For Clarenville native Stephanie van der Linde, realizing her dream of sharing the stage with U2 was even better than the real thing.The long enduring Irish rock band was playing the final leg of their Canadian Innocence and Experience tour with two concerts at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Since she has an everlasting love for the band, van der Linde naturally had tickets, and her process of getting from the audience to the stage started at 9 a.m. the day of the concert.
Van der Linde is no rookie when it comes to the U2 live experience – this was her fifth time seeing them in concert since 2005.
“The great thing about general admission tickets at U2 shows is that there are no assigned seats for people to sit in, just an open floor. This means that if you want the best spot in the house without having to pay a small fortune for a front row ticket, you can get it - but only if you’re prepared to sit and stand in line all day,” van der Linde told The Packet via Facebook message.
When she and her friends lined up, there were approximately 60 people ahead of them, meaning she was guaranteed a prime spot along the rails separating the audience from the band.
“I aimed for the b-stage rail, where the guys play a small set about halfway through the show, as I’d heard that fans had been pulled up to interact with them from that area during previous shows,” says van der Linde.
Even with the prime location, van der Linde knew it was still a long shot that she would get on stage with Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen.
“I took a bit of lyrical advice from ‘Acrobat,’ one of my favourite U2 songs - ‘you can dream, so dream out loud.’ U2 have a very long history of inviting fans on stage to dance or play instruments, but they have been especially welcoming in that regard on the Innocence and Experience tour,” she says.
Bono has stated multiple times that the band was eager to break down barriers between themselves and fans during this tour.
“That certainly was the case for me (at the concert). I made a two-sided sign while I was in the line; the front side suggested that I wanted to play “All I Want is You” with them, and the
reverse stated that I’d been
dreaming about playing gui-tar with them for 15 years. It was the reverse side that really caught Bono’s attention during the b-stage set,” says van der Linde.
Bono took notice of her sign, smiled and asked if she played (guitar). He then returned to her spot in the crowd following the final moments of their 1991 Top 10 single “Mysterious Ways.”
“Security pulled me up at that point, and the rest is a delightful blur,” says van der Linde.
She says there are no words to properly articulate what it was like to play guitar with her favourite band.
“It was so casual and intimate that it felt like I was jamming with old friends – and in a way, I guess I kind of was. U2’s music was essentially the soundtrack of my life during my high school years in Clarenville. I grew up idolizing The Edge especially, and it felt beyond incredible to glance over at him and see him grinning at me and laugh-ing with me,” she says.
Van der Linde says she was admittedly star struck during her first song, “Angel of Harlem,” U2’s 1988 homage to Billie Holiday. Though the song was a Top 40 hit at the time of its release, it was not a mainstay in their set list and is something of a rarity to see live.
“I didn’t worry much about the minor mistakes I made, though; it was such a thrill to be up there with them in the first place, and I don’t think anyone really noticed that I forgot a chord or two,” says van der Linde.
By the time Bono reminded the rest of the band that she had requested to play “All I Want is You,” the fourth single off their 1989 album “Rattle and Hum,” she had managed to gain her composure and confidence.
“It’s pretty rare for the band to keep guitar-playing fans up for more than one song, so I was very lucky that they did that for me. They were all so nice. Bono sang directly to me at points, and both The Edge and Adam Clayton came closer periodically with enormous smiles on their faces. I even got a hug from Larry Mullen Jr. at the end - speaking of rarities, he usually just shakes fans’ hands,” she says.
The band members have said many times throughout their careers that they love the connection they share with fans. Van der Linde says she thinks it meant a lot to them see a young fan in her 20s playing with them.
“Their latest album, ‘Songs of Innocence’, explores a lot of their early experiences in their teens and 20s, and discusses what it was like for them to discover and be inspired by the music of punk rock bands like The Ramones. So playing with a young fan like me must have been a circle-of-life kind of moment for them, considering the content of their latest work. I hope I get the opportunity to thank them again in person someday,” she says.
In retrospect, she says she is amazed she didn’t freeze on stage after realizing she was standing in front of 20,000 fans, considering that prior to this her largest audience was at a Clarenville High School coffee house.
As a teen, she spent countless hours holed up in her room on Legion Lane in Clarenville teaching herself how to play along with U2. She even owned a cheap copy of a Gibson Explorer, which is one of The Edge’s signature guitars. She also played in several high school bands that covered the occasional U2 song.
Van der Linde has two degrees in nursing and is working on her third. But she was still the teen holed up in her room awkwardly working her way through the chords of her favourite U2 songs at the Air Canada Centre.
Now that she has realized her childhood desire, it seems she has found what she was looking for.