The Voice That Keeps Pearl Jam Fans Connected

Pearl Jam lead guitarist - Mike McCready - with Rob
Pearl Jam lead guitarist - Mike McCready - with Rob

It’s an expensive pastime to be a Pearl Jam fan. Why? Because as fans, we are not satiated by our attendance at only one Pearl Jam show every few years. We feel the need to take hold of all opportunities to see the band play.

So when a new tour is announced, fans from all over the world wait with bated breath as they enter to “win” Ten Club pre-sale tickets to a show, or multiple shows, that will prove to be as electrifying and unique, if not more so, than the last. And if Ten Club tickets don’t work out, fans try their luck at public ticket sales - ever faithful and determined to see the boys play, no matter the price.

But sometimes...yes, it is true...sometimes, there are moments in life when the stars just don’t seem to align and family, work and financial commitments naturally take precedence.

While disappointment typically prevails when these “big kid” decisions must be made in order to tend to important needs on the home front, fans can rely on one man - Rob Bleetstein - AKA “The Rob,” to keep them connected to the band through his sharing of bootlegs of shows gone by on SiriusXM’s Pearl Jam Radio.

But just who is “The Rob” and how did he land such a cool gig? I decided to give him a call to find out his story and more importantly, to find out his thoughts on Pearl Jam’s upcoming European tour.

CHRISSIE: A lot of Pearl Jam fans think you are the luckiest guy in the world to have landed your PJ Radio gig. So just how did you do it? Was it luck, or was it more about your prior experience on the radio?

ROB: Kind of a combination of that. My passion for music and radio has led me down some great roads in my career.

Back in the early 2000’s, I was working for David Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label and also programming an Americana channel for an internet radio outfit. Before long, they wanted a Grateful Dead channel, so I started that. By the end of it all, I was programming five channels for them. This was from ’04 to ’09. I had the idea of an all PJ channel and approached Pearl Jam manager, Kelly Curtis, after the Santa Barbara gig in ’06 about doing a channel, saying I would only do it with his blessing. He said, “Go for it.” So the first seed was planted there, but it remained just a thought.

Fast forward to ’09, and once again, I was at a crossroads and wanted to do something that involved my biggest passion, Pearl Jam. I reached out to them about creating a radio station for their web site and we got Pearl Jam Radio (now 10Club Radio) on PearlJam.com launched on May 3, 2010 in conjunction with the start of the Spring Tour in Kansas City.

The SiriusXM channel launched on October 22, 2010. As I was already a part time employee with their Grateful Dead Channel, it only made sense that I help build and program the Pearl Jam Channel too.

CHRISSIE: Are you still working on SiriusXM’s Grateful Dead Channel?

ROB: Yes, I produce and host the concerts on the Grateful Dead Channel. I work on Pearl Jam Radio on SiriusXM and program 10Club Radio on PearlJam.com. And I still keep my foot in the Americana world.

CHRISSIE: Didn’t I read somewhere that you created the Americana radio chart?

ROB: Yes, in 1995 I created the Americana format for the radio trade publication - Gavin Report. That music has always been my passion; I’ve always been involved in it since my career started. The first station I worked at was an Americana Channel, but there was no name for the music; we just played country/rock music. As country music continued its downward progression into pop music, especially in the mid-90s when Garth Brooks and Shania Twain were becoming the be-all and end-all, people like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings couldn’t get played on country radio anymore.

So they were getting neglected. There was this huge gap of great new artists like Lucinda Williams  and Robert Earl Keen who were critically acclaimed, touring and selling records; they had everything going for them, but they had nowhere to go on the radio. I thought, rock has multiple formats, jazz has multiple formats. Why can’t country have one other format to play all this great stuff? So I pitched the idea to this trade magazine, Gavin Report, in San Francisco, and they went for it.

Rob and Willie Nelson
Rob and Willie Nelson

CHRISSIE: There’s a quote that says, “When one finds their passion in their work, one never works another day of their life.” Is that true for you?

People sometimes ask me, “Is it a business or pleasure trip?” Well, my business is my pleasure; my pleasure is my business. I don’t have a 9 to 5 day. A lot of times I do my stuff at 3 or 4 in the morning. Sometimes I’m on that schedule; it’s easier for me. I’m sort of always on the clock, seeing music, creating stuff or making things happen, so it all rolls into one. Passion is the key word. I love what I do.

CHRISSIE: I have to ask...How did you come up with the radio name, “the Rob”?

ROB: I sort of regret it at this point in time. Many moons ago, 10 years ago, a friend of mine in Northern California grew a certain type of plant which wound up being bestowed with my name. In 2008 when Pearl Jam was doing their summer tour, my good friend Zack Newman had a gig with Spin magazine covering the tour and was doing a little video tour journal for Spin, and he was hooking up with fans and interviewing people and getting rides from show to show on that whole tour. So we started out doing that, and I gave him a ride from the first show from West Palm to Tampa. While he was interviewing me, he called me the “Mother F’in Rob.”

So fast forward to a couple years later. When it came time to create Pearl Jam radio, I wondered what to call myself. I use my real name on the SiriusXM Grateful Dead Channel, which is the first time I’ve ever done that, only because I’m just known in that world as myself. So when it came down to the Pearl Jam thing, I called Zack and asked what my name should be. He said, “You’re the Mother F’in Rob, what else?” So we kind of went with it.

CHRISSIE: So how many Pearl Jam shows have you been to over the years?

ROB: Currently 271. I had seen the Grateful Dead 264 times. Over the years, I have been doing my Pearl Jam count. For years, I’d tell Mike McCready, “I really hope I can get my Pearl Jam number higher than my Grateful Dead number.” He said, “Well, I think in a couple more years you’ll do it.” That happened last year. My 265th Pearl Jam show was at Third Man Records.

Mike and Rob in the studio
Mike and Rob in the studio

CHRISSIE: If you could name your top 3 Pearl Jam shows, what would they be?

ROB: My number one show is November 6th, 2000, the last show of the Binaural tour at the Key Arena in Seattle. I go for the emotional shows, and that show that night was just monumental. It was the end of the tour, and you didn’t know if the band was going to continue on after that; you didn’t know what was going to happen. Also, it was the night before the Gore/Bush election, and so there was so much going on. There was an emotional factor on so many levels that night. It came through in the audience; it came through in the band, and everything they played that night was spectacular.

Madison Square Garden 7/8/03 was another night of sheer perfection. Thank goodness they captured that on video and officially released it. I remember looking at my friend on the way out of the show that night, asking, “We’re supposed to come back here tomorrow? How?”

The show that really sealed the deal for me with this band was my fourth show on December 8th in 1993 at the Seattle Center Arena. It was the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and they played “I’ve Got a Feeling,” and I was on the floor that night. That night was super spectacular. But back then, they only played for 90 minutes. They didn’t have that much material, but the power and the emotion sealed the deal for me.

Also, from the closing Spectrum run, October 30th, 2009, that’s another absolutely perfect night.

CHRISSIE: What can we expect from Pearl Jam’s upcoming European tour?

ROB: There’s really nothing like it. I’ve been lucky enough to see Pearl Jam in Europe many times, starting in 1996. Then I went back in 2006. My first full European tour was 2010 when we started Pearl Jam Radio on PearlJam.com. That was monumental just to be able to travel around with people and interview people before shows. I got to do it again in 2012 and had such an amazing time. In 2014, I asked myself, “How could this possibly be better than 2012?” I don’t know how they do it, but to me, it just seems like every tour outdoes the one before it. They seem to get better and better. So for fans who have never been to any shows in Europe, it’s definitely a different experience; there is a lot more energy. There are people from all over the globe getting together at these shows. It’s just such a great thing.

CHRISSIE: So do you have anything on the horizon with Pearl Jam Radio?

ROB: Right now, we are going to do a 10 club singles special over the holidays and a special on the year 1992. It’s been an interesting year. I’m glad the band took time off; it’s certainly most-deserved. There’s just so much to talk about and so much going on, and I think we need their voice REALLY badly. So I’m really hoping that something happens in 2018 with some new music from them that really says something loud.

CHRISSIE: Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to add?

ROB: Yeah, when do I get to sit down and play records with Eddie Vedder on the radio? I’m still waiting for that.

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