What it was like to meet U2’s Bono & Edge

On Friday, June 22, 2018, I met Bono and The Edge from U2 on a sidewalk (of sorts) in Boston.

This is a moment I never thought would happen and one that I still can’t believe actually did.

Know that I’m coming it this from the perspective of a GIANT U2 fan and I’m sharing this story because it’s a lesson in never giving on your dreams.  I’m also sharing it because I think it’s amazing that Bono and Edge did this  (meet fans before a show) because they certainly didn’t have to.

How did I come to meet U2 on this particular day? Well in part thanks to Instagram. But hold that thought for just a moment and let me tell you, briefly, about my love for U2 and how it all began.

A thousand years ago in the early-ish days of MTV I saw this video and couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. I immediately bought a copy of the “Under a Blood Red Sky” EP and soon after “War,” “October” and “Boy.” My love for this band was instantaneous and immense. There’s a handful of junior high friends out there that might remember the sleepover when this clip came on MTV and I acted out Bono’s flag-raising and lip-synced along like it was the most important moment of my entire life.

The first time I saw U2 live was on “The Unforgettable Fire” tour. To this day, that first time seeing U2 live was one of the greatest night of my life. Since then I’ve seen thousands of concerts and I’ve seen U2 about a dozen times through the years. But that first time…my oh my.

Then of course there was last summer when I saw them on the 30th anniversary tour for “The Joshua Tree.” That too was one of the greatest nights of my life. You can read about it here.

OK so getting back to that moment in Boston on June 22 of this year. I got wind of the fact that members of U2 would sometimes come out and say hi to fans before shows by way of Instagram Stories. An ember started burning in my mind and since my buddy Colin and I were already going in early to Boston to secure a “good number” in the general admission floor seats line, I mentioned to him about what I had seen on social media and said something along the lines of  “Um, maybe we should see if this is happening when we go to Boston.” He was of course totally on board.

On the day of the show we arrived in Boston via the Amtrak Downeaster at around 11 a.m. and immediately acquired the all-important numbered bracelets. Then we were able to establish where to go to wait in case the miracle of the band actually stopping to say hello was going to happen.

In a medium-sized paved area by what I’ll call the “artist entrance” to the colossal TD Garden we came across about 25 fellow U2 fans. They were all very friendly and helpful and they included Rebecca from San Francisco, Maggie from Rhode Island,  Leah from Australia and Josie from The  Netherlands.

It was a bit of a downer to hear that the day before (night one of the two nights of Boston shows) that the make-shift meet & greet didn’t happen because the band was running late. But still we persisted because a. today was a new day and b. what else we were doing ? Colin and I had packed water and snacks and it was really fun trading stories with other huge fans about previous shows and such.

And the hours passed…

A few fans knew the deal from previous stops on the tour and told us that the first thing we needed to keep an eye out for was U2’s head security guy who, if this thing was going to happen, could at some point appear to survey the scene.

Somewhere around 3 p.m. he did indeed appear and this was the first moment I experienced a massive rush of nervous excitement and the first moment that I thought to myself “holy shit, this might actually happen.”

From there it was a lot of “hurry up and wait” and as the minutes ticked on I went in and out of losing hope and just staying calm and present.

More and more security personnel started assembling and some barriers were put up on either end of the  line of fans and a black rope was stretched in front of us .

And now it’s 4:45 going on 5 p.m. and there are maybe 200 of us out there. I can’t deal at all.  My new pal Rebecca and I both enabled one other’s stress and talked ourselves out of it and reminded ourselves that no matter what happens, we were going to see a spectacular concert in a few hours and all would be OK.

Then right around 5 p.m. two miracles occurred. A pair of huge black Escalades pulled up, doors were opened and out popped Edge and Bono.

As you can only imagine, I am beside myself at this point.

Here’s the moment of Bono’s arrival:

Bono arrives to say hello to fans in Boston on 6.22.18
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Bono walked right by me and made his way to the far right side of the line and Edge made his way to the far left. I was pretty much smack dab in the middle.

Everything was happening pretty quickly at this point and yet time also stood still.

I looked to my left and saw Edge approaching and I looked to the right and Bono was getting closer. With my heart in my throat I started snapping photos and here’s a collage of the scene unfolding right in front of me of their approaches as well as some pics I snapped when they were literally RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME along with a”I couldn’t help myself” selfie once I had had my moment with them:

u2 and me collage
U2’s Bono and Edge in Boston on 6.22.18
Photos by a very excited Aimsel Ponti

If I never take another photo for the rest of my life I think I’ll be OK because I managed to get this one:

Edge and Bono
U2’s Edge and Bono are all smiles as they greet fans in Boston, MA on 6.22.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Colin and my new friends and I all shared photos with one another and I’m very thankful because otherwise I wouldn’t have these two to share. The first one is the moment I shook Bono’s hand. I knew full well that if I was able to speak with him at all it would be very brief. I also knew that an autograph wasn’t something I needed to ask for. Honestly, I just wanted to shake his hand.

And so the moment came and I said hello and asked if I could shake his hand. He said hello and something like “of course” and we did indeed shake hands. I had not planned what I was going to say to him. What came out was “Thank you. I guess I’ve waited for this moment for 35 years.” This was for me all I needed to say to one of my heroes. I also got to say thanks and get a handshake with Edge.

bono handshake with ALP
The moment of shaking hands with Bono after just doing the same with Edge in Boston on 6.22.18.
Photo by a fellow U2 fan

This other photo I couldn’t believe when it was texted to me. Someone (was it you, Colin?) managed to get this shot of the back of me with Edge and Bono smiling at me and honestly, I can hardly look at this without my heart growing about 1,000 times bigger and I get a little teary too, such was the gravity of the moment.

Edge and Bono
Edge and Bono smiling at yours truly in Boston, MA on 6.22.18.

A few minutes after all these photos were taken I called my spouse Tracy back in Maine and told her, with my voice shaking, that I had just met Edge and Bono and then, for real, I started crying.

I thought about it later and realized the tears came from many places but were mostly because I have loved this band so much for so long that it was almost an existential moment to actually meet them. Along with David Bowie, they are a primary reason that my life has centered around music for so long. They’re one of the reasons why I am a music writer. They’re one of the reasons that music is essential to both my happiness and sanity.

So in as much as Edge and Bono are just humans like the rest of us, for me they’re also something else. They represent  what it feels like as a 14 year old kid to love a band’s music so much that you know  that you’re going to feel that way forever.

When I stood there in Boston and shook their hands I was 14 again. But I was also 40-something me. And as I sit here and finish this post nine days after the moment happened, I’m again overcome with emotions. And that’s the crux of it isn’t it? Feeling that emotion, acknowledging that despite years of being a writer, at the end of the day I’m still a fan who loves music and really loves the band from Dublin, Ireland called U2.

As for the concert later that night,  it proved that they’re still the best live band out there.

Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. of U2 performing live in Boston at the TD Garden on 6.22.18.
Photo by Aimsel Ponti

Thanks for taking the time to relive this moment with me. It truly meant everything to me and if you’re a music fan at all, I know you get it.

Ponti out

Creating intimacy with 50,000 fans: The brilliance of U2 on the 2017 Joshua Tree tour

It’s been 48 hours since I saw U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on June 25, 2017.

Still tired yet still smiling, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in my newly purchased U2 t-shirt and hoodie and have finally figured out what I want to say about the concert experience of Sunday night.

So much has already been said about this band and about this tour that’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of their magnificent album, The Joshua Tree. So much has already been said about how U2 is one of the greatest bands that the world’s ever known. So much has already been said about how their live shows are pretty much a religious/spiritual experience. So much has been said about Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry.

So what can I add to the conversation? First I’ll mention some cool technical stuff that I received from the band’s publicists and then I’ll talk about the personal impact the show had on me.

But first, here’s a collage of photographs that I shot during the show with my iPhone. My friend Colin and I are hardcore fans and we had field seats.  We got to the show before noon and spent a heck of a lot of time standing in assorted lines. But the end result is we were just a few feet from the “tree” stage that extended out from the main stage. Said another way; holy shit we were right up front.

U2 at Gillette Stadium on June 25, 2017Photos by Aimsel Ponti
Photos by Aimsel Ponti of U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. 6.25.17.

So back to the cool technical stats that I think are worth sharing:

The stat: Dutch photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn whose iconic photos are part of the original “Joshua Tree” album went back to Death Valley and Zabriskie  Point among other spots to produce a new series of films that are projected behind the band in jaw-dropping 8K resolution on a 200 x 45 foot screen behind the band as they played.

My comment: I’ve never seen anything so massive and so spectacular. It added a whole other layer of depth and meaning to the show.

The stat: A specially commissioned film by French artist J.R. accompanied “Miss Syria” (originally titled “Miss Sarajevo”) was shot at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. This is home to 80,000 Syrians who were forced to flee their country.

My comment: To see such devastation on such a large scale was overwhelming. The film was shown while the band played “Miss Syria” and what’s more, a giant tapestry of a refugee woman that was probably 50 square feet was passed over and among the crowd on one side of the stadium. Incredible. Moving. Real.

The stat: Creative director for the tour is Willie Williams and he has been U2’s show designer on every tour since 1983.

My comment: Willie, you’re a genius. My first U2 show was at the end of 1984 and this most recent one was my 7th. They’ve all had different layers of brilliance.

The stat: The Joshua Tree tour stage is 200 x 40 ft and it is almost the full width of a stadium

My comment: Holy bananas. It was huge and it was perfect, especially with the backdrop.

The stat: The stage set features the largest un-obscured and highest resolution LED video screen ever used in a touring show.

My comment: Leave it to U2 to take it to a whole other level of multi-media awesomeness. This screen was from another planet. Incredible.

The stat: The screen is make up of 1,040 individual video panels. The 200 x 45 ft custom built screen is painted to look like a golden piece of cardboard and features a silver Joshua Tree. The tree extends above the screen and becomes the visual centerpiece of the show.

My comment: A feat or artistic and engineering mastery. I can’t even…

The stat: The B stage that extends into the audience from the main state is a perfect shadow of the tree that’s part of the screen.

My comment:  Yep, they did that.

The amount of thought, design work, carpentry, electronic wizardy and all around technical magic is awe-inspiring. It’s not over the top, it’s not too much, it’s perfect and glorious. U2 doesn’t need any of this stuff. The first time I saw them was on the “Unforgettable Fire” tour and I don’t remember anything other than maybe a simple video screen. But they are all about being on the cutting edge of what can be done. And they do it so well. And what’s more, in the context of a giant stadium show, it very much added to the experience.

So how was the show? Actually, that’s not the right question I should be asking myself. Because yes, the show was INCREDIBLE. And being right up front was all the more special. The show was transcendent. The show brought me to tears. The show made me dance and made me sing and shout and feel just about every emotion a human can feel.

The right question came to me a few hours ago. Actually a slew of questions and  here they are:

Did this show make me feel the way I felt when I first saw U2 as a teenager? Did it make me feel the way I did all those years ago when U2 were to me essentially larger than life gods? Did the show remind me of why I’m a music writer? Did the show remind me of why there are few things more important to me than music? Did the show keep me in the moment and out of my own often tormented head? Did the show reach right inside my heart? Did the show make me feel connected to everyone else there? Did the show make me genuinely care about the welfare of others? And when the show started with Larry Mullen Jr. walking over to his B stage drum kit and launching into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” did I feel a tremendous wave of love for this band crash over me that it was all I could to do hold myself together?

Did it do all that?

Here’s my one word review of the entire show:

Here’s the set-list: Sunday Bloody Sunday,  New Year’s Day, Bad, Pride (In the Name of Love), Where the Street Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,  With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running to Stand Still, Red Hill Mining Town, In God’s Country,  Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill, Exit, Mothers of the Disappeared, Miss Sarajevo (Syria), Beautiful Day, Elevation, Vertigo, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), One, The Little Things That Give You Away (new)

I’ll end with a compilation video of several song clips I shot from my to-die-for spot on the field. Editing props as always to my pal Shamus Alley.


Final thoughts:

THANK YOU U2 for a night I’ll never forgot. When you sang “Where the Streets Have No Name” I thought of my late father-in law. When you sang “Bad” I thought about a lot of things; both painful and beautiful. And when you sang “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” which is my favorite Achtung Baby song while images of powerful women who have made history in so many ways scrolled across that giant screen I cheered with everything I had.

Yeah, you sure do keep me hanging on.