Did You Get Maced at the Pearl Jam Show in Hartford in 1996?
Pearl Jam is one of my favorite bands, and I've been lucky enough to see them every time they've played here in Connecticut. The only PJ show that I didn't enjoy was at the Meadows Music Theater (Xfinity Theater) in Hartford on October 2, 1996. Why? Because I couldn't open my eyes or breathe very well, I got hit with pepper spray/mace from Hartford Police Officers trying to control the crowd. You too?
We had tickets in the 800 section, towards the back of the amphitheater near the walkway that separates the lawn and the seats. It was a sold out show, the crowd was estimated to be 30,000 fans. Pearl Jam in 1996 was, and still is in my humble opinion, the hardest working band out there, we were hyped. As usual for the Meadows, concertgoers tailgated for hours prior to entering, getting nice and lubed up to scream along with Eddie.
We noticed as the show was just getting going that our row in the 800 section was getting crowded because people were getting by the barricades that separated the lawn and seats. Deep into the show, when the band started playing "Alive", and then "Blood", some of the people with lawn seats bum-rushed the barricades, and in doing so, injured a Hartford police officer. According to a report I found on mtv.com about that night, there were 36 uniformed officers hired to help out, and they were severely outmanned to the tune of 1 officer to every 1,000 concert goers.
We saw the scene unfolding behind us, a sea of dudes in backwards caps leaping around and sneaking into the promised land. Some brawls started to break out on the front line, with wild swings and a few dummies squaring up with security officers. That's when the pepper spray/mace started flying. You could see clouds shooting out 15-20 feet into 10 faces, but then more waves of people came up behind the ones that fell.
It only took a minute or two before I felt it. At first it was like someone had opened up a can of ammonia right under my nose, then my eyes started watering and I made the mistake of rubbing them. Oooof. I didn't get a direct hit, but oh man, everyone around me started hacking, sneezing, and weeping.
The band knew something was happening, and they calmed the crowd down. From what I remember, they ended up playing 6-7 more songs before letting "Yellow Ledbetter" ease us into the night.
I found a podcast episode where the hosts discuss the show, as audio from the performance is played. Relive it, without crying and sneezing.