All Gretchen Wanted Was U2
July 29, 2015 · Print This Article
All Gretchen wanted was to get on stage with U2. Gretchen already has a stage of her own with the Boston garage band the Knock Ups, but being onstage with U2 would be something else entirely.
I first met Gretchen in May of 2005 as we stood outside the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston. U2 was in town on their Vertigo tour, and we both waited to meet the band. As is always the case when diehard U2 fans meet, we started exchanging U2 stories; it soon became clear that Gretchen loved U2 as much as I did. This was the start of a brilliant friendship with the woman I now refer to as my U2 soul sister.
Our U2 history is long. She was raised by a mom who was a U2 fan and was completely immersed in their music from the time she was twelve years old. I was born and raised in Boston and grew up listening to WBCN radio—the station that first broke U2 in the US. I vividly remember the moment I heard “I Will Follow” and was literally stopped in my tracks as I heard a sound that “made some sense out of the world.” When U2 came to the Paradise Theater in Boston on their Boy tour in 1981, I stood captivated in the audience watching a powerful, spiritual, punk rock performance that changed my life.
From the beginning of our friendship, Gretchen wanted to get onstage with U2. Born for the stage, she started singing and performing in local theater groups at a young age. Years later, she fronted the Boston punk rock band, Black Barbie. Gretchen had both the confidence and the talent to play with U2; it was just a matter of figuring out how to get her up there.
The Vertigo tour returned to Boston in October and December of 2005, but in October we weren’t scanned into the ellipse, so were too far away for Gretchen to be considered. In December, although we had rail spots for both shows, Bono chose an Elvis impersonator and Santa Claus to go up with him. In 2011, in Montreal on the 360 Tour, we were front row/rail, and Gretchen came close to being chosen, but it wasn’t meant to be.
As the dates for Boston’s iNNOCENCE and eXPERIENCE tour approached, Gretchen and I talked endlessly about our U2 plans for 2015—our GA meet and greet strategies, the pros and cons of main stage versus E stage, and the biggest challenge: getting her onstage to play with the band.
After many months of waiting, U2 week in Boston finally arrived. On the night before Boston 1, we headed down to U2’s hotel and saw Murphy, Bono’s bodyguard, standing outside on the sidewalk. It was quiet, and he was alone, so we introduced ourselves.
He was kind and gracious, and as we chatted, he mentioned that he recognized me from previous tours. He readily agreed to have his photo taken with us, and then, handed us his business card and asked us to email him a copy of the photos.
We said goodnight to Murphy and headed to the Garden for the GA check-in. We were overjoyed to have the contact info for Bono’s bodyguard: the man who is responsible for keeping Bono safe and who also plucks fans out of U2’s audience and gets them onstage. It felt serendipitous.
We emailed Brian the photos along with a note thanking him for his time and his kindness. We also spoke of our long history with U2. We further went on to mention Gretchen’s band The Knock Ups and her mad guitar skills.
We put in our request: would he please ask Bono to consider bringing Gretchen up to play one night in Boston?
That night at Boston 1, the most magical of the four Boston gigs, we were on the south side rail at the crease where the E stage meets the catwalk. Murphy was doing his bodyguard thing—walking up and down the catwalk, keeping his eye on Bono and on the fans in the arena. He saw me and came over, clasped my hand, addressed me by name and told me to enjoy the show. Ultimately, U2 didn’t play ‘Desire’ that night, but we went home full of optimism knowing that there were three hometown shows left.
For Boston 2, after much discussion we decided to do the south side catwalk rail. On the E stage that night, U2 played “Desire,” but they didn’t bring anyone up. However, as they segued into “Angel of Harlem,” Bono looked around and wondered “is there a girl guitar player in the audience who wants to come up and play?” There was no answer. He looked around and asked again. Still, no reply.
Gretchen was devastated that she had blown an opportunity by not being at the E stage. When Bono couldn’t find the girl he was looking for, he instead chose a thirteen year old boy to play with them and, in a magnanimous gesture, gave the boy the guitar.
During the days off, we hoped for another U2 meet and greet. Back at the Ritz bar, luck was on our side as we ran into Adam outside on the sidewalk. He was charming as we spoke of our history with U2 and impressed that I was one of the fans at their Paradise show way back when; he thanked me for sticking with the band for so long. He graciously accepted Gretchen’s gift of a Knock Ups CD and t-shirt and laughed when we suggested that he wear the t-shirt onstage one night, since he’d been wearing punk rock band t-shirts all throughout the tour.
For Boston 3, Gretchen and I headed to the designated meet and greet spot outside the Garden. Before long, the black Cadillac Escalades started pulling up. Out of one car stepped Murphy and Bono, who started working the line. Bono reached us. Gretchen gave him a CD and t-shirt while telling Bono that she was the lead singer and guitarist in a local band called the Knock Ups. She went on to say that it was a dream of hers to play onstage with U2. Would he bring her up tonight? He asked her what her name was, and when she told him, he said, “Well, Gretchen you never know how these things are gonna go” before he moved onto the next fan.
Later that night, we found the perfect position on the E stage rail. The show began, and soon, Murphy approached Gretchen to let her know that she’s going up; he gave her instructions on how to climb over the rail and fall back into his arms when it was time. We couldn’t believe it! For three tours, we had waited for his moment, diligently trying to make it happen! We were ecstatic and had difficulty focusing on the show as we waited for Gretchen’s moment. Gretchen was excited, ready, and not a bit nervous.
U2 finished playing “Crystal Ballroom” and we heard Bono say, “Gretchen, Gretchen, where’s Gretchen?” He scanned the rail, saw her, and within seconds, she was onstage with guitar in hand. I stood there, dumbfounded, as my U2 soul sister is coached by Bono on the chords to “All I Want is You.”
Watch the video to see what happens next. I can’t do it justice except to say that she, with her nerves of steel, killed it, becoming a celebrity in her own right.
Finally, in a week full of many surreal moments, at the fourth Boston show, imagine our surprise and delight to see Adam wearing his Knock Ups t-shirt when U2 came back onstage for their encore!!! I think Gretchen was more excited about this than she was about playing guitar with the boys. After all, instead of her giving a gift to the band, they were giving something fantastic back to her.
How sad we were to see our U2 week come to an end, but what a magical mystery ride we lived. Boston had seen four of the best gigs of the iNNOCENCE & eXPERIENCE tour—high energy, emotionally-charged shows that left us joyous and wanting more; and, if that weren’t enough, a lifelong dream had come true for my U2 soul sister. U2 sings of dreaming out loud, and now, the dreams of another diehard have certainly come true. Viva U2. –Donna Lane
Boston born-and-raised, Donna Lane is a mad U2 fan since her first show at the Paradise in early 1981. Follow @donna_marie40 on Twitter.