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Ament talks skate parks, Pearl Jam dreams


Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Thane Morin skates Saturday at the skate park in Big Sandy during the Sixth Annual Big Sandy Pig Roast SK8 Jam. The jam is a benefit for the Big Sandy skate park, was paid for through a foundation started by former resident Jeff Ament, bass player for Pearl Jam. Skaters came from all over the state to jam in the park.

Pearl Jam bass player and skate park advocate Jeff Ament spent Saturday hanging out in his hometown of Big Sandy by one of the many skate parks he's built in Montana.

Ament and friends celebrated at the all-day event The Sixth Annual Big Sandy Pig Roast SK8 Jam, eating local slow-roasted pork, skateboarding and talking with friends. Meanwhile, the pool near the skate bowl was packed with laughing children and parents looking for a way to mitigate the effects of the blazing sun.

Ament had been traveling the West with a group of friends and Saturday was the tail end of a long trip.

"It's sort of the pinnacle, usually of a trip that we do every year," he said. "We do, like, a four to five-day trip, where there's about 10 cars caravanning, about 30 of us, and we usually end up here, and we usually try to hit a couple of new parks."

Ament embraced the implied responsibility that comes from his familiarity with Montana.

"I sort of feel like I get to be a tour guide for people that are living in the city and bring them out to the rural area, and blow their minds with the big sky and the open space," he said.

His musical career has taken him far from his home town, with tours throughout the United States and around the world - the band's website says it has played 967 shows - but he always comes back.

Ament, who spent the first 18 years of his life in Big Sandy, said Montana and, specifically, Big Sandy, will always be home.

"All the things that form me largely come from here. My dad had a farm, I spent every summer working on big wheat farms," he said. "Had a really great group of friends growing up - I was a decent football player, basketball player and, you know, small town, so you kind of do everything. On a typical day, I'd finish school, go to football practice, come and ride the ramp for two hours and go to sleep, maybe not do as much homework as I was supposed to."

In a typical year, he said he spends half of it in Montana, a good portion of that in Missoula, where he has a home. At 54, he said, he prefers to spend winter in a warmer climate, and that's a requirement Montana does not meet in winter months.

In addition to Big Sandy's skate park, Ament has funded the construction of and improvements to skate parks in Missoula, Browning, Hays and Havre. He has plans to make that list longer.

"We're going to build a park on the Rocky Boy reservation next year. That's probably one of the first things. We finally have a spot locked in," he said, adding Livingston may also see an Ament skate park next year.

Havre is on Ament's radar as well.

"We might add something onto Havre, maybe add something onto here. Maybe," he said. "I keep poking around the state. ... I've been trying to get ahold of somebody in Wolf Point 'cause I hear there's a group of skaters there."

Ament talked about skate culture and why it matters.

"Part of it is getting kids outside. And the other great thing about skateboarding is that it's so much cross-culture going on. There's a lot of do-it-yourself activities in skateboarding. People make their own board, they make their own ramps, make their own T-shirts. Art is really a huge part of skate culture. Half the people who are here from out of town have their own little companies," he said, before rattling off a list of people and pointing at several former skating professionals who were enjoying themselves under a large tree between the pool and skate park.

Ament said skating is innately demanding and doesn't suffer imbalance.

Havre Daily News/Floyd Brandt

Big Sandy native Jeff Ament, bass player for Pearl Jam, talks Saturday during Sk8 Jam at the skate park his foundation paid for. Ament, who skated in Big Sandy and Havre before leaving to find his fortune as a musician, has helped build skate parks throughout the state including Havre, Hays, Browning, Stevensville, Great Falls, Polson and Missoula.

"There's sort of a line that's drawn that doesn't allow you to overdo alcohol and drugs because it's a balance for it. And I think, if anything, it probably helps kids not do that stuff because it's an inhibitor to being good at it."

And Pearl Jam performing in Montana, he said, it's on the bucket list, and it's something he dreams about.

The band has played in Bozeman and six times in Missoula - in 2005 as a fundraiser for fellow Big Sandy native Jon Tester when he was then a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and again in 2012. The 5,100 tickets for the 2012 show in the University of Montana Adams Center sold out in 15 minutes. He said he would like to come back.

"Possibly," Ament said. "I have dreams about it. I mean real dreams. We had proms and stuff with live bands in the gym. Things happen in your dream world where, usually there's some stressful thing where the power is not working right. You're running around, the band's getting mad at you."


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