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Mill Valley teen plays drums with Pearl Jam at Oakland Arena

Mill Valley teen plays drums with Pearl Jam in concert
Mill Valley teen plays drums with Pearl Jam in concert 02:57

MILL VALLEY – A North Bay teenager is enjoying a moment in the sun after being invited to play drums with the legendary band Pearl Jam at an Oakland concert. 

When Kai Neukermans starts playing a rhythm, striking the snare, tom, bass and ride cymbal, he enters a zone.

"I get to let all my stress out on the drums, hit it as hard as I want," explained Neukermans.

There's a fiery flow as his hair flies in all directions while he plays. 

"One of the greatest feelings in the world for me is to play drums it makes me happy," he told KPIX 5.

Countless hours of practice paid off Friday night when Pearl Jam needed someone to fill in for its drummer Matt Cameron, who had tested positive for COVID. 

The band had a couple of musicians cover the drums for the majority of the show. Duties were mostly split between former Red Hot Chilli Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, whose band Pluralone was opening, and Oakland drummer Richard Stuverud, who has a long history playing with Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament. However, the group was also reaching out to fans to find players who might be able to close out the shows for a single song.

"My heart started racing when everyone started screaming and my heart skipped a beat," said Neukermans.

That electric moment playing "Mind Your Manners" in front of 20,000 screaming fans happened because of a decade of dedication to drums.

Kai's band the Alive got a chance to meet Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder and his daughter at a music festival years ago.  

24 hours before the concert, a hopeful text to Vedder's daughter asking for a chance to fill in set off a scramble to video what amounted to an audition clip, paving the path for the band's blessing to join them onstage for a one-of-a-kind magical moment. 

"I tried to stay as focused as possible and watch the other band members and just trid not to look at the crowd because it was freaking me out," he said.

KPIX 5 met up with Neukermans at San Rafael music shop A Drummer's Tradition because the teen's neighbors have been complaining about the noise coming from his garage. 

"I play in my room with my electronic kit so it doesn't bother the neighbors as much. Because I've had many complaints about the noise, even with the electronic kit," Neukermans said. "But I still play every day." 

A plastic toy drum set his parents gave him as a kid, inspired this now teenage talent to dedicate his energy, enthusiasm and everything to produce a captivating sound and beat.

His classmates at Mount Tamalpais High in Mill Valley were shocked to learn about his brush with fame.  

"The whole class was looking at me when I walked in and they were like, 'No way!'" Neukermans exclaimed.

And so is the music world.

"I'm just gonna keep working on the music and see how it can go; hopefully have it as my job one day," he said.

The teen and his band are already taking some serious steps. The Alive are scheduled to play BottleRock in Napa later this month.

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