Nine Dead At Pearl Jam Concert

Page 2 of 4

At the bottom of that human hole, about seven feet in diameter, was a pile of bodies. Johansen and other security personnel leaped into the crowd and started passing victims over the barrier and into the pit, where they were carried backstage for emergency treatment. The number of victims quickly overwhelmed the Orange Stage's regular medical station. Wob Roberts, a British production manager for one of the other bands on the Orange Stage bill, took charge of moving trucks on the loading dock to facilitate the passage of injured to another area.

It is unclear how much time passed between Johansen's first warning to his security chief and when Vedder stopped the music. In the days immediately following the incident, Johansen told the Danish media –and reiterated to Rolling Stone in a phone interview – that it was a full fifteen minutes. Skov insists it was much less. "He's right that [the message] has to travel to various people," Skov says of Johansen. "But he's not right about the time it takes. We are not using telephones. We're not running around with messages. We are using walkie-talkies."

In either case, Vedder got the message too late. A twenty-six-year-old police cadet from Hamburg, Germany; a twenty-three-year-old man from Holland; three Swedes and three Danes all died of asphyxiation at the scene. A ninth man, from Australia, hospitalized with chest injuries and attached to an artificial respirator, died on July 5th. Bendt Rungstroem, vice chief of police in Roskilde, confirmed that another three people were treated at a local hospital and twenty-five others received minor injuries.

Danish authorities did not release the names of the dead. "It's the law in Denmark," Rungstroem says, "to protect the families." But Rolling Stone has learned the identities of four of the victims. The Swedes were Carl-Johan Gustafsson, 20; Fredrik Turesson, 22; and Henrik Bondebjer, 22. The man who died on July 5th was identified by an Australian news agency as Anthony James Hurley, 24, of Melbourne.

Readers' Poll: The Ten Greatest Debut Albums

At 1:05 A.M. on Saturday, July 1st, a Roskilde staff member told the dazed, distraught crowd at the Orange Stage that the last scheduled band of the night, the Cure, would not be playing. (Music at the festival's other stages continued. Acts were slotted to go on as late as 3 A.M.) Shortly thereafter, Pearl Jam issued a statement:

"This is so painful . . . . I think we are waiting for someone to wake us and say it was just a horrible nightmare . . . . And there are absolutely no words to express our anguish in regard to the parents and loved ones of these precious lives that were lost. We have not yet been told what actually occurred, but it seemed random and sickeningly quick . . . it doesn't make sense. When you agree to play a festival of this size and reputation, it is impossible to imagine such a heart-wrenching scenario. Our lives will never be the same, but we know that is nothing compared to the grief of the families and friends of those involved. It is so tragic . . . there are no words.

"Devastated, Pearl Jam."

The statement was reportedly written by Vedder in the early morning hours after the tragedy, as he, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron sat in contemplative shock in their Copenhagen hotel. The group canceled its next two concerts, the last dates on what had otherwise been a successful six-week European tour – a July 2nd festival date in Belgium and a July 3rd arena show in Rotterdam, Holland. Pearl Jam are still scheduled to begin a U.S. tour of arenas and amphitheaters on August 3rd.

Later on July 1st, Who guitarist Pete Townshend called Vedder to console the distraught singer. In a subsequent posting on his Web site, Townshend said, "I passed on what I knew the Who had done wrong after the Cincinnati disaster – in a nutshell, I think we left too soon, and I spoke too angrily to the press and without proper consideration of the fact that the people who deserved respect were the dead and their families . . . .

"If you have a faith, please pray for the victims and their families, and for everyone who was involved. It was a horrific experience for them."

Pearl Jam and their management declined to officially comment on the Roskilde incident for this story, and the members of the group are said to be in seclusion, searching for answers and sense in the terrible events of June 30th. Eyewitnesses that night say that as Vedder sat on the stage, gazing into that deadly hole of bodies, his face appeared on a huge video screen located behind the mixing-desk tower. He was crying.

As Rolling Stone went to press, Danish authorities continued their investigation into the cause of the crush at the Orange Stage, the nine resultant deaths and the disputed response time by Roskilde personnel. "I don't think we will find the whole truth," Rungstroem admits. "We haven't declared it an accident, but we think it was." Rungstroem said he expected to make a report to the Danish justice minister by July 14th, but chief superintendent Mogens Sorenson of the Roskilde police told a British newspaper that it would take several months to complete a final report on the deaths. Sorenson also said it was unlikely that criminal charges would be filed.

Based on interviews conducted by Rolling Stone and accounts published in the Danish media, it appears there was no single concerted rush by fans to the stage when Pearl Jam came on, or at any time during the aborted set. But numerous reports from people on-site indicate there were sound problems at the delay towers to the rear of the crowd, which may have incited people to press forward to hear better. Jannik Tai Mosholt says that the sound, even up front, was "all treble and too quiet. It sounded so wrong."

Rainy weather and muddy conditions at Roskilde were cited in initial interviews and press reports as contributing factors. The site of the Roskilde Festival is, in fact, farmland. The perimeter is dotted with cattle sheds, and the location is often used for agricultural events. A cold drizzle had turned at least part of the Roskilde turf into mud on Friday. Some ticket-holders made their way between the festival's seven stages with plastic bags wrapped around their feet, because a concession stand on the grounds had run out of gumboots.

But there was no mud at the foot of the Orange Stage. The ground immediately in front of the stage is paved with "stone flour," a mix of clay and sand that drains water quickly. Roskilde organizers deny that the area was slippery that night.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“You Oughta Know”

Alanis Morissette | 1995

This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

More Song Stories entries »