Mill Valley high school musician subs in for COVID-sick Pearl Jam drummer at Oakland show

For the 18-year-old, a single text was all it took to go from longshot musician to sharing the stage with the legendary band.

Dion Lim Image
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
High school musician saves Pearl Jam show in Oakland
Kai Neukermans, an 18-year-old high school student from Mill Valley, played drums during Pearl Jam's Oakland concert after Matt Cameron got COVID-19.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A high school student from Mill Valley had the rock-and-roll experience of a lifetime when he sat in and played drums during Pearl Jam's concert Friday at the Oakland Arena.

"I knew it was a long shot," Kai Neukermans said. "But I knew there could be a small possibility!"

For the 18-year-old, a single text was all it took to go from longshot musician to sharing the stage with the legendary band. His opportunity to sit-in started when he learned the band's drummer had COVID-19. Kai decided to text lead singer Eddie Vedder's daughter, Olivia. They had met several years ago at a concert.

"I went to bed and forgot about it," he said. "And the next day I went to school and in the middle of class Olivia texted me to send her a video of me playing a Pearl Jam song because they were taking submissions."

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Almost immediately Kai left school and went to record a demo with his music teacher. Just minutes later when he got the good news, "My heart started beating really fast," he said with a smile. "I called my dad and he said he nearly had a heart attack."

Kai already plays in a band called The Alive with a friend and his 14-year-old brother. They even played at Lollapalooza in Chile. So despite being a performance pro, Kai still needed to prepare.

He told me he listened to the Pearl Jam song, "Mind Your Manners," about 50 times and played it about 20 times to prepare for the role. He'll never forget what it was like to be up on that stage.

"It was crazy seeing these super talented musicians in front of me, they were having so much fun," he said. "It was crazy, I can't even explain the feeling."

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Kai admits going back to being a high school student is going to be an adjustment after all of the attention.

"It's kind of been overwhelming," he said. "I've gotten a lot of positive support and it's been non-stop calls the past 24 hours."

He has these words of advice for any young musician chasing a dream.

"I would say, start practicing a lot, listen to bands that inspire you, take what they're doing, and make it your own," he said. "Push yourself to be better every day."

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Kai says he plans to take some college classes and see how far his career will take him. He and The Alive are playing BottleRock in Napa in a few weeks.

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