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20 Years Ago: Pearl Jam Sues Ticketmaster

Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Pearl Jam had never been more popular than it was in early 1994. Armed with that sense of invincibility, the Seattle band set about taking on a concert industry behemoth in Ticketmaster.

Pearl Jam charged that Ticketmaster, which in 1991 gobbled up its principal competitor in Ticketron, had effectively created a monopoly — and thus could pile on whatever it wanted in additional service fees, driving up the price for concerts. Pearl Jam wanted to charge no more than $18.50 for tickets in ’94, with service fees of no more than $1.80. Ticketmaster balked, saying that it needed at least $2 in fees simply to cover its own costs.

Eddie Vedder and company weren’t just paying lip service to the ideal: They hired the Manhattan law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell and on May 6, 1994 filed an official complaint with the Justice Department, leading to testimony from bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard before Congress. Fred Rosen, CEO of Ticketmaster, memorably shot back: “If Pearl Jam wants to play for free, we’ll be happy to distribute their tickets for free,” as Time magazine dubbed this anti-trust-focused legal battle “Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Holy War.”

Pearl Jam ended up skipping a summer tour that year as the battle raged — no small thing, considering the celebrated reception the group’s two most recent albums (1991′s ‘Ten‘ and 1993′s ‘Vs.’) had received. They tried, mostly for naught, to book into venues that weren’t associated with Ticketmaster.

“Our band, which is determined to keep ticket prices low, will always be in conflict with Ticketmaster,” Gossard asserted.

It was, however, for naught. The federal investigation was eventually dropped. Worse, really, was that Pearl Jam was eventually forced to book parts of its next tour with — you guessed it — Ticketmaster.

Fast forward 20 years, and what exactly has changed? Not much. Ticketmaster, in fact, got larger still when it merged with event promoter Live Nation in 2010, becoming Live Nation Entertainment.

The dust up led to one moment of levity, however, as Vedder introduced Neil Young for his 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Some impish party planner actually put Pearl Jam’s table next to Ticketmaster’s at the ceremony, prompting Vedder to quip: “I predict a food fight, by the end of the evening. I would recommend that the classy people scoot away, or join in! Maybe we should all join in, while we’ve got them right here!”

Next: Remembering Pearl Jam's 'Vs.'

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