A Night To Remember

U2 At Greenbelt

It was 40 years ago yesterday that I saw U2 in concert for the first time. One of the most memorable nights in a music-loving career that has seen many highlights.

Seeing the band on that Sunday night wasn’t intentional. The headliner at the Greenbelt Festival that year was Cliff Richard. U2 weren’t on the bill. Weren’t even suppoed to be there.

Four years ago I reposted the material that follows:

In 2013 I did a few guest posts for my friend Bruce’s blog. It wasn’t intentional. We had been having an email conversation about England’s Greenbelt Festival and some of my experiences there. He took those emails and published them. I figured now, with U2 on the road in North America, would be a good time to share those posts with you. What follows is unedited – I am the “old friend” he is referring to.

An old friend had commented on meeting Depeche Mode at the Greenbelt Music Festival, in 1981, when they attended as fans. He also commented on the unscheduled appearance of U2 at the festival, as follows (e-mail correspondence reproduced with permission):

This was also the festival where U2 played their six songs that changed the world – unannounced, scared out of their minds, but feeling God was telling them to play. How were the organizers going to say no?

They had toured Boy and finished October a few days before. They were obviously up and coming.

But the set was special. No sound check. Opened with “11 O’Clock Tick Tock“, which had been a minor hit in the UK. The crowd knew it. Bono looked out at the 25,000 people and said “we didn’t think you would know who we were.”. Five songs later, they left the stage.

A close friend was second row center. She said you could feel the Holy Spirit’s presence coming off the stage and into the crowd.

I watched from about 150 yards back. When the set ended I channeled Jon Landau’s quote about Springsteen: I have seen the future of rock and roll and its name is U2. Three years later, Rolling Stone would name them “band of the 80s”.

Modern Christian worship music was born that night. If you examine their music closely, you will discover that U2 are essentially a worship band. They share their music with the world, but it is really directed to an audience of One.

Postscript, September 10, 2013: The friend commented further, as follows:

U2 at Greenbelt, August 30, 1981, used borrowed equipment. They didn’t know they would be allowed to play, and didn’t bring their gear with them. The six songs played were:

11 O’Clock Tick Tock
I Will Follow
An Cat Dubh (The Black Cat)
Into the Heart
With A Shout/Jerusalem

2021 Postscript: I’m surprised as I realize just how long ago this was. U2 is still going strong, with the same four members as back then – which may be unique among rock bands. I think the fulfilled the promise I saw during that set – and still have more to offer. They were definitely more than the “band of the 80’s.”


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