A couple of threads emerged from the stories told Wednesday night at “When Love Comes To Town: A U2 Tribute” at Downtown Presbyterian Church.
One, most every artist who told a story of how they came to know the Dublin quartet spoke of an older sibling or family member that introduced them to the band’s music.
And two, most came to that music at a time in their lives when they were profoundly uncool.
(The above headline comes from a seminal moment in the Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous,” when William Miller’s older sister Anita is leaving home and leaving her music collection for him as a means of escape. She grasps him by both shoulders, looks him squarely in the eyes and dispenses this prophecy: “One day, you’ll be cool.” Which of course, because William is destined to become a Music Journalist, never comes true.)
The revealing factor is that, for most people, U2 was Somebody Else’s Band first. Which is good. It’s a grounding thing that helps connect that music with a time, a place, a person around which one can build their own interaction and history. They just didn't stumble across it via some mass media avenue; there was a flesh and blood and emotional connection there that was carried through the music.
And, clearly, the artists who played Wednesday night have gone on to form their own connections. Kate York in introducing “Running To Stand Still,” told the story of her umpteenth family uprooting, settling as a 9th grader in Colorado Springs and her introspective lunchtime reverie broken by the sound of a flag whipping against a flagpole and Joshua Tree playing on a Walkman.
Thad Cockrell spoke of U2 intriguing him by dint of not initially understanding the band, their music and what they were trying to accomplish, before giving way to a powerful rendition of “In God’s Country.”
Most of the players stuck to the band’s '80s catalog, with the exception of Sarah Masen’s slowed-down, sliced-up “Lemon,” and wife-and-husband pair Sandra McCracken and Derek Webb championing “Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around the World” and “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car,” respectively.
Still, that idea of Bono et. al., being Somebody Else’s Band got stood on its head via Mike Farris’ story of not liking the band when he first heard them (“they were too white,” the former Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies frontman insisted), and then growing to respect them as he heard more. But it was in the urgency and insistence of his now-teenaged son watching — repeatedly, it seems — a DVD of the Vertigo Tour that rekindled Farris’ interest, which he proved with a scorching rendition of the night’s title song, “When Love Comes To Town.”
The night, conceived and produced by singer/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones and author/emcee David Dark, was also a benefit for The Contributor, Nashville’s monthly newspaper benefitting and advocating for the homeless population. That connection underscores this music’s earth-bound resonance, even in the midst of dealing with matters spiritual and political.
The show was a fitting nudge down the hill toward Saturday’s U2 360 show at Vanderbilt Stadium. It was, most assuredly, one of those “only in Nashville” nights, an event that other cities with pockets of fans as rabid as ours would kill for and that we Music City music fans too often take for granted.
Because, in our quest to be cool, we can sometimes be profoundly uncool. But not this night, not these people and not this music.
“Red Hill Mining Town” by Bulb
“Running To Stand Still” by Kate York
“Two Hearts Beat As One” by Stephen Mason
“Lemon” by Sarah Masen
“In God’s Country” by Thad Cockrell
“Like A Song” by Matthew Perryman Jones
“Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World” by Sandra McCracken
“Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” by Derek Webb
“All I Want Is You” by Griffin House
“When Love Comes To Town” by Mike Farris
“40” by Julie Lee, et. al.