GUEST REPORTS 2013

Did you attend the U2 Conference 2013 in Cleveland, OH? Send us your recap  about your experience and we will post it below. Even if you are writing out your thoughts and posting them somewhere else, please consider pasting them into an e-mail and sending them to us too for other attendees to read and enjoy here.

We will post entries below by the date received and list them as either from “anonymous” or by your name if you tell us to use your name. Please give us clear directions for labeling your report.

Submit your 2013 report using our contact pageThanks!

04.30.13 | Angela Pancella

A chance to connect with long-time and just-met friends from around the world, a space in which conversation with complete strangers was always easy due to our common vocabulary, a great exercise for intellectual curiosity and the celebration of amazing music.

05.01.13 | Donna Lane

The mainstream sessions were fantastic: I loved listening to Bill Carter especially. Very inspirational. As I said to you when I left the Hard Rock on Saturday night, it was life changing. I’ve made friends that I know I will see on the next tour and who may, in all likelihood, remain lifelong friends. “Too much is not enough.”

04.30.13 | Anonymous

The weekend felt like a fresh start after a personally rotten six months. I feel as if I was able to find my way back to my authentic self–to rediscover what is important to me and focus on the future. So thrilled to have been a part of it. The UF2 band needs to be a permanent fixture–the house band, as it were.

05.01.13 | Michael Williams

All of the academic sessions were engaging and stimulating, however I most enjoyed Veldon Coburn’s post structural analysis of U2’s transformation from Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby. A wonderfully engaging, educational, entertaining and inspiring experience. Thank you for all your hard work and for letting me in the sound!

05.01.13 |Stacey Jaros

“Transgressing Theology: Locating Jesus in a ‘F—ed-Up World’’ was the most powerful discussion re: U2 I’ve ever witnessed. Pop is very important to me, in my fanship and personally, and it was mind-opening to consider it in the way it was presented. The ability to commune with other fans is a gift. I am thankful for the opportunity to gather together. Bill Carter and Steve Averill were powerful presenters. Well done on organizing a compelling program overall.

05.01.13 | Jo Sawatzky

I want to say what a fantastic time I had with my @U2 friends and “new” U2 friends this weekend. I met a lot of amazing people, heard inspiring and fascinating speakers and listened to some great cover band music.

I attended several of the mainstream sessions, including Jim Henke, Brian O’Neal, the UF session (which ROCKED!!! – good decision to sit in on that one!) and of course Bill Carter. I also attended the “One but not the same” academic session, as a friend of ours from @U2 forum was a presenter there. The AMP Visual session blew my mind and I ordered the “Stealing Hearts at a Travelling Show” book this morning.

In case my enthusiasm isn’t evident enough, I had the most incredible time – truly couldn’t have asked for more, imagined it being any better than it was for me. I was a very nervous, first-time-alone traveller, stepping off the plane in Cleveland not knowing what to expect. What I found was a great big family of like-minded souls, kind and compassionate; helpful and generous; funny and highly educated. Someone said, “I joined the right Tribe” this weekend. Well I, too, was with my Tribe.

A million thanks to you, your wife and all the staff, crew, @U2 staff, hotel, Rock Hall and Hard Rock Cafe personnel. Please excuse the all-caps but: BEST WEEKEND EVER!!! Thank you many times over, and hope to see you next time.

05.02.13 | Lisa Marchal

Where to begin! Bill Carter and Steve Averill were particularly phenomenal. And Unforgettable Fire – WOW. And integrating the Rock Hall & the Hard Rock – perfect. I just can’t thank you enough for such a well-run, exciting, inspiring, fun experience. I know how challenging it is to create something like this – so well done. I’m still on a high. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

05.02.13 | Joel Ian Deichmann

This is my tribe. Best conference I’ve ever been to in 15+ years as an academic. Yes, I’d like to thank Scott, his team, and the @U2 staff. I want them to know that their hard work was appreciated by everyone I talked to.

05.02.13 | Natalie Baker

The spirit of good will and positivity that came from the 2013 U2 Conference was evident from the beginning to the end – that remarkable 3 hour performance by tribute band Unforgettable Fire – a perfect way to end a celebration of the best of what U2’s music has given so many people: Love, goodwill, and hope.

05.02.13 | Jen Herl

I really enjoyed meeting so many people who love U2. We all came to this with a common interest and we all left with a bigger admiration of the band and of each other as fans. It was incredible listening to the academics discuss things that I would have never even thought about. Having access to the individuals (Bill, Jim, Steve) who know the band, had their own unique experiences with the band, and giving some insight on what goes on behind the scenes – especially Bill. And the fans that put together presentations that made us think a little deeper about the activism, the graphics, how Adam plays his bass, etc. It was the best time I’ve had since attending my last U2 concert in 2011!

05.01.13 | Anonymous

I enjoyed ever presentation I attended, I was able to get different perspectives on issues I have debated internally for years. It was a chance to hang out with U2 fans without worrying about what time gates opened. Without having to do it in lawn chairs on a sidewalk. It was a chance to see added depth and scrutiny to topics that had been pondered in many a GA line but couldn’t quite go as far as the conference allowed. What I experienced Saturday could very easily go the way of full out academic conference or a full out fan convention. Two different things. I believe that what I saw was a great middle ground of the two and would caution meddling to push it to one of them. Thanks for all your work Scott and @U2!!!

05.01.13 | Ted Trost

I liked the idea of having Unforgettable Fire discuss U2’s approach to music making. I think that was a crucial part of the conference’s success.  I welcomed the chance to see the Unforgettable Fire documentary. I liked the way the band seemed to mirror the values I have come to understand as U2’s values — particularly the emphasis on the common, almost communal, experience of music-making, and their lack of pretension. I enjoyed the times at dinner to meet and get to know people. The breaks between sessions seemed conducive to continuing conversations started in the sessions. It was good to have critics and fans together. This conference brings together academic critics of U2’s work with fans who are caretakers of U2’s legacy. The fruitful exchange that occurs within and between these two groups makes for a dynamic, inspiring conference experience.

05.01.13 | Chris Wales

I really enjoyed Steve Averill’s session. Although the topic he presented was fairly well known to the audience, the insight he gave and the details provided made it a unique experience. This really enabled me to get closer to the U2 process of working, which was very exciting. As is with all good sessions I was left with many new questions buzzing through my head. I thoroughly enjoyed the concept and delivery of the conference. I didn’t keep thinking is there a balance between academic and mainstream. Actually I think the strength of the conference is the way these strands interweave. Academics can sometimes present theoretical interpretations that remain unchallenged by a wider, experienced audience. The great thing about this conference was the possibility for wide interaction. This made the conference for me, rather than just being about academics presenting their own papers. The opportunity to interact with the group was excellent. I really appreciate all the hard work that went into this and the professional way it was delivered.

05.01.13 | Anonymous

It was truly amazing to hear Bill Carter speak about his time in Sarajevo and his interaction with U2. I read his book years ago and own a copy of the movie Miss Sarajevo.  It is just so liberating to spend a whole weekend with people to whom you do not have to apologize for thinking and talking about U2. What could be more wonderful than discussions about stimulating ideas related to U2. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

05.02.13 | Joseph Kulikowski

The conference was phenomenal. More than anything, I came away making good, new friends and strengthening my already huge obsession with U2 and their music. Honestly, the sense of community among the attendees was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.

05.03.13 | Sean Scaglione

This was my first conference and I’m still riding HIGH! It was fun, informative and professional. My U2 circle of friends in now bigger. Steve Averill was awesome! and Unforgettable Fire’s 3 hour performance was unbelievable! Here we come Dublin!!!

05.03.13 | Lisa Truhlar

I really had no idea what to expect. I heard a DJ from a “satellite” radio station talking about it. I thought it would be great to attend. I think it was “meant to be” that day. I had a fantastic time! Met some really great people, debated and thought about many topics, and heard a fantastic U2 cover band! It was a great experience to be among so many people to be excited about the same thing!!!

05.03.13 | Matthew Hamilton

The conference proved to me that there are other fans around the world crazy enough to write papers about U2. As an undergraduate student, it was really exciting for me to feel like I was part of a real academic community and become engaged in relevant discussions. It was such a thrill to find out that there is legitimate space for these sorts of discussions. The conference was inspiring and encouraging for me. It was such a phenomenal experience. The best part about it was that I got to just talk about U2 all weekend with great, super smart people. Really– the presentations were fascinating, but the best were the conversations that happened outside of the conference rooms. U2 studies is alive and exciting!

05.04.13 | Ed Montano

As a few people have already observed, I thought the mix of academic and mainstream sessions was great. This provided a refreshing contrast to the purely academic conferences I usually attend. All the presentations I attended were awesome, and it was great to hear some rigorous theoretical interpretations of U2’s work alongside the “behind the scenes” descriptions of the mainstream sessions. An inspiring, engaging, informative and educational weekend. Massive thanks to Scott and everyone else involved in organizing the conference – it’s no easy task to pull it off as smoothly and successfully as Scott did. For me, this was a great introduction to U2 studies and definitely worth the 25-hour trip from Australia.

05.04.13 | Ken Rosenberg

(As submitted to the online U2 fan group EXIT, detailing my perspective of the entire conference.)

I wanted to put into words my perspective from the recently concluded U2 Conference. I know there are several on this list who wanted to go, but for whatever reason could not. After the Raleigh conference in 2009, it appeared the conference was a valuable use of time, if not for learning, but also for the social aspect. Of course, one of the highlights of that conference was attending an actual U2 concert during the event.

I still don’t have a satisfactory answer for why I decided to go. The conference is organized by an academic who uses U2 in the classroom and it’s largely organized for academics to present their papers on some aspect of U2 analysis. Indeed, attending some of those presentations reminded me heavily of being back in college. Did I really want to expand my U2 knowledge with someone else’s interpretation of cultural identity as influenced by a rock ‘n roll group?

Regardless, I decided I wanted to attend before the agenda was even posted. I bought my airplane tickets to Cleveland and booked a room immediately after registering as to ensure I didn’t back out. As the date got closer, and the e-mail notices of schedule enhancements arrived, I started to look forward to the conference more and more.

The conference was relatively short: only two days, a Friday and Saturday and the sessions were spread out. At this conference, the majority of the schedule for the first half of the day was in the hotel and the second half was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which was about 4 or 5 blocks away. Nonetheless, the festivities begun on Thursday night as people met up in an Irish pub (an organized event). It was rewarding to walk into the pub and immediately recognize (and be recognized) by 10 or so people. I was quickly introduced to some people I did not know, and within a few minutes we’re all drinking and talking like we’ve known each other for years.

After breakfast on Friday, the sessions began. Each attendee had a choice of sitting in one of two academic break-out rooms (with three speakers each), or going to the “mainstream” session as sponsored by our friends at @U2. There was clearly room hopping as people came and went with frequency.

The “mainstream” sessions were more meaningful to me because they each revolved around some person who has been involved in the business side of U2. The first one was Jim Henke, who was of course a writer for Rolling Stone before he became the VP and Chief Curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. This was a moderated conversation where he was interviewed by Tassoula Kokkoris of @U2. The second mainstream session involved an interview with Brian O’Neal (by Matt McGee), who was involved in marketing and public relations for U2 in the United States since the Rattle and Hum campaign in the ‘80s. Both speakers provided insights and valuable information that I simply hadn’t considered before. More importantly, when they told their stories, you were placed right there in the hotel room, the studio, or backstage with the band as meaningful events occurred.

After lunch, we were treated to longtime Australian fan Natalie Baker’s documentary “Meet Me in the Sound.” The documentary was not completed, but it was very interesting. It was focused on several angles of U2’s influence on individual people’s lives. One of my favorite parts was when a former disc jockey was filmed saying that even though she was an educated woman, she was learning about global problems through a rock and roll band. An interesting perspective given that’s how I felt when I was introduced to Amnesty International because of U2.

After a break and a transition to the Hall of Fame (and enough time for a very fast run through), Bill Carter took center stage in a little theater on the 4th floor of the Rock Hall. I didn’t have a great appreciation for him as I had not read his book (Fools Rush In), nor seen his documentary called Miss Sarajevo. I was blown away. In a very intimate report, he described what it was like in Sarajevo, trying to avoid being killed by missiles and sniper fire. I believe he said he was 27 years old at the time and he just had to find a way to bring what was happening there to the attention of the world. Although he was a fan of U2’s music, he had no connections. He went on to describe how he essentially talked his way into an interview with Bono and convinced him to broadcast live during the ZooTV shows in Europe. These would not be scenes of carnage, but real citizens describing their stories within a few minute block. An emotional show killer if there ever was one. Importantly, he described his intense interactions with the band in intimate details affirming everything I thought I knew about U2 as people. It was as serious a conversation as I’ve ever heard about the role they play in informing the world. As the DJ said, we are learning about problems not on the news, but from a rock concert. This was definitely a highlight of the conference.

After the heaviness of the Bill Carter’s talk, we had a break to tour the Rock Hall and then return to the theater for a showing of U23D. For a little theater, it sure had a great sound system. I sat in the back row, knowing that when Streets came on, I wouldn’t have been able to control myself. I’d have to get up and dance. I wasn’t alone. People went their separate ways for dinner, but many of us met again at a pub and listened to a cover band called “One.” The best I’ll say about that experience is that the drinks were inexpensive. The party continued back at the hotel.

The next day, Saturday, I figured I’d miss the first mainstream session for some extra sleep as it was described by the schedule as “U2’s Sound Explained for Non-Musicians: Featuring Unforgettable Fire.” UF was the tribute band that was going to play at the Hard Rock Café in the evening. As fate would have it, I was up much earlier than I had anticipated. I wondered over to the session about 15 minutes late, having missed breakfast. UF was clearly on a roll as I opened the door to the conference room and the audience was laughing hysterically. The band was set up on a long raised platform sitting in big comfortable chairs that looked like they belonged in a living room. They had their equipment set up. I took a seat in the back and tried to catch up with what I had missed. The band members were taking turns answering questions (some clearly asked by musicians, most asking about what it’s like or their motivation to pretend to be U2).

What I took away from this session was that these four men, who don’t even live near each other, never rehearse together except for immediately before a gig, is that they have a love for U2 just like we do. Whatever inspiration you have gathered through the years, whatever pain U2 has helped ease, these talented musicians are right there with you. They are a tight bunch of family men who passionately love performing U2 songs.

The next session I wasn’t simply an observer, but an actual participant. Scott Calhoun, the conference’s organizer, experimented with a breakout session called “Stories for Boys and Girls.” Prior to the conference, he sent out an e-mail to attendees claiming that much of the U2 passion we all share is due to the “tribal” nature of the fans. He asked us, if we’re willing, to submit a U2 story that is personal in nature. There weren’t any parameters; there was just the request to share. I selected one emotional story of my own, transcribed and submitted it. A couple weeks later, I was notified that I had been selected, along with about 8 other people, to share my story. Immediately before the event, it was clear that they were worried if anybody would even show up to listen. But the little room was full.

As I was sitting in the front with the other story tellers, I noticed Tono from Unforgettable Fire was in the back of the room. I thought that was interesting as he was attending the conference with us! When it came time for me to tell my story, as it’s about the death of my grandfather, the way “A Sort of Homecoming” got me through the pain, and a mystical reappearance of grandpa in Israel a few months later to help me out of trouble, I naturally came close to tears in its telling. It had been so long since I had told that story. Indeed, the only people that had ever heard it were family members. After the session was over, many people came up to me to thank me for sharing and provided me with meaningful and necessary hugs. Tono came up and asked a few questions of his own and told me he’d dedicate “A Sort of Homecoming” to my grandfather at the show later that night. Word got out, because during lunch people were retelling my story to others at their tables and people who hadn’t even attended the session were amazed at what had happened to me.

Even though this sounds odd, the next session, for all attendees, was a documentary on the tribute band Unforgettable Fire. Originally I had planned on ditching that session and going back to the Rock Hall to have a more complete tour of the exhibits. But after seeing them in the morning session and having a personal one-on-one talk with Tono, I decided that I should watch the film. I’m very glad I did. In essence, it was a documentary about their founding, an introspective about each band member (complete with interviews with their spouses and significant others), film of them in their actual day jobs, all interspersed between live shots of them on stage. It was cute, humorous, and worth watching. It also made them one of us which is important to their success.

Back at the Rock Hall for the final session was an interview/presentation by Steve Averill, the designer of most of the U2 albums. He used a slide show to display photos of the inspiration for each album cover. For example, October was inspired by Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ cover, complete with the name of the songs on the front cover. Achtung Baby was inspired by The Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street album. We learned that the rough/textured surface behind Peter Rowen on the War album was a piece of crumpled rusted sheet metal that Steve Averill himself had found out in the street and was holding up as a backdrop. We also learned that they didn’t see the cut on Peter’s lip until they had developed the film, but they thought it added depth to the image. We learned that the cover of Under a Blood Red Sky was originally a very clear photo, but the process of turning the background red (pre-computers) made the image of a kneeling Bono a silhouette and made the cover more dramatic. It was at once interesting and captivating. All stuff I had no idea of. The Hall of Fame live-streamed both the Bill Carter and the Steve Averill sessions.

And just like that, the official conference came to a close. The only thing that was left was a quick rest and The Unforgettable Fire performing at the Hard Rock Café later that evening. Many attendees actually had dinner there. Then the Hard Rock cleared out the restaurant, the band had about 30 minutes of sound check, and we re-entered with our tickets (which doubled as a donation to The African Well Fund). I have to admit, even though the band was amazing, it took me about 45 minutes or so to fully submerge myself into the music. It was odd seeing a guy, Tono, who actually resembles Bono in looks and mannerisms, perform. But everything changed when a dedication to “Grandpa” and the performing of “A Sort of Homecoming.” I was ecstatic. It was like a dream. After the song, which I’m confident was the point in the night when I lost my voice, I ran up on stage and gave Tono a huge emotional hug. After that, it was U2 in front of me. The sound, the look, the fans, and a fantasy. It was U2 playing a very small night club. The band members leaving the stage for songs at a time to surround themselves by the crowd as they played or sung. It’s the U2 experience I had always dreamed about. They were even taking requests. Playing songs from memory flawlessly and proudly. They introduced many of them as “we haven’t played this in years” and broke into huge smiles. They were one of us. We were them. Eventually, we got kicked out of the place. After 3 hours and 15 minutes (with only one five minute break…really!), the band closed the show to “40” and many people singing along with hoarse voices. I spoke with the guitarist after the gig, and he said that had never happened before. They had never played in a room that swallowed them up completely and filled them with joy the way we had. They didn’t want to stop. He even showed me the blisters on his fingers and said, “Oh well. That will heal!”

What a way to end the conference! Everybody giving each other hugs…becoming new Facebook friends, expanding our circle of U2 fans to meet up during the next tour. While I still don’t know why I signed up to attend, I know that I’m glad that I did. Everything I thought I knew about the band is true. I heard it from people on the inside. U2 are wonderful human beings. And so are their fans.

05.04.13 | Ed Montano

Having only attended purely academic conferences in the past, I loved the mix of fans and academics – indeed, I was surprised by the number of fans that attended just to hear presentations. Definitely the most inspiring, engaging and informative conference I have ever attended, and everyone was super friendly. Definitely worth the 25-hour trip from Australia! Great sessions and presentations, awesome crowd of people, great location, Rock Hall of Fame, etc. – perfect! What more could you ask for?! [ hr]

05.05.13 | Tim Neufeld

As an academic, I go to a lot of conferences. This is by far the strangest I’ve ever been to, but in all the best ways. This gathering is a perfect blend of pop culture and scholarship. The U2 Conference is a thoughtful, creative, imaginative breath of fresh air in a world of mindless fan events and abstract academics. More conferences like this that fuse theory and practice are desperately needed. Well done!

05.13.13 | Philip Kirschner

Being around 130 other people that “get it” was great. Hearing stories from the speakers who participated first-hand with the band was so compelling considering the impact their work has indirectly had on my life over the years.

05.14.13 | Jennifer Schaefer

I have to echo Tim Neufeld’s comments about the conference as a whole– it was a wonderful blend of praxis and academics (which I think are reflective of the subject matter themselves). I tremendously enjoyed the combination of experience (UF, films, Rock Hall) and intellect. Reminds me of a line: “head in heaven, fingers in the mire” (but a good mire :-) ).

 05.16.13 | Beth Nabi

The U2 Conference was an opportunity to engage with like-minded and like-hearted people. It’s fascinating to see and hear so many new ideas, impressions, interpretations and explorations of I band I thought I already knew pretty intimately. The chance to share emotional and intellectual connections about my favorite band created the same high as being at a concert. The conference is yet another celebration of U2, but with much less sidewalk sleeping.