Chef Gary Stevenson’s Reflection on U2’s American Pie

Please join us for a live cook-along event as part of the 2020 U2 Conference. Our American Pie session will be on Saturday at 3:30pm EST. Registration is here. A recipe for preparing in advance to make Gary Stevenson’s U2’s American Pie is here.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is qxvjTnFW3PiRlEiTpE8R5Xfo8QAJiN-r4aTei4KM6iJ9LkDze5B-4hB4D0qda-PzbT0hDNGCa5s7T3bGpxWl9YKUO8fPQ_jWa3634NO-5AjMOSpLF3NRzIxu_iHeDpAS7Nx8fU1n

Nothing says America like Apple Pie and Fried Chicken. Combining those two classic American dishes would be all you would need to capture the culinary soul of America. But just like U2’s music, there is much more to this dish than meets the eye. Inside it’s America.

U2’s American Pie: A Culinary Reflection

If the long messy journey of what we now know as America becoming America had a flavour, what would it taste like? What would it look like? What dish would capture the complex and diverse Soul of America? I was inspired to ask these questions soon after Scott Calhoun invited me to design a dish that communicated the struggle of America becoming America for the upcoming U2 Conference.

I love a challenge and this has to have been one of the most conceptually challenging dishes I have ever created. How do you communicate the wonderful yet messy struggle of America becoming America through one dish? Especially when you are not even American? 

As a Canadian, I have a unique perspective of my neighbors to the south. We are greatly influenced by American culture, American media, American food and dare I mention American politics! As a Canadian I do share many of the same values as my American friends, such as the idea of a free, democratic society with liberty and justice for all. But over the past few years, much of what I have witnessed through the American news has made me cringe. After 244 years, America (much like other free democratic countries) is still struggling to find itself. In many ways, America still hasn’t found what it’s looking for.

This struggle is what U2 sings about in many of their songs such as Bullet the Blue Sky, New York, Get out of your own way, and American Soul to name just a few. U2 loves the idea of America, but they are also not shy in calling out the injustices that the world witnesses in America. Lately those injustices seem to be almost daily.

This dish is not meant to critique America, as the idea of America is something that all humans can identify with. It’s a culinary reflection on the struggle and the pain of social and racial injustice that continues to haunt America, and the drive of Americans to uphold the ultimate goal of America: liberty and justice for ALL! 

This explanation for this recipe might seem a bit long, but this is the only way I can explain the true inspiration behind this dish as it has many layers, flavors and stories to tell us, just like U2’s music, and just like America.

Scott and I had a Zoom meeting and discussed a number of U2 songs inspired by America as we searched for some culinary clues within U2’s American canon. One song called Drunk Chicken America, an Allan Ginsburg poem from the B side of The Joshua Tree Deluxe Album, was the only obvious choice. The poem is a raw critique of America contrasting it’s unquenchable drive of capitalism as a Drunk Chicken. With this as my starting point, I began to think, pray and reflect on this culinary challenge. 

As I began to listen closer to a selection of U2 songs, the first that stood out to me was In the Name of Love. The song is primarily about the life, death and legacy of Martin Luther King Junior. His April 4th, 1968 asassination was a tragic day in American history. Dr King was in Memphis to speak at a civil rights rally the next day. As I dug deeper into the story surrounding his death I discovered that Dr King was not only a world changing civil rights leader and electrifying preacher, he was also a big foodie. He particularly loved the southern cooking that he grew up on. Dishes such as fried chicken, catfish, black eyed peas and sweet potato pie. 

Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, a pastor at Monumental Baptist Church and an associate of King, stopped by his Memphis hotel room to take Dr King to his home for dinner. He was a little early so they spent some time chatting in the hotel room before they left. In an interview, Kyles was asked what they spent their last few minutes talking about. Dr King wanted to know what was for dinner!

Rev Kyles’s family had prepared a spread of Dr King’s favourite foods including Fried Chicken, black eyed peas and sweet potato pie.  

It was just after 6pm on April 4, 1968 as Dr King stepped out of his Hotel Room to go to dinner when he was shot. The dinner was prepared but never eaten. It is now remembered as “The Dinner That Never Was.”  Now, many people celebrate Martin Luther King Day by preparing his favourite foods. Dr King’s Dinner that Never Was is represented in the fried Chicken and in the Sweet Potato pie.

Even though the combination of Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato pie might be all I would need to capture the culinary Soul of America, just like U2’s music there are many more layers to this dish. Each layer contributes to the story and struggle of America. 

The very bottom of the pie is inspired by a classic Apple pie. Apple pie has been a culinary icon of American cuisine since the late 1700’s when John Chapman (Johnny Apple Seed) sowed appleseeds to the early American settlers. However with this recipe I have made it a savory apple pie, by including sweet onion, fennel, Asian pear, ginger and Harrisa. While the Asian Pear and ginger give the Apple layer a nice crunch and a warming depth of flavour, they also represent the growing Asian American population. Harrissa is a Middle Eastern spice blend that adds a pop of heat while representing Middle Eastern Americans.

Next is a layer of corn Tortillas. The Tortillas represent the Latin Americans who have immigrated to America. Corn is also a staple of American agriculture since the indiginous people farmed the American plains long before Christopher Columbus and the first pilgrims landed on American shores.

The middle layer is a Mulligan (Irish for “everything”) Stew made up of Italian Sausage, a classic Mirepoix (French) of diced carrots, celery, and onion. Then I added some diced potatoes and chopped up an ”everything” bagel. The diced potatoes represent the Irish immigrants who came to America during the great potato famine, and the everything bagel represents the Jewish Americans. The everything bagel also represents the various cultures I have missed. America is made up of people from everywhere. All cultures, all ethnicities and all faiths. America is a little of everything, and that’s really what makes America great.

The top layer of the pie is steamed sweet potato with some tarragon, basil, a pinch of cayenne and some chili powder. This layer is in honor of Martin Luther King and the Dinner That Never Was, as sweet potato pie was one of his favourite dishes.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is aKPtDU7PqkpiWCJ_XoTD8Kp5TG8OTgAphHQmyP9VQV9KxOklPBmSYUqVHiE7LmGqrk4AT0vM60BYyCh1V5jtXh7ZLXEPtxg_wRhc8huS44_EhBiGBa70tVxK2BGJT2iVjTTwH-eb

I then add a sprinkle of honey roasted nuts to the sweet potato layer, this is a nod to the line from U2’s New York lyrics:

“Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics

Religious nuts, political fanatics in the stew”

Also in honor of Martin Luther King, the chicken is fried, but it’s also drunk. Before frying it, I soaked it in a simple brine with Bourbon, Apple juice, cayenne pepper, brown sugar and some salt. Adding the bourbon to the brine brings a nice flavour to the chicken as it pays homage to Allan Ginsburg’s Drunk Chicken/America poem from The Joshua tree.

I then make a spicy Honey Bourbon glaze which I baste the chicken with once it comes out of the fryer. It adds that Mr. Macphisto kick and an extra burst of flavour that ties everything together when it’s drizzled over the chicken and pie when serving. 

I then use a star cutter to cut out a simple pattern of 25 stars on the pie crust. Then add the cut stars for a total of 50 representing each state. I wrap the top of the pie with a simple twist of 2 strands of pie dough to represent the stripes on the American flag.

Overall this American pie is really a Mulligan stew. A sweet and savory reminder of how a hodgepodge of cultures can bring out true harmony in a culture when they all work together to achieve the american dream. The drum and bass of America is it’s diversity. Diversity is the soul of America.

You are Rock & Roll!

Gary Stevenson
Theo’s Feast

For more information about the U2 Feast

Gary Stevenson’s Bio

Gary Stevenson is a university chaplain, a life long U2 fan and founder of Theo’s Feast. Gary was inspired to start Theo’s Feast as a way to illuminate spiritual truth and inspire meaningful conversation amongst students through a unique shared meal. After closing a feast with a quote from Bono, one of Gary’s students suggested that he should invite U2 to a feast as they would appreciate his metaphors and symbolism. This inspired Gary to create the U2 Feast that uniquely shares U2’s spiritual journey through a 5 course meal.

Gary has since created 7 themed feasts and has hosted well over 2000 dinner guests. Gary has also recently published a cookbook and corresponding video series. Gary is now helping people become better cooks and storytellers through his new online initiative called Theo’s Feast Academy.

Gary, is happily married with 3 kids and lives in Vancouver, Canada. When he is not creating new dishes in the kitchen, he enjoys off-road motorcycling. You can discover more about his unique take on food and story telling at

You can follow Gary at and

Gary’s COVID pivot is teaching online cooking classes similar to our U2 American Pie workshop

Gary would love to host a virtual U2 Feast and teach U2 fans how to experience U2 like never before.

You can email Gary and let him know if you would like more information about the U2 Feast and his ministry at

Recipe for U2’s American Pie: Eating U2’s America — A Cook-Along Presentation & Conversation

Please join Chef Gary Stevenson of Theo’s Feast for a live cook-along event as part of the U2 Conference 2020. His American Pie session is Saturday, Oct. 24, 3:30 – 5:00 pm EST.

Ingredients and recipe are below, so you can shop ahead of time and prepare to cook with Chef Gary.

Over here, Chef Gary writes about his inspiration for this dish.

Nothing says America like Apple Pie and Fried Chicken. Combining those two classic American dishes would be all you would need to capture the culinary soul of America. But just like U2’s music, there is much more to this dish than meets the eye. Inside it’s America.

This recipe is simple to make. Don’t let the long list of ingredients or steps intimidate you. It can be done in 90 minutes if you prepare well by having your ingredients premeasured, peeled and chopped prior to our workshop time.

It would be a lot easier if you were to pre-make your pie dough and have it in the fridge the day before our event. (Or, cheat a little bit and use a pre-made pie dough.)

U2 Conference American Pie Recipe

Drunk Chicken Brine: Make 1 day ahead.
Optional but highly recommended. 

12 chicken legs. (fresh / thawed)
⅔ cup of bourbon
2 tablespoons of salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves
6 peppercorns or freshly cracked pepper
1 litre of apple juice (about 4 cups)

Mix all but the chicken in a pot. Bring ingredients to a simmer. Let cool to room temperature.

Place the chicken in a plastic container or zip lock back. Cover with the brine and refrigerate overnight.

Fried Chicken Batter

Wet ingredients bowl:
1 cup buttermilk or milk with 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar
1 egg, whisked
Salt & Pepper to taste
Mix well in a bowl just prior to frying

Batter Bowl:
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds

This is a great spice blend for fried chicken batter. Feel free to improvise and use the spices you have on hand.

Battering the Chicken:
Remove the chicken from the brine and place on a drying rack and let air dry for a few minutes. Discard the brine.

Using 2 bowls, one for the wet, one for the dry. Mix the above ingredients in 2 separate bowls.

Dip your chicken in the seasoned flour. Then dip in the egg and milk mixture. Then dip a second time in the seasoned flour.

Frying the Chicken:
Fry the chicken according to your deep fryer instructions. Or simply fill a pan or pot with enough oil to cover the chicken legs lying flat (4 – 6 pending on the size of your pot/pan.)

Using a frying thermometer, bring the oil up to 350 F

Carefully fry you chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 160F

Using a pastry brush, baste the chicken with the Bourbon sauce (recipe below) when it’s still hot.

Baking the Chicken:
Frying is preferred for authenticity. However you can achieve good results by baking the chicken if you baste the chicken while baking. Set your oven temperature to 375F. Spray the battered chicken with a vegetable oil based cooking spray such as Pam. 

Place battered chicken on a wire rack and sheet pan so the hot air can get to all sides of the chicken. Turn on the convection setting of your oven if you have the option.

Bake the chicken in the oven for 30 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160F using a probe thermometer. Baste the chicken with the Bourbon butter sauce after 15 minutes and then again at 25 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven and baste it again while hot.

Honey Bourbon Glaze:
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons of bourbon
¼ cup of butter
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of chili powder
Fresh cracked pepper to taste
Pastry brush for basting

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Then take off the heat and baste it over your hot chicken legs. Don’t be surprised if the bourbon ignites and burns off as a flambe. The flames will go out once the alcohol has burned off. You can just cover it with a lid if needed.

Pie Dough
Makes 2 – 13” pie crusts enough for a top & bottom of one pie

1 cup or 2 sticks/200g of cold salted butter cut into dice sized cubes
1 medium to large egg – whisked
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
4 ounces of carbonated water or ice-cold tap water with a pinch of cream of tartar
1 teaspoon of sugar

In a mixing bowl or stand mixer bowl, add your flour and sugar. Mix in the cold cubed butter on low until butter is incorporated. It will look like a mix of flour with small clumps of butter.

Whisk your egg in a measuring cup, add 1 tablespoon of Apple Cider vinegar and then top it with cold carbonated water to measure 135 ml or 4.5 ounces.

With your mixer on low, mix in the water and egg into the butter and flour until it starts to form a ball. Turn off your mixer and move the dough to a flour dusted cutting board or counter top.

Gently knead the dough forming one large ball of dough. Then cut the large ball in half. Wrap it up in plastic wrap or a cover bowl and place in the fridge until you are ready to make the pie.

Rolling the Pie Dough
Pie dough works best when it’s cold. Working in 2 batches, prepare your pie crust base by rolling it out using a rolling pin on a floured cutting board or counter top. Flour your rolling pin on board regularly so the dough does not stick. Roll it out to ⅛  or 3mm thick. Gently roll it onto your rolling pin and then place it over your pie plate. Gently tuck it unto the pie plate, leaving access to hang over the sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge until you are ready to fill your pie.

Decorating the Top Crust
If you keep the pie dough cold it is easy to cut a variety of shapes using cookie cutters or a paring knife. 

Roll out your dough using a well floured rolling pin and cutting board to ⅛ or 3 mm thick.

Use a round plate that is the same size or slightly larger than your pie plate as a template.

Cut out the rolled dough to size. Then cut 2 circles round the rolled dough around the circumference of the plate. We will use this to form our twisted striped border.

The finished pie with the egg wash ready for the oven.

Cut out your stars using a small star cookie cutter or paring knife. It’s very important to keep the dough cold. If you are in a warm kitchen or climate you may need to pop the dough into the fridge a few times as you cut out your stars. For this reason you might want to prep your pie dough on a cutting board that you can wrap and put in the fridge easily.

Once you have the desired design, cut into your pie crust and gently place over the filled pie. The recipes for the pie filling is below.

For the stripes: Simply twist the outer ⅛ cut lines from the circumference of the plate in two halves. 

Using a pastry brush, baste the top of the pie with a whisked egg mixed with a splash of milk or water. This will give your pie a nice golden color when baking

Then place it around the top of the pie. Baste the twisted stripes well. Then arrange your stars, basting them with the egg wash also.

Bake the pie for 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown. Place your pie on the bottom rack of your oven. Start at 400F for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 350 F for the remaining 20 minutes.

This will help bake the bottom of the pie without over cooking or drying out the top. If the top is getting too brown you can cover it with tinfoil.

Top the pie with the fried chicken. Serve a slice of pie, with a piece of chicken on top, spoon over bourbon butter sauce.

American Pie Filling
We will make this in 3 layers: Apple, Mulligan Stew, and Sweet Potato

1. Apple Filling
3 Granny smith apples, cored, peeled & sliced
1 Asian Pear, cored peeled and sliced
½ knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fennel bulb
¼ cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon Harrisa spice
1 teaspoon ground Cinnamon
¼ stick of butter
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch
½ cup apple juice or white wine
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice

Saute the fennel and onion in the butter until they are translucent but not browned. Add the ginger and cook for one minute. Add the sliced apples, pear and spices. Mix the cornstarch with the apple juice or white wine, pour over the fruit. Cook on medium heat until the apple juice or wine has reduced or absorbed into the apples. Remove from the heat and place in a bowl to cool.

2. Mulligan Stew
400 grams Italian Sausage. Outer cases removed
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, washed and diced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 Everything Bagel, chopped
1 pat of butter and or a teaspoon of cooking oil
½ cup chicken stock, or apple juice
Salt & pepper to taste
1 pinch of dried thyme

Remove casing from sausage and chop the sausage. Prepare vegetables so they are all the same size, approximately ⅜ “ cubes, for even cooking. Heat oil and butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add onion, cook for 2 minutes, add sausage, brown for 1 – 2 minutes, then add remaining vegetables and seasoning. Cook for about 5 min. Add chopped Everything bagel and ½ cup chicken stock. Simmer until potatoes are cooked through and the pan is dry.

Remove from heat and place in a bowl to cool.

3. Steamed Sweet Potato
2 medium sized sweet potatoes or yams. Peeled and chopped.
¼ stick of butter
1 tsp tarragon and or basil
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper to taste

Using a steamer, Steam the sweet potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and mash with a hand mixer or potato masher, season with butter, herbs & spices. Let cool. 

Assembling the Pie

  1. Place pie crust in the bottom of the pie
  2. Spoon in apple layer ⅓ of the height of your pan
  3. Cover apple layer with corn tortilla
  4. Spoon in a layer of Mulligan stew
  5. Cover mulligan stew with the mashed Sweet Potato.
  6. Sprinkle over mixed nuts pressing them into the sweet potatoes with the back of a spoon.
  7. Cover with the pie crust, pinching the sides together.
  8. Baste the pie with egg wash so it browns nicely
  9. Place your stars. Don’t forget to brush them with your egg wash as well
  10. Place the pie on the bottom rack of a preheated oven at 400 F.  Bake the pie at 400F for 10 minutes then turn it down to 350 F for the remaining 20 min. This will allow the bottom of your pie crust to bake properly. Cover over the top of the pie crust with tinfoil if it’s browning too quickly.

While the pie is in the oven fry or bake your chicken.

Serve warm with the Bourbon basted chicken on top of the pie. Be sure to reserve some of the basting liquid to pour over your pie when serving.

The U2 Conference 2020’s Art Design by Beth Nabi

Once again for the U2 Conference, Beth Nabi has created amazing artwork with intelligent references and messaging. She describes the branding identity below.

Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul
Design Articulation for the 2020 U2 Conference
Beth Nabi

“America both fascinates me and frightens me.”

With these words, Bono summarizes the duality of his feelings for the United States, a perspective evident on The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum, albums that are simultaneously love letters to and laments for the same place. The visual system for this year’s international virtual U2 Conference approaches “America” much the same way as Bono does — as a place, an idea, both fascinating and frightening to navigate on our uneasy journeys looking for American soul.

The graphics were inspired by the “large letter” linen-textured postcards made popular in the 1930s by German-born printer Curt Teich, who immigrated to America in 1895. Dominated by bright, saturated colors and three-dimensional text, these souvenir postcards were the Instagram brags of the 1930s–50s. They depicted cheerful, scenic, idealistic representations of the nation’s states, cities and attractions during a time of flourishing domestic tourism travel.

Sixty-six, a highway speaks
Of deserts dry
Of cool green valleys
Gold and silver veins
All the shining cities

It was the heyday of American car culture — new highways were being constructed, automobile production was booming, and private car ownership was on the rise. People were driving across the country, discovering its beauty both natural and manmade, and sharing “Greetings From” their travels with loved ones back home. It was a time of hope, optimism and discovery — and these bits of ephemera documented it all.

The visual reference to the large-letter postcards is ironic on a few levels. It harkens back to one of America’s utopian “great” eras, that was great for only a few. It arouses nostalgia for the mid-20th century middle-class American pastimes of travel and leisure. But these pastimes were more myth than reality for many who couldn’t travel without fear and for whom leisure was a foreign state of being. Additionally, the graphics ironically appropriate ephemera that glorified tourism and travel while we currently sit in isolation and lockdown prompted by a global pandemic. We are stuck in a moment when travel, if it happens at all, is no longer motivated by wanderlust but by necessity, mourning and protest.

The vintage postcards were always inspired by a sense of place — scenic views being cookie-cuttered into the large letters. The main conference graphic expresses America through a sort of dichotomous placelessness that holds all the exhilaration of a live concert and, at the same time, all the suffocation, exasperation and asphyxiation of the current climate of civil unrest and political protest. The gesturing hands all represent visual double entendres — the hands that build can also tear down. There are hands raised in the air, representing both the euphoria of being at a concert, as well as the “hands up, don’t shoot” rallying cry inspired by the police killings of Black Americans. There are fist pumps celebrating rock ‘n’ roll and fists raised in protest. There are hands throwing V-signs, a request for peace whether seen on stage from our favorite rock star or in the crowd at a march. There are hands holding cell phones, filming concert performances as well as acts of police violence. There are hands holding lighters, for the emotional pitch of a show and to set the fires of protest — from the torch of liberty to the tiki torches of white supremacy.

The visual system continues into the keynote speaker postcards. Where pictures of places would normally appear, the speakers’ photos and names become the dominant imagery — the new mental landscapes and intellectual destinations the conference will allow us to visit. The overwhelming use of patriotic red, white and blue starts to transform them into political ads and campaign yard signs, more ephemera that renew our sense of voice, agency and democracy.

In 2020, “Wish you were here” has turned into “Wish I were anywhere but here.” We look not out of car windows but into Zoom windows. Previous U2 Conferences have gathered fans and scholars in amazing locations: Raleigh, North Carolina; Cleveland, Ohio; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Sydney, Australia. This year, as we do in so many other facets of our lives now, we will gather online. But the event will be nothing short of amazing again as we gather together to American-soul-search; to look for a place where ideas are moving, welcome, different — big enough to fit the whole world.

Beth Nabi, Associate Professor
Graphic Design and Digital Media
Department of Art and Design
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida, USA

“A Conversation About The New Film Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” | Keynote Interview with Bill Flanagan, Mary Wharton and Chris Farrell, with Kristi York Wooten


“A Conversation About The New Film Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President”




Bill Flanagan is an American author, television producer and radio host. He wrote the novels A&RNew Bedlam, and Evening’s Empire, the nonfiction books Written in My Soul and U2 at the End of the World, and the humor collection Last of the Moe Haircuts. Flanagan hosts the Sirius XM radio shows Northern Songs and Flanagan’s Wake and contributes essays toCBS Sunday Morning. He created and produced the TV series Storytellers and Crossroads and has worked on series and specials for NBC, ABC, HBO, MTV, Nickelodeon, PBS, the Sundance Channel, and Showtime. Flanagan has written for Spy MagazineRolling StoneVanity FairEsquireGQAir MailMen’s Journal, and The New York Times. He wrote the 2020 film Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President.


Mary Wharton Is the Director of Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President. She won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Music Film for her documentary feature SAM COOKE: LEGEND. Other notable feature film credits include JOAN BAEZ: HOW SWEET THE SOUND, the platinum-selling concert film PHISH: IT, and FARRAH FAWCETT. Mary has dedicated her career to making documentaries about music, including for the VH1 “Legends” series about U2, David Bowie, The Doors, Elton John, George Clinton, and Jimi Hendrix. She served as a producer on the Grammy-winning documentary “Bruce Springsteen: Wings For Wheels, The Making of Born To Run” (Sony/BMG, 2005) and as an Executive Producer of “Tell Them Anything You Want: A Profile of Maurice Sendak,” directed by Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze (HBO, 2009). 


Kristi York Wooten is a music journalist and international development advocate who currently serves as president of The Atlanta Press Club. She published her first major album review in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in 1992. Beginning in 2002, she became an original volunteer for DATA and later the ONE Campaign and is also an active supporter of CARE and The Carter Center, both based in Atlanta. In 2014, she was part of the team that launched the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Her writing has been published by the New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone and Newsweek, although U2 fans may know her from a recent Twitter thread about the band’s ties to Georgia.

U2 Conference 2020 attendees can rent Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President for viewing here. Once you have rented the film for $4.99, you have 14 days to start watching. Once you have started watching, you have access for 72 hours and can watch as many times as you like in that 72 hour period. The film’s distributor, Greenwich Entertainment, is able to distribute the film only in the United States.

Join us for the Saturday, Oct. 24 Keynote Interview by registering for the conference here.

“The Hero’s Journey: U2’s Destiny in America” | Keynote Panel with Chad E. Seales & Timothy D. Neufeld, Moderated by David Dark

Associate Professor of Religious Studies
University of Texas at Austin

“The Spiritual Goal is American Soul: Bono and Blackface Minstrelsy”

Chad E. Seales is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His research addresses the relationship between religion and culture in American life, as evident in the social expressions of American evangelicals, the popular practices of millennial capitalism, and the moral prescriptions of corporate managers and business leaders. He is the author of Religion Around Bono: Evangelical Enchantment and Neoliberal Capitalism (Penn State University Press, 2019), The Secular Spectacle: Performing Religion in a Southern Town (Oxford University Press, 2013), and has published articles on industrial religion, corporate chaplaincy, and secularism in the United States.

Associate Marriage and Family Therapist & Adjunct Professor
Fresno Pacific University

“Embracing Opposites: The Integrated Self In U2’s America”

Dr. Timothy D. Neufeld, an associate marriage and family therapist in Fresno, CA, and an adjunct professor at Fresno Pacific University. He is the author of U2: Rock ’n’ Roll to Change the World along with numerous academic and popular essays on the intersection of U2 and pop culture. He hosts an innovative online chat community called The Crystal Ballroom and invites you to follow him on Twitter and Periscope at @timneufeld.

U2 : Rock 'n' Roll to Change the World: Neufeld, Timothy D.

“Explain All These Controls: U2 & The Inner America” | U2Con 2020 Keynote by David Dark

Associate Professor of Religion and the Arts
Belmont University

“Explain All These Controls: U2 & The Inner America”

David Dark is the author of The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, The Possibility of America, and Everyday Apocalypse. A lifelong Nashvillian, he’s also Associate Professor of Religion and the Arts at Belmont University and can be found on Twitter @daviddark.

The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend Our God-Blessed, God-Forsaken Land

“A Sort of Homecoming: U2 and a Black American Fan’s Rock & Roll Belonging” | U2CON 2020 Keynote by Kimberly Mack

Assistant Professor of African American Literature and Culture
The University of Toledo

A Sort of Homecoming: U2 and a Black American Fan’s Rock & Roll Belonging.” 

Kimberly Mack holds a Ph.D. in English from UCLA, and she is an Assistant Professor of African American literature and culture at the University of Toledo. Her book, Fictional Blues: Narrative Self-Invention from Bessie Smith to Jack White, about autobiographical self-fashioning in contemporary American blues fiction and popular music, is forthcoming in December 2020 from the University of Massachusetts Press as part of their African American Intellectual History series. Kimberly’s second book, The Untold History of Early American Rock Criticism, about the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and white women, who helped develop American rock journalism during the 1960s and 1970s, is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic.

Kimberly also holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She received a fellowship to attend a two-week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in June 2019. She also attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2007 on a waiter workstudy scholarship, and the Vermont Studio Center in 2002. Her essay, “Johnny Rotten, My Mom, and Me,” was published in Longreads in February 2019. Kimberly is currently writing her memoir, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” A Black Girl’s Musical Journey Across America’s Great Racial and Class Divide. She is also a music critic who has contributed her work to national and international publications, including Music Connection, Relix, PopMatters, Hot Press and No Depression.

Fictional Blues

“Freedom, Risk & Rock ‘N’ Roll: Art’s Call To Action, Not Fantasy” | U2CON 2020 Keynote by Edel Rodriguez


Artist & Activist

“Freedom, Risk & Rock ‘N’ Roll: Art’s Call To Action, Not Fantasy”

Edel Rodriguez is a Cuban American artist who has exhibited internationally with shows in Los Angeles, Toronto, New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Spain. Inspired by personal history, religious rituals, politics, memory, and nostalgia, his bold, figurative works are an examination of identity, cultural displacement, and mortality.

Edel Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1971. He was raised in El Gabriel, a small farm town surrounded by fields of tobacco and sugar cane. In 1980 Rodriguez and his family boarded a boat and left for America during the Mariel boatlift. They settled in Miami where Rodriguez was introduced to and influenced by American pop culture for the first time. Socialist propaganda and western advertising, island culture and contemporary city life, are all aspects of his life that continue to inform his work.

In 1994, Rodriguez graduated with honors in painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. In 1998, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Manhattan’s Hunter College graduate program. Throughout his career, Rodriguez has received commissions to create artwork for numerous clients, including The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The New Yorker, and many other publications and book publishers. Rodriguez’s artwork is in the collections of a variety of institutions, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., as well as in numerous private collections.

Teaching The History, Music And Activism Of U2 In Newly Published Book

Dave Whitt, Professor of Communication Studies at Nebraska Wesleyan University, has published the edited collection of essays Popular Music in the Classroom: Essays for Instructors with McFarland Press (2020).

In addition to editing the book, Whitt contributed an essay of his own, “Songs of Ascent: Teaching the History, Music and Activism of U2,” drawing on his experience teaching a class about U2 at NWU.

Whitt co-presented some of his findings about teaching U2 in a college classroom with Georgia Straka at the 2018 U2 Conference PopVision.

McFarland describes Popular Music in the Classroom: Essays for Instructors this way:

“Popular music has long been a subject of academic inquiry, with college courses taught on Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, along with more contemporary artists like Beyonce and Outkast. This collection of essays draws upon the knowledge and expertise of instructors from a variety of disciplines who have taught classes on popular music. Topics include: the analysis of music genres such as American folk, Latin American protest music, and Black music; exploring the musical catalog and socio-cultural relevance of specific artists; and discussing how popular music can be used to teach subjects such as history, identity, race, gender, and politics. Instructional strategies for educators are provided. More specific chapter topics include: Elvis Presley, psychedelic music of the 1960s, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, heavy metal, country, and using game theory to teach music.”

For more resources for studying and teaching U2, please see the U2 Studies Bibliography.

This is War in the USA: Notes on 1969 and 2020

Contributed by Theodore Louis Trost, Professor in Religious Studies and New College, The University of Alabama

U2’s third album, War (1983), is conflict-ridden and war-torn. In this regard, it is not far removed from the conditions under which punk rock itself emerged. As Iggy Pop says on The Stooges’ eponymous first album: “This is 1969, OK? War across the USA.” Soon after Iggy uttered those words, four students were killed by national guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio, and two students were killed by the police near a dormitory off Lynch Street at Jacksonville State College in Mississippi. 

The sense of dread that provided an edge to the sonic explorations of proto-punk rockers like The Stooges also influenced U2’s formative years during the classic punk rock era. And now, well into the 21st century, a similar uneasiness hovers over American society, intensified by a world-wide pandemic. Perhaps once again, U2’s War provides a soundtrack for the times.

The multiple hostilities War explores are exemplified in the album’s opening track, “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”  The title refers to the incident in Derry, Northern Ireland, when soldiers fired upon unarmed civilians engaged in a civil rights protest.

While that conflict centered on religious differences ostensibly summarized in the binary opposition of Protestant vs. Catholic, the phrase also echoes other “bloody Sundays,” including the racial strife in America typified by the brutal response of police in Alabama to marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

“How long must we sing this song?” Bono asks. This question, as old as the Psalms, returns on the album’s closing track “40.” In between, other songs of political strife impinge upon and shape the contours of romance and longing. 

“Refugee,” for example, introduces the tragedy of displacement, perhaps as the consequence of war, and the ensuing quest for refuge in the “promised land” of America. It is not clear, by the song’s last stanza, whether the refugee’s hope to live in America is satisfied.  But the fate of her 21st century counterpart is less in doubt: walls are being constructed to keep her out.

“New Year’s Day” depicts the struggle for solidarity in the face of seemingly intractable social polarizations; it juxtaposes the labor union cause with the desire of two lovers for union, affirming: “Though torn in two, we can be one.”

Then, in “Two Hearts Beat as One,” the beatings inflicted upon innocents caught up in political conflicts (as suggested by the martial-style drumbeats that characterize Larry Mullen Jr.’s playing on this particular album) are transformed into the singular heartbeat of lovers caught up in the dance. 

“I will begin again,” Bono sings on “New Year’s Day.”  This new year’s resolution is held in tension, as the album concludes with the song “40.” The singer wrestles with a wearying inheritance, wondering: “how long to sing THIS song?” In response, a counter-chorus appears: “I will sing a new song.”  

This kind of conviction, this “way out of no way,” is the exodus Martin Luther King Jr., pointed to from the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery at the end of the march that had begun in Selma. 

“How long?” King asked rhetorically. He answered, “Not long!” and provided a series of justifications for that sentiment.

But, to paraphrase Iggy: “This is 2020, OK? War across the USA.” And while camouflaged federal troops patrol the streets of Portland, and while the “Wall of Moms”  and “Naked Athena” appear before them in protest, War leaves the listener dangling between the resolution to sing a new song and that relentless question that lingers as the album slowly fades away: “How long?”

One hopes for King’s “Not long” while calling out, “Too long!”

Guardian News/YouTube

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is U2-Con-Invite-to-Write.jpg

Would you like to contribute to the U2 Studies Network? We’d love to feature your short commentary or essay of 300 words or less on our 2020 conference theme of U2 and America. Or, make a short audio or video comment of around 2 minutes if you’re not the writing type.

We’re looking for personal narratives, updates on your U2 research, reflections on a U2 song you just listened to, a book you just read or reactions to current events. Just keep it focused on you, U2 and America.

Contact us here for more details on how to make your contribution.  

We have so many ways for scholars, students and fans to be on the completely virtual international U2 Conference program for 2020. Read about the theme of Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul and then please see our calls for more details on how to submit a proposal:

The deadline for proposals for presentations and fan participation is August 31, 2020, and the deadline for proposals from musicians is Sept. 15, 2020.

Submission details are at the links above. All presenters accepted for the program will receive a discount on what will be a modest registration fee.

The U2 Conference logo and branding images by Beth Nabi.