Roskilde Ten Years After: A Light In The Darkness

Out of the tragedy at Roskilde in 2000 has grown a warm and lasting friendship between rock star and relatives.

Courtesy of
Story by Henrik Tuxen

Note: Dutch to English translation. Original story can be found here.

Ten years ago, specifically on 30 June 2000, did the unthinkable. Nine young men died at the Roskilde Festival in front of Orange Stage during the Pearl Jam concert. An unbelievable tragedy that has cast long, dark shadows behind him. But in the midst of darkness, close and warm friendship blossomed between Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard and the parents of one of the Swedish victims.

Ebbe and Birgitta Gustafsson accidentally drove past Roskilde 30 June 2000 in the evening on their way home early from a holiday in Germany, due to bad weather. They neither knew that their son was at the festival, much less the catastrophic accident he was in the center of. Since their local priest days after bringing over the fatal message, broke the world together for the couple from Tranås in central Sweden. Like eight other parents, their lives, that fateful day, changed forever. Not least thanks to their strong Christian faith, the family has steadfastly worked through the accident and came back to life, partly can read in their fine book After Roskilde – från Christian reconciliation from 2003.

The doorbell rings

At about the same time, in 2003, the Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard realized that he must react. He feels that he has to relate to the accident and to the relatives if they might be interested in meeting him. Until then, the dialogue between Pearl Jam and the relatives have been limited to one contact with lead singer Eddie Vedder and the relatives of an Australian victim, Anthony Hurley and a sporadic email correspondence between Vedder and a few Danish families. But Stone Gossard could not live with the silence, and in November 2003 he traveled and his girlfriend Liz, to Copenhagen and visited the next few weeks parents and / or friends for five of the six Scandinavian victims. And a late Tuesday evening rang the doorbell at 3 in Regnvädersgatan Tranås. A meeting that would prove to be the germ of a close, warm and lasting friendship began.

Birgitta Gustafsson: – It made a very strong impression on us that he had traveled all the way from USA to visit us. I remember that I was terribly nervous. I did not know how he looked and thought that now there will be a long-haired rock star in the door (after years with soldatercut have Stone once again left it long yarn grow, Ed.), But he was quite ordinary, it was like to He was one of us. It was an unforgettable evening, he made a strong impression. It was evident that he was a warm, loving and open person, that we understood immediately. Although we met on the basis of a sorrow, it was an extremely positive meeting. I felt from the outset that this was a meeting that would be of great importance in the future, both for him and for us. I asked already the first day to get his address, which I got. I still have saved the note he wrote the address down.

Birgitta positive impression was more than reciprocated, elaborates Gossard to GAFFA in connection with 10 anniversary.

Stone Gossard: – I can not thank Ebbe and Birgitta enough for the kindness and the love they have shown me. There are very few times in life when you meet someone with such a loving and spiritual presence. Birgitta openness and love has had a significant impact on me. I think we both have touched each other in an unexpected and beautiful way. And it has come out of tragedy, every parent’s nightmare. I am very grateful to her.


The friendship between Gossard and Gustaf Johnson is a very special character, which of course is closely linked to the memory of deceased family son.

Birgitta: – We greatly appreciate his friendship. Think about that with his large entourage will continue to have contact with us. Carl-Johan can never be replaced, he was our son, but Stone fills a portion of the vacuum. It’s the feeling I have, which is reinforced in the warmth and love he always expresses when we mailer is on Skype or meet.

I have met in the light of a tragedy. Ripping it up in the wounds to keep in touch?

Birgitta: – No, no, quite the contrary. We are a support and care from him as soothe our grief, it’s always good to have contact with. This applies both when we mailer, meet or see Pearl Jam play.

Same position gives Pearl Jam guitarist reflects:

Stone: – Bridget and I have seen each other several times now. She comes to our shows, and she meets the band, we share meals, and the mailer together. After each session, we share how grateful we are for each other, all in while we continue to heal from the biggest form of loss. From the first meeting we started a friendship that is alive and kicking today. Our common spirituality and openness to each other has been a big part of my own healing, and I am enormously grateful for her love and forgiveness. It has helped me to feel and accept the tragedy of loss, without losing hope of goodness in the world.

Have you found a second peace today with what happened that day?

Stone: – Everyone in the band – and everyone who works with us – experienced tragedy at Roskilde very strong. It is always with us. It can be very intense to feel, realize and see the past in the eyes. But we have each done in our own way, and we will always continue to do. We want to communicate between us and the families must always be open. The time and the many positive meetings with the families helped in the healing process, but I can not say that I have found peace with the accident.

Pearl Jam Live

There has been something of a revolution taking place in relation to Birgitta’s view of Pearl Jam and their music. First it was involuntary noises from teenage room, now she can even clap with the audience.

Birgitta: – Pearl Jam was Carl-Johan’s favorite band, that was why he went to Roskilde. He played them constantly high from inside the room and I thought often that he might hear something more quiet and relaxing music. But today I understand his values and enthusiasm much better. We are more to the more subdued and quiet, so Pearl Jam is thus never “our” music, but they have many fine songs and then it is vehemently to see them live. It has also been a great experience to meet the others in the band, I see them as very likeable and humble man. We also know that they are people who are making great efforts in more humanistic and philanthropic relationships, including in environmental cases and that they all in working order and help create a better and fairer world. They are not people who put themselves in front, but doing what they can to help others. When we got to the concert in Paris took Eddie (Vedder, ed.) Against us in the warmest way. He showed us pictures of his little daughter (he now has two little girls, Ed.) And said that he could not imagine what he would do or how he would react if there was to be her thing. The band fit really well for us and let us stand on the side of the stage. Here from Eddie dedicated the entire concert for the family Gustafsson and they played the song I wanted – Thumbing My Way. When we were coming into the car which was driving us to the hotel, we could still hear Pearl Jam, who played Yellow Ledbetter as the last encore. But suddenly confronted Eddie big sweaty in front of us. He was over the stage during the concert, to say goodbye to us. All in all a gesture and a caring meant a great deal for us.

Are there some songs specially hard to hear? There are indications that things went very wrong at Roskilde in Better Mon

Birgitta: – Yes, I will spare it a thought when the song plays. It was probably the last as Carl-Johan heard.

The audience reaction is generally very heavily on Pearl Jam. Can not awaken unpleasant memories that stand in the audience when it goes wild for it?

Birgitta: – The band has such a positive aura when they play that it rubs off on the audience, it is primarily positive enthusiasm. But, yes, I do not like when it gets too wild. In Paris and in London we had VIP seats and was somewhat shielded the crowd pushing and shoving. In Copenhagen, we saw it a little more, and it was a little uncomfortable. I do not like that there will stage divet, so I look the other way and do not really want to stand in the audience during a festival appearance. But I know that Pearl Jam has a much stricter security alert, so it gives a greater sense of security.

New security procedures

It was in many ways paradoxical that for all was Pearl Jam who were involved in the accident, when the band even before the concert had launched a major security alert before and during their concerts settlement. After Roskilde band announced that they would never again play festivals again. That testimony has now changed, but only when their own security measures are followed through.

Stone (sec found by Pearl Jam Head of Security at that time and today, Pete Beattle):

Before Roskilde was our standard operating procedure in relation to playing festivals, to accept a festival operational and safety procedures. Bands were seen as “just performers” and had traditionally not much to say over safety procedures in the same way as their own shows. After Roskilde, this has changed completely for us. We have tightened the standards for safety at the same level as for our own shows. Our contracts with the festivals’ highlights our operational requirements are not met, there will be no contract if they are not being complied with in practice, we are not on stage. We demand the right to evaluate all operational and security policies in advance, such as design and configuration of barriers and security response procedures in relation to ensuring our fans’ safety. It includes pro-active pre-assessments in the following areas:

Knew nothing amiss

All sizes as Pearl Jam had no control over the fateful evening of Square Cattle Show in 2000. A concert which seemed like everyone else, the band heard no alarm bells ringing in advance.

Stone: – We had no idea that there were some problems before our tour manager came on stage and told us that something was wrong. I felt like a blow. I felt an overwhelming sense of shock when it dawned on me that people were trampled to death and that people were lifted over the barricade was dead. All who attended were as stunned; this had occurred. Afterwards we sat and stared at each other in the hotel, frightened and shocked.

It is impossible to rewind the clock back, but there was something I could have done to prevent what occurred?

Stone: – If there was anything I could have done to predict what the happened, I wish that I could have avoided it. So I regret that not all affected families got a helping hand from us immediately after the accident. It was not enough to ensure this through the media and our international contacts.

Why was there so long as three years before you decided to visit the affected families?

Stone: – We tried to express our availability to all families immediately after the tragedy but were not established any real connection. At the time I figured that it was because of the general chaos and everyone’s shock. But I later realized that some families have tried to reach out to us, even then, without success. I have always regretted. Then there was the fact that some early press reaction was that we had inspired the audience to this behavior and that we bore a large share of the blame. I think it was after that we all began to pull us back. Eddie was the first established connection with one of the families. He spent some days with Hurley family from Australia, where he wept with them and how he recognized and felt the intensity of their losses. I was inspired by the courage and the love he showed, which led me out on my own journey. So three years after the accident I reached out to you, Harry, who himself stood on stage during the concert, and got, with your gracious help, contacted a number of families and other relatives, and offered to meet with them if they were interested. I am so grateful for all the families who have shared their memories, pictures, grief and anger. Nothing could have been more profound than their dignity and openness during these visits. All families were still stunned, here three years later. But they opened their hospitable doors and had me as a guest. I will never forget how powerful this experience was. We did not share so many words, and you, Henrik, did your best as a translator. I tried to convey our bands despair and recognition of their losses. Perhaps it helped my visit at a small way.

Roskilde and relatives

More families had both before and after the Stones’ visit had contact with festival directors, and not all with the best experience.

Stone: – I can only say that most families that I spoke to various reasons, had not been satisfied with the way in which the festival handled the tragedy’s aftermath. Some felt that they should have taken more responsibilities, some felt that they should have taken legal responsibility for the accident. This is an important issue that should be answered by each family, since everyone has their own experiences of contact with the Roskilde Festival and their representatives.

Do you think the festival should not assume legal responsibility for the accident?

Stone: – I think that when people around you are injured or die, then you need to recognize your role, honestly and completely identify and learn from your mistakes, and implement standards for preventing that something similar could occur again .

With God’s help

Several families have brought lawsuits to get the festival to accept legal responsibility for the accident without success. The outcome was that the accident was caused by a series of unpredictable events that can not be attributed to the festival’s responsibility alone. This has caused great bitterness and sorrow in many families. Here Gustaf’s been a little outside. Although they feel for the families who have followed the long and exhausting litigation, they have initially chosen a different path, mainly due to their strong Christian faith.

Birgitta: – Belief in God has always been an important part of our lives and was a huge consolation when Carl-Johan died. He kept us in our life most difficult days. The Bible teaches us to forgive those people who have made us ill and reconcile ourselves with them. We do not think that security was in order and still think that the festival had a responsibility and that it was their fault, but we nevertheless chose to forgive them. We think that there is a difference between forgive and to say that it was ok, what occurred. We decided to forgive to move forward. The second will be for us like going backwards in life. Our choices and our faith has helped us move forward in life.

Before meeting with Stone was in contact with Leif Skov (former festival director, Ed.). How was it?

Birgitta: – It was hard but important to meet. We told him that we would forgive and reconcile with him and the festival, which they know. As a festival, we believe that they have a responsibility to people not getting hurt. There were difficult circumstances, there was rain, poor sound, but still rests a responsibility on the management. When Leif Skov visited us, he showed us the new security procedures were implemented. “Yes, that’s fine” I thought, “it’s just a year too late.” But it was still good to meet and be reconciled to Leif Skov.

Books and lectures

In 2003 came after Roskilde – från Christian reconciliation, the book where the ebb and Birgitta Gustafsson tells his story to journalist Jonathan Sverker. Through the years ebb and Birgitta given a series of lectures, including in churches, where they told their stories and their way of living with their fate.

Birgitta: – The book was written as it maybe could help others in similar difficult situations, where life is hard. The main point is that there is a light at the horizon, it is possible to move forward. We have often been asked out for a lecture on the background of the book. It’s been hard but very rewarding and life-affirming. We have had many contacts here through which we appreciate. It has been hard to be through the process to write the book, and to keep the many lectures, but it has helped to help others, and it has been the most important. But there is also a limit, we do not actively pursue it myself, but it takes up for consideration when we are asked to give lectures.

See Venice …

Birgitta, Ebbe and their daughter Sandra (and the last couple of times also her fiance John) saw Pearl Jam in Paris, 2006, Copenhagen 2007, London in 2009 and soon the trip to Italy.

Birgitta: – Yes, it is quite amazing. Stone has invited us all to Venice in connection with Pearl Jam’s concert in the city. He pays residence, plane and everything. It becomes an experience of a lifetime.

Originally, Stone invited Gustaf Johnson to Berlin, but Pearl Jam’s concert in town takes place on the tenth day of the accident, and it was too much for Bridget.

Birgitta: – No, I did not want to Berlin on the anniversary. It is always very heavy for me and I did not want to see Pearl Jam on one day I associate with mourning. It is different with Ebbe, for him all day just in that respect. But we have a tradition to make a little trip around the anniversary. We will put a wreath a garland of red roses shaped like a heart on Carl-Johan’s grave every year.

A blessing and a privilege

And as I say is Pearl Jam on stage 30 June 2010 in Berlin, the 10 anniversary of the accident, which guitarist summarize as follows:

Stone: – It is impossible to escape from the past. All families are still suffering terribly at the loss of their children. I hope to acknowledge the past and honor those who died and those of their lost loved ones. As a band we feel the loss still significant and we hope and pray that time will reduce and transform the pain.

And Stones helping hand has actually helped, not least, Gustafsson family in their great sorrow.

It is a bit of an upheaval that has taken place in your relationship with Pearl Jam. What do you think Carl-Johan would say if he sits and looks into Heaven?

Birgitta: – He would probably say “bra morsan! He would laugh and smile and could see that I have changed me. He would be happy for our contact, and perhaps a little jealous! One day when I sat and talked with Stone, I said “Think if he sits and looks at us now?” It was a very intense moment.

One of many examples of a cohesion and a friendship which, on a sad background, has led people with totally different backgrounds, very close together; rock star through two decades, Stone Gossard, and office assistant Birgitta Gustafsson from Tranås in central Sweden. A community that also include the rest of Pearl Jam and Bridget’s family.

Birgitta: – We have only encountered positive reactions from the world than our relationship with Pearl Jam, though many might not fully understand what we feel and experience. But even though Stone is a big rock star, he is quite common when it comes to human contact. We cherish our deep friendship, and we want to preserve it. We know many who have lost a child, but we have had this contact with Stone, and for it we feel blessed and privileged.

Roskilde accident and Pearl Jam:

Three of the victims were Swedish, three Danish, a German, a Dutchman and an Australian

Pearl Jam has handed out to all the families affected

Pearl Jam was in a period of ’90s biggest rock band. They have released nine studio albums, a “Greatest Hits” and a double “rarity” compilation, released a sea of live concerts, has made several DVDs and have sold over 60 million records. Last went “Backspacer” # 1 in U.S. in 2009.

Pearl Jam has always been heavily involved in various humanitarian and philanthropic work, this applies to not least, Stone Gossard

Stone Gossard visit in Scandinavia are described in the book “The Pearl Jam’s footsteps – before and after Roskilde” from this writer.