I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know Houston had been flooding. I woke up around 6:00am that morning in both a state of blissful delirium but also uncertain foreboding. I couldn’t sleep; a phenomenon that would reoccur mercilessly over the next several days as the needling pangs of excitement for what had happened and what could be would return to me. I checked my phone and saw an update from my sister, Nia. She told me that her flight which had been scheduled for an 8:00am departure had now been delayed two hours.
This irked me. The GA policy at the Forum was to distribute wristbands beginning at 9:00am, but only to complete parties. Even if I had a wristband, I couldn’t get one for Nia without her present. The original plan was to pick her up when she got in at 9:45am, rush over to the Forum and grab wristbands with numbers hopefully below 200. But now she was scheduled to get in at 11:30am.
I admit, I’m not very good about things deviating from plans, even due to unforeseen acts of nature. I was also antsy because it was my first time doing general admission, and I didn’t know what to expect. So in an effort to stave off uncertainty, I try to plan as much as possible. Considering how I usually am, I actually took the news pretty well. At first.
As the morning wore on (me still in bed, skimming through social media posts of the concert the night before and my poor sister stuck in an airport terminal), the news only got worse. The flight was delayed another 15 minutes. Then an hour. Then another hour.
At that point I couldn’t take it. I needed to do something instead of waiting for the news to get better. I pulled on a pair of yoga pants and a floppy pink hat and drove down to the Forum. I decided to get myself a wristband in the possibility that Nia’s flight was cancelled altogether and that I would need to attend the show alone. While waiting in line I met Novelle who had traveled from Minnesota to hear the band play and had three U2 tattoos.
I also called Ticketmaster and learned some interesting tidbits about my order. Back in December, I had actually accidentally purchased two tickets for 5/27, one on each of two credit cards. The wheels in my head started turning as I realized that Nia and I could actually enter the venue separately and then meet each other inside. This was good news.
I checked in with her periodically, thinking that if her flight got in early enough she could at least go and try to meet the band with me, but it soon became clear that that wasn’t going to happen as her flight was further delayed. In all, she didn’t miss anything. The tragic death of Dennis Sheehan, U2’s tour manager for the past 30 years, had cast a pall on the day and the evening’s festivities, and the band wasn’t in a meet & greet sort of mood.
Instead, I got to know new fans. This time I met Jeff, a devoted fan who follows the band regularly and knows most of the crew on sight and by name. He even related a conversation he had had the previous day with Mr. Sheehan and expressed his condolences during a taped local TV news interview.
I waited in the pen until about 4:00pm when the call finally came in that Nia’s flight had landed. I knew that in order for my wristband to remain valid, that I would need to be back in line by 5:00pm. At first I thought of abandoning the idea of going in separate from Nia, worried that something could go wrong with my credit card that would put her in a sticky situation, or that we would be divided between North Side and South Side and lost in the general GA shuffle. In the end, the other fan friends encouraged me, told me that with the Forum so close to LAX, that I could probably make it there and back in time to keep my spot in line. I turned the idea over in my head about twenty times, but in the end we decided to go for it.
I raced down to LAX, found her on the curb, shoved her two suitcases and guitar into the back of my Versa and sped back to The Forum. I ended up having to pay for parking twice but in all, we made it back just a hair before 5:00pm when access to the wristbanded GA line closed (I would come to learn in later days that enforcement of this rule was lax but we had no way of knowing that at the time). I took my spot in the wristband section and Nia took her place at the end of the line, a few hundred people behind me.
I texted her about 30 times, asking if she was okay and what to do if there was an issue with my credit card. I was trying to prepare for the worst, knowing that it was my duty as big sister not to lose little sister in this big town, and I worried that I was already failing.
Are you okay?
Still have my credit card?
Worst case scenario, if I can’t find you by 7:00pm, let’s just meet at the car and go home.
Are you hungry?
Okay. Remember, meet up by the car if I can’t find you.
You still have my card, right?
Stop texting me.
Did I mention that I’m a planner and that I don’t like uncertainty? But Nia was cool, more bored than anything, and a trooper after spending all day in an airport and then going straight to the venue. Finally the line started moving. I had learned through reading online forums that it’s best to pack light and bring no bags so that you can breeze through security easily and grab a spot quickly.
Down the stairs, around the corner, divided between North Side and South Side once again. Finally, inside the arena at the back of the stage, I noticed a tiny piece of untaken rail and went for it (speed walking of course. never never running). I grabbed on and grinned in triumph. On the other side of the rail near the stage, a kind security guard named Tom introduced himself. To my left, a pair of awesome rocking sisters, Carrie and Shelley, slapped me high fives as we pumped each other up for the show. Still, I kept glancing nervously over my shoulder for Nia, telling her that it was good that she kept her tennis shoes on after the flight because she needed to book it to my end of the stage.
But what I hadn’t noticed the night before was how well this show had been planned out — plenty of standing room space available and plenty of stage rail space at that! Finally I spotted Nia and called her over, we hugged, reunited and rejoiced, slapped hands again with Carrie and Shelley and waited for the show to start. During the usual pre-show chit chat, I learned more about our group, which had grown to include a traveling fan named Sara as well as Carrie and Shelley’s friends Mike and Frank.
We heard amazing stories — Carrie and Shelley’s first discovery of the band. The time Carrie got a stage tour from a roadie and a pair of Larry’s drumsticks, and also how Adam kissed her during the Elevation tour. There was a good feeling in the air, and I knew this show was going to be good but I had no idea how good.
The idea of “Sisters on Stage” had apparently been buzzing for a while, but like most people I first noticed it during one of the Phoenix shows when Bono pulled up a set of three sisters to dance with Edge during “Mysterious Ways.” I also had noticed a pattern of pulling up folks in general to dance during that song. And why not? It’s so much fun!
Carrie and Shelley had made a couple of signs, one saying “Sisters on Stage?” and then another expressing how they had been fans longer than they hadn’t been fans. The show began. We danced, we laughed, we goofed around. We waited as the show migrated from the main stage down the catwalk to the party at the B-stage at the end.
The boys came down and played what I’ve recently taken to calling my favorite song — “Until the End of the World” written as a fictitious conversation between Judas and Jesus after everything that went down between them. Musically it’s a great song, perhaps not one of U2’s most innovative or unique, but like most things that I like, I appreciate the storytelling aspect of it and the way that it delves into what must be one of the most dynamic relationships in history. But I digress.
Bono came around, working his end of the stage and spotted me and my sister. She was dancing, I was singing. He looked between the two of us and held our eyes for a full verse, then drifted away. That was exciting enough. My night was made. The fact that Bono made eye contact with me during my favorite song was more than I had hoped for going into that night’s show and I knew I could go home happy.
When “Mysterious Ways” rolled around, Nia and I knew that if we were able to show how much fun we were having, we might get the chance to join them on stage for some dancing. We did our best to look the most coordinated (Nia succeeding far more than I did), and borrowed Shelley’s sign to indicate that we were sisters. Bono saw, did a strange little pointing gesture and then walked back around the stage. “Mysterious Ways” wrapped up and the boys went into “Desire.” To be honest, I was a little bummed, thinking that we’d missed our chance to be on stage since the dancing song was over. But I was wrong.
After “Desire” finished, Bono strode back over to our end of the stage, pointed down between us and asked “Which one of you is better at the technology?”
Any thoughts I could have had to the intention of his question left me. I went on autopilot, remembering my days at Apple and thinking that someone somewhere had an iPhone question. I raised my hand. I didn’t know it at the time, but Nia also pointed to me behind my back. Bono waved me up and beside me the crowd parted to let me on stage.
It didn’t feel real when I ascended the stairs, but rather that I had fallen into another adolescent daydream. Bono took my hand while I stared out at the crowd in awe. After a moment I noticed that he was also staring at me and I turned to say “Hi.” He returned the greeting an then I lapsed into a hug.
That first hug is the only part of the ordeal that felt real. I was actually hugging Bono. I was hugging the boy-turned-man who danced a jerky awkward jig in the “I Will Follow” video that I watched in 8th grade, the rock star who pulled a crushed fan on stage and waltzed under the eyes of Wembley Stadium during “Bad” at Live Aid in 1985, the performer who wore make up and high heels and pranced on stage as MacPhisto during ZooTV. This was the same guy who told me it was a Beautiful Day back when I was just a little kid and whose voice kept me company on long lonely bus rides. I tried to put every ounce of love I’ve ever had for him into that one hug, and I hope he felt it.
I didn’t want to dawdle so I released him quickly and someone handed me an iPhone with the Meerkat app already up and running. It still felt like a daze as Bono had me test it out—panning across the crowd and back over the band. He introduced them to me, as if they needed to be introduced. Edge smiled. Larry waved. Adam blew me a kiss. It felt like every imaginary jam session I’d ever dreamt up. They were so near and so real and the feeling was indescribable.
Bono announced “Angel of Harlem” which went along perfectly with my “Rattle and Hum” T-Shirt and I bobbed and danced and grooved along with them as I did my best to pan the stage and broadcast the performance. All of them were so cool, and gracious hosts for letting me share the stage. Edge and Adam were kind enough to move out of my way as I walked backwards, oblivious to their presence. Edge did a little twist dance with his guitar, inviting me to follow him around the stage on his side. Bono directed me over to him and Larry behind drum set, possibly knowing that had I tried to venture back there on my own, Larry wouldn’t have been too pleased. As far as I could tell, Adam was the most visibly happy to see me, possibly remembering me from the front row the night before. Whenever I smiled at him, he smiled back, which made me smile even wider and the cycle continued.
At some point the song ended, Edge bowed to me and I awkwardly bowed back, still holding the phone. Bono wrapped me in a hug and kissed my cheek, which I didn’t even realize until I watched the video hours later. He asked me my name and I told him. I then babbled something about how I’d been a fan for half my life (more than that really), and thanked him. He kissed my hand and hugged me again and I popped a quick kiss on his cheek. Adam was sweet enough to hang around for a hug so I did the same for him, and also for Edge. Larry had left early to get back up stage. Bono guided me over to the stage exit and I offered him the phone, asking if he wanted it back. He laughed, saying “I don’t know what to do with that!” and then let me hand it off to a stage hand. A security guard guided me back to my spot on the rail and I collapsed onto my sister in a hug.
(The whole video, taken by Frank.)
I don’t remember much about the rest of the show, having felt my energy and excitement sucked out of me. I was certain that I had hit the peak of my U2 fandom and knew that no future show could ever be as good.
The rest of the night passed in a daze and when the lights came up people were finding me from all over the arena to take pictures and swap contact info.
Back at home, Nia showed me the video she had taken on my phone while I was on stage. I watched it about ten times just that night. I even found a bootleg video of the meerkat stream that had gone out live to viewers. Only after I watched that did it start to settle in and feel real. I couldn’t sleep. I watched “Rattle and Hum” and fell asleep at 3:00am.
I do remember one moment when they played “Bad” and Bono spoke about letting go and surrendering. In a way the overall message from this day was that despite all my planning, nothing went as it should have and yet everything turned out better than I would have imagined. It’s a lesson I’ll need to remember.