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"The avoiding substances of any kind is hard but, OK, it's not that hard. It's facing the devil inside you, that's the tricky bit." — Adam

Column: off the record..., vol. 15-682


TL;DR version of this OTR:

1.) I didn't just want this tour to happen, I needed this tour to happen. And U2 delivered.

2.) Edge and Adam showed up at our 20th anniversary party and ZOMFG.

There you go. This is the longest OTR in the history of OTRs -- more than 3,000 words! -- so if the above doesn't interest you, feel free to tap out right now. You'll still know what I talked about, just without all the details. We'll see you for next week's OTR, perhaps? Sherry will be writing that one.

But if you're staying in, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and find a comfortable seat.

Can I get personal here? I hope so.

I've never needed a U2 tour like I needed this one.

I've been in some really low places in the past six months since my dad died -- low places mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It impacted my home life. It affected my job performance. It interfered with my U2 fandom. There was a stretch in March/April where not a day went by that I didn't seriously think about shutting down @U2. Because life's short. Shouldn't I be spending more time with my family? Plus, I was struggling to come to terms with my dad's death and I see things like fans online complaining about setlists before the tour even begins? I was in a bad place in many ways personally, including in how I dealt with the things that running this website requires you to deal with.

And then Vancouver happened. It wasn't just the fantastic U2 shows that lifted me up; it was getting back together with my fellow @U2 staffers. My second family. Some of the best people on earth. They didn't know it then, but they were holding me tightly in their arms that whole week. I came home and told my wife I was ready to drop everything and follow the tour around North America. It was a pipe-dream and I was mostly joking when I said that, but looking back now, I know it was also a sign of how desperate I was to keep feeling what U2 helped me feel during those first two shows.

A couple weeks later, Phoenix happened -- a couple shows that I could share with my son, including Phoenix 1, my favorite show of the whole tour. No worries in the world that night, just a ton of fun.

And then Chicago 5 happened, a last-minute trip that I know God helped arrange so that I could hear "Bad" and finally say goodbye to my dad. Renewal.

And then our 20th anniversary party happened last Wednesday.

Just a day earlier, I was with my wife and kids in Pennsylvania visiting my mom. She's in poor health, currently living in a rehab facility while trying to heal and regain her strength after the two broken hips she's already suffered this year. After visiting her last Tuesday, I put my nerves aside and took my wife and kids to see my dad's gravesite for the first time. I'm glad we went, but it reopened all those old pains that I thought had been washed away. Between that, my mom's condition, and some arguments with my sister, I wasn't in a good place as we drove up to New York City on Wednesday.

Then it all came together that night: seeing my @U2 crew, connecting with @U2 readers and, of course, the surprise appearance that Edge and Adam made. It happened with my entire family there -- wife, son and daughter. My @U2 family was there -- at least about 10 of them. Our longtime @U2 friends and readers were there. It was pure joy. 

I needed this tour in the worst way, and every time I went to a show it delivered in the best way. And that's why it's already my favorite U2 tour ever.

Speaking of the party, everyone's asking the same question and the answer is "no." We had no idea it was happening. Unforgettable Fire didn't know it was gonna happen. The Cutting Room didn't know it was going to happen. I explained it to RollingStone.com already, but here's a fuller version:

When we were planning the party, we spoke with the African Well Fund (AWF) about using it to announce the results of their annual "Build A Well For Bono's Birthday" fundraiser. We also wanted to present them with a special check from @U2 using proceeds from the party itself (which we did). They came up with the idea to invite Bono to attend the party so that they could present him with the birthday card that accompanies the fundraiser every year; they presented a card to him in person during the 360 tour and hoped to do it again.

The AWF asked us if that would be possible, so we took the idea to our venue, The Cutting Room, to find out if they could handle the security and logistics involved in having someone of Bono's stature show up at our party. They told us they have a side/private entrance, they have areas that could be sectioned off for VIPs, etc. So we told the AWF to go ahead and invite Bono, and they did.

After that, we thought, Why not invite any or all of the rest of the band? So, a month or two ago, we emailed the band's publicists explaining that we were having a party for our 20th anniversary, that the African Well Fund was inviting Bono to attend for their fundraiser presentation, and that we'd happily welcome the rest of the band, too. Sherry Lawrence, our expert party planner, said something like, "Bono says U2 is perfect for weddings and bar mitzvahs -- maybe they'd like to do a birthday party, too?" She shared the security and logistics details that we received from The Cutting Room. She also mentioned that we'd have a fantastic tribute band performing whose instruments are already tuned to play U2's songs, so if any of them wanted to do a song or two, it would be easy to arrange. I think this email went out in early June, because I seem to recall Sherry mentioning that it could be an east coast version of U2's gig at The Roxy in Los Angeles in late May.

Other than something along the lines of "Thanks, we'll let you know," we didn't get a reply to that email for a long time. We didn't pester the band's PR team about it, either, because we knew it wasn't likely to happen. When U2 was playing in Boston, Sherry had a chat with our main PR contact and they talked again about the invite to our event, but we were told it was extremely unlikely that anything would happen.

I think we checked in once or twice in the last week or two before the party, including one email telling them that we had put the entire tour and management staffs on our guest list. (Sherry literally went through the back of the tourbook, typed out each name, and sent it to The Cutting Room as our guest list. I kid you not. If they all would've shown up -- hundreds of people -- we would've violated every fire code in the books!)

As the event approached, the PR team had nothing new to report. In my mind, it was a million-to-one shot, as I said to Rolling Stone's Andy Greene. Sherry was optimistic that the band would do something for our audience -- but we were thinking it might be more along the lines of a pre-recorded video, like the greeting that Bono did for the U2 Conference in 2009.

On the afternoon of our party, our main PR contact sent an email apologizing that the band couldn't join us -- it said they were unable to rearrange their schedules. But the email did mention that several of the management team and publicity staff would like to attend and they'd send a list of names as soon as possible. "As soon as possible" turned out to be 7:38 p.m., after the party had already begun. The email reiterated that the band "really wanted to come," but their schedule didn't permit it. And it had a list of nine management/publicity folks that would be showing up.

One of those nine, we were told, was an important person on Guy Oseary's team who wanted to use the side entrance and VIP area. One of the PR folks -- we'll call her Jane -- was soon to arrive, and could we give her a quick tour so they knew where the side entrance is and how to get from there to the VIP section? We could and did. Jane arrived after I introduced Unforgettable Fire, and Sherry and I gave her a quick tour of the venue as the band played.

At this point, it'll help if you understand a bit of the venue's layout: The side entrance, it turns out, actually enters right onto the main floor/lobby of the venue -- but without having to go through the front door and ticket stand. Anyone coming in via the side entrance would potentially end up right in a crowd of people, including the fans who were taking pictures in our social media photo zone. There is, however, a big staircase right at that spot where the side entrance opens into the venue -- and from that staircase you can access a fairly private, second-floor walkway away from the balconies where attendees would be enjoying the show. The walkway snakes around the venue to a balcony that we had setup as a VIP area -- we were using it as home base for our @U2 crew, since we didn't expect any VIPs to show up!

Sometime after 8 p.m., with the party going on and Unforgettable Fire playing, and after our venue tour, Sherry and I were waiting (in different spots) for the management team to arrive. We wanted to welcome them and thank them for joining us.

That's when the sh** got real.

I was standing at the base of the staircase talking to friends, positioned where I could see the front and side entrances. Sherry was somewhere else in the venue, and says this was about the time when she saw a few of the band's security guys on site.

All of a sudden, I saw Dallas Schoo coming in the main entrance and talking to the venue's ticket person for what seemed like an eternity. (It was probably only about 10 seconds, but it seemed like forever.) It took me a moment to process what I was seeing. Apparently my eyes got really big and I told the friends I was with (hi Alison!), "DALLAS SCHOO IS HERE. I HAVE TO GO." I rushed up to the ticket desk and put my hands on both Dallas and the ticket checker to get their attention and said, "He's on our list! Let him in!" I think I showed Dallas my @U2 staff shirt logo so he'd know I could help with whatever he needed. He leaned in to me and said, "Thanks! I'm gonna play a song with the band." Or maybe it was "Thanks! Can I go up and play with the band?" Or something like that. It's kind of a blur. I'm sure you understand.

I told Dallas, "Okay, I'll take you up to the right side of the stage -- that's where you need to go!" And we started walking up toward the stage. We didn't get five feet before fans started yelling "DALLAS!" and "IT'S DALLAS SCHOO!" and there were shrieks and screams and I felt a huge surge behind me as everyone that was on the main floor started following us as we went toward the stage, almost pushing us forward.

(As it turns out, we're convinced that Dallas was a decoy. Because while I was leading him to the stage and fans were surging to follow him, that area near the side entrance and staircase must've almost cleared out -- and that's when and how the band's security led Edge and Adam in, up the stairs and around the walkway to our balcony area. They walked right past our crew on the balcony and down the stairs to the right side of the stage. Tassoula saw them coming through our balcony. "That's the Edge!," she said. "Yep!," he said as he walked right past her.)

Dallas saw where he needed to go and separated from me, so I just stood in the crowd for a minute wondering what the heck was about to happen. Then I raced upstairs to find my family. "Dallas Schoo is here!," I told them. And then I hurried over to the balcony where some of the other @U2ers were. When I got there, everyone was kinda going nuts. I thought it was because of Dallas, until someone said that Edge and Adam were there. "WHAT??!! WHERE??!!," I said, and they pointed to the right side of the stage. That was the first time I was aware that Edge and Adam were in the venue.

We were all collectively losing it. As this point, you know what happens next -- it's all in the video that Sherry's husband, Steve, shot for us from the balcony. (And yes, that's our staffer Chris Endrinal saying "OH MY GOD!" about 10 times in the video.)

I spoke with Unforgettable Fire later in the evening, and they confirmed that it was a complete surprise to them, as well. You can just watch their collective reactions and it's pretty obvious how stunned they were by the sight of Dallas coming on stage, and then Edge and Adam. I'll never get tired of watching Mick dancing behind Edge in complete ecstasy, and the looks on Tony's, George's and Craig's faces during both songs. If you want to see some shocked and happy U2 fans/musicians, watch the two videos that our friends at U2BR.com recorded: one and two.

No one at The Cutting Room knew it was happening, either. Their management team was tucked away in the office as Unforgettable Fire played, and they told us later that they heard the loudest roar the venue has ever seen and had to come out to see what was going on. It was only then that they saw half of U2 playing on their stage.

The thing that really blows my mind about all of this is the planning that went into it on U2's part. The band's entrance was perfectly executed and clearly involved a lot of preparation and planning. It was distraction and judo all in one; they used our own excitement over Dallas' presence to make it easier to get Adam and Edge inside without causing utter chaos and creating a security problem. I'm honored, and I think U2 fans everywhere should be honored, that they went to all the trouble they did to make this happen -- figuring out the security and logistics and everything like that. Since it happened, I've done a little poking around and learned that it was some time ago when the band and management started seriously discussing whether and how to accept our invitation -- probably some time before Sherry's Boston conversation. This wasn't something they decided to do that afternoon. We were throwing a party for ourselves and our readers, and they came up with a plan to throw their own surprise party inside our party, and it worked perfectly.

In addition to seeing how happy Unforgettable Fire was while it all happened, I also loved seeing Edge and Adam smiling the whole time they were on stage. They were having a good time, and that means a ton to me. The whole U2 team was looking forward to it; two of our publicity contacts told us afterward how excited they were to see this happen, and how difficult it was to keep it a secret from us during their planning.

One of the other questions we keep getting asked is whether we got photos or autographs or any time with the band when it was over. The answer to that is also "no." After the band played its two songs, security hustled them back upstairs and through our balcony area, around the walkway, and then downstairs again and out the side door ... exactly how they came in. They did shake a couple hands on the way through our space -- including my son's, which was cool -- and got to hear all of us say about a million thank yous, but there was no autograph or photo session, no chat session, nothing. And we're all 1,000,000,000 percent fine with that.

Why? Because U2 didn't need to do any of this for us*. I like to think about it this way: The tour was ending in 48 hours. They'd been on the road since April. It was their last night off before everyone would get to head home -- that's often the night that the band throws a party for its tour crew. They were in New York City, where there are about a zillion things they could've chosen to do and a million VIPs that would've wanted some of the band's time. It would've been easy for them to decide to skip this request. But what did U2 do? They chose to come to a little party organized by a fansite with about 350-400 of their biggest fans. Are you kidding me? Hollywood wouldn't take that script if you pitched it to them. I keep watching all the YouTube videos and I still don't believe it happened.

(*When I say "us" above, I don't just mean @U2. I mean us and you and Unforgettable Fire and U2's online fans around the world. I really believe that this wasn't just about @U2 turning 20 years old. Sure, our party may have been the venue they chose to use, but I think the bigger picture is that this was a gift for the entire online community of U2 fans. We all celebrated it together that night -- those of us in the venue and everyone that was following online.)

Ultimately, what happened was a wonderful display of grace and kindness from a band and organization made up of first-class people. It was a generous gift of their time, attention and talents. It was magical. It was unforgettable. It was everything.

Thank you, Adam, Edge and U2.

Thank you, Dallas Schoo and the U2 tour crew.

Thank you, Guy Oseary and the Maverick team.

Thank you, RMP and Nasty Little Man (U2's publicity teams).

I can speak for the entire @U2 staff on this: It was the most beautiful sound we've ever heard.

Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.

(c) @U2, 2015.