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"It's an extraordinary thing, I will admit, to have [U.S. Sen.] Jesse Helms to throw a lunch for you. You know it's bad for both of our images." — Bono

Springhill singalong goes ahead without U2

Group sends regrets for missing tribute
Chronicle Herald

In the end, the world's biggest band didn't show up in small-town Nova Scotia.

For most of the people in Springhill, though, the lack of an appearance by Irish rock supergroup U2 at the town's tribute to the band and its rendition of The Ballad of Springhill was a small setback on what was an otherwise beautiful day.

A day after the band played before 75,000 people in Moncton, hundreds gathered in downtown Springhill for festivities that included music in Lions Park, festive banners on telephone polls and mine tours.

The Dublin band's music played in the parking lot of the local grocery store, where a window display, dunk tank and liberal use of green, white and orange greeted visitors.

Alfred Legere, who helped organize the day, said he was pleased with the way the community came out in force to showcase its spirit.

"I'm tickled pink that there's a spirit of happiness here today," Legere said. "The Ballad of Springhill is not a happy song, our story is not a happy story. But the fact that U2 puts us on the (map) across the planet with this song should be a source of pride for our community."

He sees the promotion of local music as a way of continuing to encourage and develop community pride and spirit.

There was a rattle and hum of activity in this normally sleepy town; parking spots were full and a police officer stopped traffic when necessary to help people cross the street.

Springhill's connection to the band stems from 1987, when U2 performed The Ballad of Springhill on the Joshua Tree tour.

The song, by folksingers Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, commemorates the Springhill bump in 1958. Seventy-five miners died and the tragedy thrust Springhill into the history books and international spotlight.

With their performance of the song, U2 helped put Springhill back in the spotlight, this time for more positive reasons.

Who, then, could blame the town for wanting to lay claim, however small, to Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton?

When the Moncton concert was announced on a rescheduled final leg of the band's 360 tour after Bono's back surgery, people in Springhill saw it as the perfect opportunity. An invitation to visit was extended to the band and town officials planned to make them honorary citizens of Springhill, with or without an actual appearance.

A mass singalong of The Ballad of Springhill highlighted Sunday's events. Bono sang a verse of the song to thunderous applause at Saturday's show. Although U2 didn't make the singalong (the band's management contacted organizers on Saturday to pass along thanks and regrets), a lesser-known musician did.

Albert Burke, 100, was a coal miner in River Hebert, Cumberland County. He had a connection to the mine in Springhill, and just last year, looking for yet another way to keep busy, started writing songs. One was about the bump of 1958.

"We lost 75 guys in that mine that day. Well, 25 of them were my best friends," Burke said in an interview. "We played hockey together, went to school together, played baseball and things like this. So I wrote the song in memory of them and the other ones, too."

He said he thinks it is wonderful what the town is doing and believes it is important to keep the memories of the town's history alive.

As the show in Moncton drew closer and press from the Maritimes and beyond looked for story angles, Springhill's U2 day received attention in papers, on the radio and on TV at the local and national levels. Even on this day, there was a steady stream of vans with familiar station logos rolling through town.

Coun. Norman Rushton may have put it best when he said (to borrow from another well-known U2 lyric) perhaps some things are even better than the real thing.

"How could we be disappointed? We've had more attention in the last two weeks than we've had since 1958. And it's all been good."

(c) Chronicle Herald, 2011.