Bridget Fenlason was walking in the French Quarter on Saturday afternoon when she spotted a familiar face outside Antoine’s Restaurant: U2 frontman Bono.
As the star stepped into the street to snap a picture like a typical tourist, Fenlason — who two nights earlier had been brought to tears by U2’s performance at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — blurted, “Thank you!”
Bono looked her way. Emboldened, she said she’d spoken to representatives of his One philanthropic organization at the Superdome.
He started walking toward her.
On a roll, she announced that she’d launched Rock the Vote’s New Orleans campaign, signing up local musicians to help promote voter registration.
At that, Bono offered her a high-five and said, “Good for you!”
Fenlason, meanwhile, was shaking.
“I had several Bridget Jones moments,” she recalled. “I was looking at his hair when I should have been looking him in the eye. Time seemed to slow down.”
She is not a hard-core U2 fan. She’d purchased a $35 “obstructed view” ticket at the last minute for the band's Sept. 14 concert, joining 35,000 other souls in the Superdome who witnessed a two-hour clinic on how to stage a stadium concert and make it meaningful.
Early in U2’s triumphant return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Thursday, Bono articulated…
But being in such close proximity to Bono on St. Louis Street, listening to him speak in a voice “like Irish velvet,” was overwhelming.
So Bono pulled her close and gently asked, “Could we take a photo?”
And that’s why Bono is Bono. He could have ignored her — how many dozens of times a day is he approached/shouted at by fans? He could have let stand the power imbalance conferred by being one of the world’s most famous rock stars.
Instead, he flipped the script and treated Fenlason as an equal by being the one to suggest a photo.
“It’s such a small gesture for a rock star to say, ‘Can we take a photo?’ instead of a fan feeling that awkward moment,” Fenlason said. “He did it to thank me for the work on Rock the Vote. That’s what made it so awesome.”
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Bono was still in New Orleans on Saturday because U2’s scheduled show that night in St. Louis had been canceled. Rioting erupted in the wake of a former St. Louis police officer’s Sept. 15 acquittal in the shooting death of a black man following a high-speed chase.
Anticipating further unrest, police informed Live Nation, promoter of U2’s current “The Joshua Tree” 30th anniversary tour, that the manpower needed to staff a stadium concert wouldn’t be available. Rather than potentially compromise public safety, the band and Live Nation scrapped the St. Louis show. Millions of dollars were lost, and tens of thousands of fans — some of whom spent extra money and time to travel to St. Louis — were disappointed.
The consolation prize for U2 was extra time in New Orleans.
They had flown in late on Sept. 12 following a show at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. The next afternoon, U2’s official Instagram account posted a photo of guitarist The Edge and bassist Adam Clayton having lunch on the balcony of Tableau, alongside Jackson Square.
After Thursday’s concert, U2 and opening act Beck headed to an after-party at Muriel’s, the restaurant at the northeast corner of Jackson Square. The party featured local flavor in the form of the Kinfolk Brass Band, the Furious Five Social Aid & Pleasure Club and DJ Captain Charles.
On Instagram, U2 shared a snapshot of a grinning Bono and The Edge surrounded by members of the Furious Five, resplendent in their blue and red sashes and feathered fans.
Having some previous experience with such local pageantry — New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis, saluted from the stage by Bono as “Mr. Jazz Festival,” once escorted them to a second-line parade — they obviously reveled in the moment.
Returning to New Orleans and the Superdome was meaningful for Bono and company. They performed in the Dome at halftime of the first Super Bowl following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Four years later, in Sept. 2006, they played the “Dome-coming,” the building’s emotional reopening following Hurricane Katrina.
A long-ago performance aboard a New Orleans riverboat changed U2 forever.
Back in the Superdome last week, Bono and his bandmates bore down just a little harder than they did at the Houston show I attended in May. The singer referred to the Superdome as a “sacred bowl” and a “place of shelter.” His “prayer” for the evening was “that we might have one of those nights that none of us ever forget — an epic night of rock 'n' roll.”
And it was.
St. Louis probably could have benefited from a U2 concert. The night after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, riots raged in dozens of cities. But Boston remained relatively calm, in part, because James Brown agreed not only to go ahead with his previously scheduled concert at Boston Garden but to allow it to be broadcast live on local television. He kept the peace at the show itself, as the TV broadcast kept many folks at home and off the streets.
There’s no way to know what Bono would have said from the stage in St. Louis had Saturday’s concert taken place, or what, if any, calming effect it might have had.
But he always seems to find the right words for moments both large and small — just as he did on Saturday afternoon outside Antoine’s.