California Teen Fills in for Pearl Jam Drummer at Oakland Show

“It was a last-minute thing, and I didn’t think it was going to work out,” said 18-year-old Kai Neukermans

A teenage Mill Valley drummer got the chance of a lifetime last Friday when he managed to play with his favorite legendary band, Pearl Jam, at the Oakland Area last Friday.

The unlikely collaboration between 18-year-old Kai Neukermans and Pearl Jam came about after several friends of the California teen went to the Pearl Jam’s Thursday show in Oakland to discover that the band’s regular drummer, Matt Cameron, was sacked with COVID. Neukermans’ pals convinced him that he should volunteer to play drums for the following night’s show, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

It was a long shot, but Neukermans had connections. He’d actually met Olivia Vedder, lead singer Eddie Vedder’s daughter, at the Ohana Fest at Dana Point in Orange County. So he sent Olivia a text, and she replied that she’d talk to her dad about it.

“It was a last-minute thing, and I didn’t think it was going to work out,” Neukermans told the Chronicle.

But Neukermans had musical chops. He plays in a rock group called The Alive with his brother and a friend, who is from Laguna Beach. They’ve already played some high-visibility gigs, like the BottleRock Napa Valley main stage, Lollapalooza Chile and Boardmasters in England.

The next day, Neukermans got a request from the band—they wanted to see a video of him playing along to one of his songs. He skipped school and went to a rehearsal room, playing along to “Mind Your Manners” from the group’s 2013 album, “Lightning Bolt” over and over before finally taking a video, which he sent to Olivia Vedder.

It wasn’t as though the band had no replacements at all for Cameron—they had already lined up Josh Klinghoffer, formerly of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Oakland drummer Richard Stuverud to sit in for him. But word came back that Neukermans would get to play on one song.

By early evening, he was rehearsing with Pearl Jam. What struck him most about the band’s attitude was, “They were having so much fun,” he told the Chronicle.

When it was finally his time to play in front of nearly 20,000 fans, Eddie Vedder introduced him to the crowd:

“Everybody, this is Kai; Kai, this is everybody!”

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