U2 fans flock to conference

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By Keith Upchurch, The Herald-Sun

DURHAM -- Natalie Baker flew 36 hours from her home in Melbourne, Australia, to Durham to indulge her two loves: the music of Irish rock band U2 and being with her U2 fan community.

She was one of dozens of ultra-devoted fans at this weekend's conference at N.C. Central University to explore the music, work and influence of U2.

"Their music inspires me to make a difference,'' she said Saturday morning with an enthusiasm that showed no hint of the exhausting plane trip from the previous day. "It inspires me to make a difference, even a small difference, and encourages me to look at the world in a different way.''

Baker said she's attended a dozen U2 concerts all over the world in the past 20 years, and planned to be at Saturday night's U2 concert at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

"You don't think I'd come all this way and not be at that concert, do you?'' she asked.

A friend she met at the airport, Michelle Hakim of Newton, Mass., said she's been a U2 devotee for 30 years.

"I've had this bond with the band since I was young,'' Hakim, a child psychologist, said, ''because they really opened up my consciousness to humanity and the world and what you can do to make it a better place in the global community. So I just felt this was a really good place to expand on that and be part of it.''

Also at the conference was Diane Yoder, representing the African Well Fund, a nonprofit that has raised $700,000 to build wells and other water and sanitation projects in Africa. Her inspiration: U2.

"A group of U2 fans met on the Internet about six years ago with the intention of raising money for a well in Africa,'' she said. "We saw a special on TV where [lead U2 singer] Bono had gone to Africa. They visited a village in Uganda and talked about how a well only costs $1,000.''

That was the spark that ignited their effort.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was Anthony DeCurtis, an author, music critic and contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine.

DeCurtis said U2 is the perfect band for today's world.

"They remain inspirational figures, beacons of hope in impossible times,'' he said. "Their belief that divides can be bridged by the strength of rhetoric and vision confounds the frustrations that we, or at least I, sometimes feel. They continue to believe that we can be better people, and that we can build a better world.''

In an earlier interview, DeCurtis said the band often takes risks that pay off.

For example, after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, U2 scrolled the names of those who died on the screen during a performance in New York.

"That's a risky move,'' he said. "Everybody was wrought and so vulnerable, like a burn victim is vulnerable. Your skin is so sensitive that somebody making a wrong move can really set you off. And people were just so moved by it.''

During a reception after the concert, DeCurtis talked to Bono.

"There was a feeling that a lot those people who died were Irish cops and firemen, and that was their people, man. And I think they felt that they had earned the right to a statement like that, and that it was almost a responsibility. And that's not what you would get from a lot of bands.''

DeCurtis said he's attended at least a dozen U2 concerts over the years.

''There's a sense of engagement with the world that I get from them in a particularly powerful way. And so when I go to their music, that's what I leave with. I think it's that sense that things matter -- the music matters and all the things in the world outside of music matter as well.''

"Their music continues to be a call to action,'' he said. "For this band, there is truly no line on the horizon -- no line between earth and sky, between young and old, between the face of the poorest and the richest, between who are and who are aspire to be.''

Copyright © 2009 The Herald-Sun

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 4, 2009 6:57 AM.

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