With just 26 days to go until election day, four of the five members of Pearl Jam joined Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, and Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, Thursday night for an online conversation about voting, activism, the importance of human connection during the COVID-19 pandemic and the future of the imperiled live music industry.
Both Biden and Emhoff donned Pearl Jam T-shirts for the occasion, which featured frontman Eddie Vedder, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament on Zoom from their respective homes. Emhoff, a longtime entertainment lawyer who married Harris in 2014, professed that Pearl Jam’s music has been the “soundtrack to (my) life” and even curated the pre-event playlist attendees heard before things got underway.
Vedder revealed that Pearl Jam had been planning to tour through U.S. swing states at this time of year had it not been for COVID, and said he especially missed the “two-way conversation” between the Seattle-based band and the audience in each new city. “You feel the culture. You feel the mood that’s different in different cities. You have some back and forth. We’ve tried to find other ways to reach out, to communicate, to energize, inspire and inform,” he said, pointing to Pearl Jam’s Take Three Pledge initiative encouraging voters to cast their ballots by mail and recruit three additional friends to do so.
“We had four or five [touring] legs penciled in over the next year, year and a half,” added Ament. “It has been a tough pivot. It has been hard some days to figure out how we can contribute even a small percentage of what we felt like we were going to be able to do this year, especially this fall on the swing state tour. Some of my favorite memories of being in this band are being in the middle of it, raising a ruckus and talking to people you don’t agree with.”
Vedder said he’d just seen Thom Zimny’s soon-to-be-released Bruce Springsteen documentary “Letter to You,” showcasing the studio sessions for the Boss’ new album of the same name. After watching a sequence where Springsteen and the E Street Band members hugged each other following a particularly emotional take, Vedder said, “I just started to lose it, because I miss that. [Pearl Jam’s members] are close family and we share our love with each other, but as far as our brothers, and hugging strangers, it’s a deep hole. It’s something we’ve missed for so long [and] it’s one other thing to fight for at this critical, critical time. To everyone out there, i just wanted to give you a virtual hug.”
McCready asked Emhoff how a Biden/Harris administration would work to stabilize the music and arts industries crippled by the pandemic. “This isn’t just devastating for the arts and culture scene — it’s a disaster for our local communities,” he replied. “Joe and Kamala are committed to helping get the arts sector back on its feet, [through] funding for arts organizations and other small businesses to retain and rehire workers, grants to cover the costs of re-starting and reserving half of [Paycheck Protection Program] funds for small businesses like venues and theater companies.”
The conversation turned to voting by mail, with Vedder reminding attendees that the members of Pearl Jam have been voting absentee for 25 years and that in the decade since Washington state went to a mail-in voting system, “the amount of voter fraud has been minuscule. It has been a little scary to see how [Donald Trump] is trying to create an issue before we even have an issue.”
“It’s important for all of us to be sources of confidence and clarity and honesty for our communities. Voters are hungry for good, reliable information,” Emhoff said. “Tell your friends and neighbors to make a plan to vote. This election isn’t in Donald Trump’s hands, no matter what he says. It’s in our hands. We the voters determine who the next president is — not him. When you vote, things change. If you aren’t happy with the way things are right now, go vote.”
A community college teacher who said she hopes to continue in the classroom even if she becomes First Lady, Jill Biden closed the event with a call “to make sure our voices are heard. In this election, we have to believe that our communities are stronger than the challenges we face. We have to believe that our votes matter, because they do. We will build a better nation, because we’re going to do this together.”
Pearl Jam’s endorsement of the Biden/Harris ticket comes on the heels of a number of unflattering references to Trump on songs such as “Quick Escape” and “Seven O’Clock” from the band’s latest album, “Gigaton.”
Pearl Jam has a long history of advocating for specific political candidates. In 2000, Vedder played a series of rallies in support of Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and in 2004, Pearl Jam joined acts such as Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., Neil Young and the Dixie Chicks on the Vote for Change tour in support of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. The group has also raised significant funds over the past two decades for senator John Tester, from Ament’s home state of Montana.