What I Learned From Eddie Vedder

Last Saturday my good buddy Bucky came out for Jack’s baptism. Buck is now Jack’s godfather. The night before I took him out for dinner and an amazing show. We started at Firebox, one of the best restaurants in Hartford. This summer has been damp and rainy but that night the weather was just right. Buck had a gin and tonic and me, bourbon on the rocks. Something about the warming smoky sweetness of Knob Creek over ice makes me feel like a rich southern landowner. Steaks came next, cooked with a hot crispy caramelized black crust concealing a blood-red center. We left fat and happy.

We took a cab to the Bushnell Theater where Eddie Vedder was promoting his new album, Ukulele Songs. Eddie described the Bushnell best, saying it looks like the inside of a Faberge egg. The ceilings are sky high, decorated with gold leaf and etchings of 1930s era airplanes gliding through billowing clouds. We looked down to the stage from the second row of the steeply sloped balcony. The old theater was lined with red velvet trim, the dark wood wet bars, and on the walls hung paintings of people from a different era.

Vedder’s performance was tender and vulnerable, filled with sad songs simply accompanied by a ukulele and a tapping foot. I kept thinking how hard it must be for the normally raucous Vedder to express himself in such an unfamiliar way, almost like a brand new artist. Even one of Pearl Jam’s biggest hits, “Betterman,” felt like a new song. Eddie’s voice was tinged with a deep aching I’d never heard from him. The newly interpreted lyrics silenced an audience of fans who knew every word. Later I found out Vedder’s guitar technician told him Clarence Clemons had just died and Vedder had dedicated the song to his friend. Pearl Jam’s most recognizable song given to us in an unrecognizable new emotional context.

Later Vedder picked up an electric guitar and played fan favorites like “Elderly Woman.” This time, no matter how loud he sang we couldn’t hear ourselves. Everyone in the sold-out crowd was on their feet, hands raised towards the Faberge sky yelling, “I just want to scream, ‘hello.'”

All week at work I thought about the artistry of the event. I was captivated by the fact that there was no act at all, simply an artist with the courage to reveal some truth and love to a room full of strangers. I aspire to lead with that courage someday.

***Check out Vedder performing my favorite song off his new album here.

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