He dedicated songs to former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese and Chris McCandless, the late adventurer who became the subject of Into the Wild, a book written about his exploits that was adapted for the screen and included an award-winning score, along with a soundtrack filled with Vedder's moving numbers.
There were shout-outs to fellow artists who earlier graced the stage, including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell of the Dirty Knobs, his under-the-radar side project, and Little Hurricane drummer Celeste "C.C." Spina, an Anne Hathaway lookalike and the only woman to perform that day.
Well, at least until Caitlin Ketel and Brittany Hale appeared about halfway through Pearl Jam's smashing set.
The winners of an Eddie Vedder Karaoke Contest in Telluride -- the lone female entrants among a group of guys competing last Wednesday -- enjoyed a bucket-list moment when they sang the chorus to "Daughter" alongside the iconic frontman. But not before one or two false starts.
"Did we hear that there was a singing contest, there was a karaoke contest, who could sing Pearl Jam songs?" Vedder asked a song earlier. "Something happened in town a couple days ago. I wish I would've known. I truly think, I was talking about it, I think I could've placed a strong third. On a good night, before I start drinking.
"If the winners are here, they should come out," he said prematurely as Ketel and Hale began approaching from stage left. "I'm curious to see ... oh, no, no, not yet. You're here. Hi.
"I'm scared. (laughs) No, no. I'm not ready to meet you yet. I'm nervous. You make me nervous. I still have to wrap my head around it because that's who won. There were no boys. And you thought it took balls to sing like this."
After Pearl Jam performed "Glorified G," the moment of truth finally arrived.
"Eddie's voice is a comforting one, I've known it almost my whole life," said Ketel, who called herself the "newest member of Pearl Jam" in an email she wrote Monday. "It was indescribable to be right next to him like that. I wish I had a do-over so I could actually take it in."
Her boss at the station, news director Cara Pallone, who's also the festival's publicity director, said Ketel's once-in-a-lifetime experience was a last-minute decision.
"We get here (Saturday) and she thinks she might be able to interview Pearl Jam because she just had this feeling," Pallone said of her reporter. "So she was preparing like crazy. We hear that they're not doing any on-site interviews. So she's a little upset. So we go backstage (about two hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. show), she gets a huge plate of food, eats every single bite. She's on her last bite and I check my email. And it's from Sarah Seiler, who is Pearl Jam's publicist.
"In her email, she says, 'Do you know who won the Eddie Vedder Karaoke Contest? The band wants to know.' And I'm reading it out loud and (Ketel) is sitting across the table. Her face went white, drained the color from her face. ... So she freaks out, changes into her Pearl Jam shirt that she just bought from the merch tent and is so excited. ...
"We still don't know if it's going to happen," Pallone added, finally finding out about five minutes before the band was to go onstage. "It was the coolest thing ever." (Ketel and Pallone share the festival experience Sunday.)
Ketel didn't get to meet Vedder backstage that night, which was a mild disappointment. "I would have liked him to sign my shirt," she said. But the winners spoke with his wife Jill McCormick, who asked them to sing a couple of verses for her. "She got a kick out of it," Ketel added. "She gave us some inside info on the band. ... She's super friendly and down to earth."
Ketel's KOTO connection nearly cost her a chance to enter the contest -- organized by Corey Beaton, the station's music director -- but because there were only a few entrants, she was given the OK to compete at the Cornerhouse Grille, a downtown establishment owned by Kenny Rosen, one of the three karaoke judges that night. The others were exuberant festival emcee Mitchell "Mishky" Key and local singer Cat Lee Covert.
"I wanted to be a judge (because it was partially my idea and I've been doing Eddie impersonations since I was a kid; my cousin taught me) but another organizer already picked them," Ketel said. "It's funny 'cause I did Jewel impersonations, too, and I babysat her kid here in Telluride for a while. Despite me being a reporter for KOTO News, I entered anyway, not thinking I'd make it past the first round.
"I'm afraid to take the stage alone, so I asked a bunch of people to join me. Everyone declined. Then Brittany walked in the room and I knew she was a big '90s alt fan, and she said yes!"
There were three rounds to the contest. For any Vedder song "in the style of his voice," Ketel and Hale chose to open with "Hunger Strike," which Soundgarden's Chris Cornell wrote as a member of Temple of the Dog and recorded as a duet with Vedder in 1991.
For Round 2 -- any song of your choice in Vedder's voice -- they picked "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera. "We thought it would be funny," Ketel said. "We took turns singing verses and added harmony in Eddie's voice."
The final round was the judges' choice in Vedder's voice -- "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. "I knew I had it in the bag cause I love that song, and the lead singer (Linda Perry) is basically a female Eddie Vedder," Ketel said.
Will more karaoke contest winners across the country get the opportunity to join Vedder onstage during Pearl Jam's 25th-year anniversary celebration? Not likely, Ketel contends.
"This wouldn't have happened anywhere else but Telluride," she said. "People let their guard down here, which can lead to things like this."
The line Ketel sang from "Daughter" just might stay in her head forever: The picture kept will remind me.
Since other Day 1 performers were previously covered photographically, here are some of the artists who played the main stage Sunday on Day 2 of the fifth Ride Festival, in chronological order:
Ewan Currie, lead singer and frontman of the Sheepdogs, enjoys
the fringe benefits of wearing the day's best shirt.
Casey Cranford (left) and frontman/singer/guitarist Nick MacDaniels were
part of Big Something's six-man ensemble that brought a ton of fun to the festival.
Jerry Joseph (center) and the Jackmormons included
bassist Steven James Wright (left) and drummer Steve Drizos.
As members of UK's the Temperance Movement, explosive lead singer
Phil Campbell (left) and drummer Damon Wilson helped to deliver
the hardest-driving act of the day.
Cage the Elephant's Matt Shultz was a whirling dervish of activity whose boundless energy was an uplifting experience for festivalgoers who stayed for the grand finale.
Photos by Michael Bialas. See more from Day 2 of the Ride Festival.