"I can't look at the audience as a mass. It disturbs me. I have to look for individuals."
Column: off the record..., vol. 13-557
March 11, 2013
The U2 Conference is not a substitute for a U2 concert and when I first imagined having one back in 2007, I never thought of it that way. I thought of it as a unique experience for the U2 fan, student and scholar that could enhance our U2-centered lives and increase the possibilities for enjoying and understanding what U2 has done -- on its own as a band and in our lives as fans.
My time on @U2's staff had already given me a taste of how incredible it was to be connected to sharp, passionate fans 24/7 who were always ready to share a story, track down a fact, or debate whatever was the U2 topic du jour, and I wanted more. I figured that if a bunch of U2 fans got together for a weekend to explore the music, work and influence of U2, we'd encounter great conversations, make new friendships and challenge each other with our discussions about U2. It sounded to me like a great way to spend a weekend.
Oh, and we would have a lot of fun too. Because although we are a smart bunch, as far as rock fans go, and though we take our band and its calls to action seriously, we know how to let loose and enjoy what is meant to be enjoyed. We don't take ourselves too seriously. How could we, when our frontman himself likes to remind the world that he reserves the right to be ridiculous? We've been paying attention, and we do likewise.
So, when we finally had the first U2 Conference in 2009, by all accounts we accomplished what we had hoped to. Catie Serex was there and described it as "an inherent community unlike anything I have ever seen at a conference." Daniel Kline was there too. He thought "the mix of academics and fans leveled the playing field and the fans were often just as insightful as the academics."
Now it's 2013. It is a year with no U2 tour and in which the chances of getting a new album slip further away by the week. The only event this year where U2 fans will gather for a few days of music, talk and fun is the U2 Conference, and it is coming up in seven short weeks. It's not a U2 concert. It's not a new U2 album. It stands on its own. It complements -- not competes with -- "the real thing." Think of it as your preparation for the next album and tour and the place where you can finally talk with your tribe face to face about what happened to you at Red Rocks (because you were there!), or what's been on your mind ever since you first heard "Exit," or why Larry's starting an acting career now, or why, in your humble opinion, Pop is the best of all the albums. Bring your questions. Bring your stories. Bring your arguments and your passion to Cleveland, April 26-27, 2013.
We've got a great program in place and there's still plenty of time to register at the early-bird price. And, good news: Because we are in the fortunate position of having a few more additions to the schedule we plan to announce this month, we are extending the early-bird price through March 31.
Even with our successful start in 2009, I knew the U2 Conference was a work in progress, and I was keen to act on suggestions for making our sophomore effort even better. This time around, and with @U2's assistance designing and presenting much of the programming for fans, we have more sessions on topics that a wider range of fans are interested in. I was just in Cleveland a few days ago working on plans for the conference at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Marriott Key Center. Believe me: You'll love the settings and won't be at a loss for things to do. And if you were with us in Durham, N.C., in 2009, you'll appreciate the significant upgrade for our conference facilities at the Marriott hotel.
Your registration includes a two-day pass to the Rock Hall to use either during the conference days or on the Thursday before or the Sunday after our programming. With that pass comes a discount on all items in the gift shop, where there will also be a U2 Conference book table plus U2's music on CD and vinyl. You will also get a nice breakfast and lunch for two days at the Marriott and access to all our program events.
Let me give a quick overview of the program. There will be sessions with NPR's pop music critic Ann Powers, former U2 publicist Brian O'Neal, Cleveland radio legend and industry executive John Gorman, former Rolling Stone music editor and former curator of the Rock Hall, not to mention longtime friend of the band, Jim Henke.
There are more than 25 academic presentations from an international roster of fans, students and scholars. We have a unique session called U2's Sound, in which the band members of the popular NYC tribute band Unforgettable Fire will demonstrate some of what's going on when U2 take up their instruments. We will have the premiere screening of Meet Me In The Sound, a documentary on U2's international group of fans by Australian filmmaker Natalie Baker, which will also be a fundraiser event for the African Well Fund (whose directors will be there), and we will screen a new documentary about the tribute band Unforgettable Fire by Michelle Regina.
A special photo exhibit is coming to the Rock Hall; tribute band ONE will play Friday night after the day's programming is over; a private viewing of U23D for conference guests will take place in the Rock Hall's state-of-the-art Foster Theater; our after-conference party on Saturday night at the Hard Rock Café will feature a concert by Unforgettable Fire (also a fundraiser for the African Well Fund); and a U2charist service Sunday morning at downtown Cleveland's Trinity Cathedral will wrap it all up.
All of this is in store for you and we have a few more items to announce too. Plus, there will be the new friends you'll make and the serendipitous discoveries you'll have while squeezing in one more chat over coffee, at lunch, walking down the hall, late at night at the bar, in the taxi, or under the Trabants at the Rock Hall.
Yes: All of this, all of this can be yours. Just don't forget to register soon. Seating is limited and the early bird price ends March 31. Like U2 albums and tours in the 21st century, the U2 Conference comes around only every four years.
See you in Cleveland,
(c) @U2, 2013.