been waiting a long time for this night. How we treat them on the way in will have a profound effect on their experience – so our goal was to greet them with shared excitement, get them in as quickly as possible, and send them into one of the best concerts of their lives.

The bouncy Commodore Ballroom floor quickly filled with hundreds of Pearl Jam fans, along with our staff and a few celebrities.

The excitement in the crowd was palpable – and the intimate setting and mutual love for the band made it feel like we were all friends and family.

Then Pearl Jam came on stage. The crowd exploded.

If you ask anyone who was lucky enough to be at the show, I’m sure they will have their own distinct memories and highlights. I have many. “Corduroy” is my favourite Pearl Jam song, which they played around halfway through their set. By that time, I got to join everyone on the floor for the song. This was my first Pearl Jam concert.

We were allowed one photographer for the show, and only for a few songs. There was a young photographer, Ashley Maile, who was just starting his career. He had helped us shoot a few shows, so we gave him this gig. We only printed one of his Pearl Jam pictures, which we gifted to Bob Mills. I don't recall why we didn't have more photos from the show. Sadly, Ashley passed away from cancer in 2013.

Around three quarters of the way through the concert, we had permission to let a few more people into the venue. Bob went outside, where diehard fans were hanging out hoping to hear the band from busy Granville Street. Bob had the pleasure of opening the Commodore doors and letting a few of them in – each of them running up the stairs to catch the last few songs on this historic night.

The show was on a Thursday, which meant a regular work day the next morning. I’m not sure if any of us slept that night.

On Friday, listeners called the station thanking us for one of the best nights of their lives. Our general manager Chris Pandoff sent our staff a thank-you email on executing a perfect radio promotion. Paul Mercs’ team sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers with the same sentiment. Everyone who was lucky enough to have been involved knew this was more than just a concert. We all have our own recollections. This was mine.

It truly was a once in a career moment. And for everyone who was at the Commodore Ballroom on May 11, 2000, it was a once in a lifetime experience.

Thanks, Pearl Jam. Top Stories

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